Just pack the d*mn bag already: a lesson in how not to go into labor

Yes, I fell for the hospital-provided professional newborn pictures. Hook, line, and hormone-induced sinker.

About three weeks ago I had a new baby. (Hooray! Go me!)

Baby Daphne arrived 10 days before her due date, healthy, happy (sleepy, rather, which equates to happy for her parents), and weighing in at exactly to the ounce the same birth weight as her big brother. Apparently my uterus has a very strict weight and size capacity for humans growing in it, and, as it turns out, I appreciate its fastidiousness in adhering to the rules.

Since Wee Connor was born in Charlotte and Baby Daphne in Chicago I knew there would be a few differences in the birth experiences. And while I won’t go into gory details of the actual birth, the basics are that I had a planned c-section with Baby Daphne since Connor was an emergency c-section after 26 hours of back labor. (For the record, that is not what we call in the business a “fun time.”) Continue reading

You’ll be receiving Christmas cards in February this year.

Dear Everyone On My Christmas/Holiday Card List,

shame gif.gifI’m sorry. I really am. I’m sitting here eating Valentine’s Day candy and there is just nothing I can do other than apologize.

But the fact of the matter remains: you will be receiving your Christmas cards from us this year in February.

I am fully aware how ridiculous this is.

I am fully aware that nobody does this.

I am also more than fully aware that many people have more on their plates than I do who still manage to get their cards out in a reasonable timeframe.

I can assure you with every fiber of my being: I am aware.

But, again, it doesn’t change the fact that you will be receiving a lovely holiday card with the words “Merry Christmas” on it and our lovely faces plastered all over over the front with a nice little family update printed on the back. In February.

“But why?” You say. “Couldn’t you just not send them instead?”

Well, sure. Yes. Technically, that is an option. But they’re here. They’re printed. They’re gorgeous. I spent time on them. And, more to the point: I spent money on them.

So you’re getting your Christmas cards in February.

How did this happen? Well, I can actually explain that, too.

When I got the Christmas cards I was so excited, I finished the return labels, sealed them up, and had them ready to go. Only then I realized I didn’t have stamps.

Then, thinking  I had plenty of time I procrastinated getting stamps. This was the fatal error. Obviously I should have just gone to the post office one day while Connor was at school and gotten the damn stamps. Probably like the day the cards arrived. Again, I am aware.

All of a sudden Christmas started coming really fast. Like, really, really fast. I was ill-prepared and found myself scrambling between OB appointments and shopping and decorating and family coming in that, well, it just kept getting pushed off.

During this time we also rearranged our house a bit for Baby Daphne’s impending arrival. Because Wee Connor started crawling out of his crib (remember this, as it becomes important later!) we put him in a big-boy bed (which I believe used to be just known as a “bed”, but modern vernacular now dictates it be called a “big-boy bed”, apparently). Then due to the layout of our house, we moved our bedroom into the front living room (in a somewhat common Chicago layout, our condo has a front living room and a back living room) that is also next to the nursery and put Connor into our bedroom.

We also made a large-scale “KonMari clean out our crap” effort during this time in order to make room for this rearranging nonsense. It’s still a work in progress but it truly is freeing. I emptied out two closets’ worth of stuff we had been dragging from house to house to house. But this all took a lot of our holiday time while we had family babysitters available and in town. This was made more exhausting by the fact that I was starting to go from, “Eh, I’m pregnant, I guess” to, “Oh, no, 6 months pregnant is actually legitimately pregnant now.”

No worries, I kept telling myself, I’ll just send the cards out around New Year’s. That’s still in the limits.

Then we found out that our dog Brinkley’s cancer was back much sooner than expected, and it was spreading everywhere. We gave him one last treatment as a palliative measure hoping his last few months would be good, instead of having him slowly decline. However, we knew at most he would only have a few more months and this cast a shadow on my entire existence.

And then Connor stopped sleeping.

A quick elaboration before I go on. This “stopped sleeping” thing was not a cutesy, “Oh, he’s going through a regression, he’ll be back to normal soon,” kind of thing. It was a, “he literally comes out to come get us 15 times in 2 hours in the middle of the night” kind of thing. It was a, “he will not sleep until one of us is lying down with him, and toddlers do not care if they sleep perpendicular to the direction of the bed” thing. It was a, “how can such a tiny human being take up so much space in a bed?!” thing. And remember that whole bit I told you before about how he was now in a big-boy bed? Well, turns out that kids who can climb out of their cribs before they’re ready to understand how to stay in their rooms have trouble staying in their rooms. Chris and I started taking turns cramming our gigantic adult bodies into Connor’s twin bed with him just to get a few hours’ rest each night. It was, quite literally, worse than having a newborn. Also, he wouldn’t take naps.

There was no joy in Mudville.

It was mid-January at this point. The cards still weren’t sent. Chris and I were, to be frank, unraveling.

We hired a “sleep consultant” because it’s 2017, we live in a large city in America where sleep consultants are widely available, and there was no way we could possibly handle another minute of Connor not sleeping, let alone have him be so unable to sleep when the new baby came in April. She put us on a strict sleeping regimen to help Connor learn how to fall asleep on his own and for him to learn to stay in his room until he was allowed to come out again. This took about 10-12 days total.

Then our world fully came down around us.

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I love you, Brinkley Dog. And I always will.

We started realizing Brinkley’s palliative treatment had little effect on him. We could tell our time with him wouldn’t be the two months we had hoped for, but more a matter of weeks. His body started shutting down. The cancer ate his insides more and more. He could no longer control his bodily functions well, and he was in such pain he started getting periodically aggressive with us.

We gave him steak dinners. We took him to the park for some tennis ball chasing. We didn’t get angry if he got into the trash, or went to the bathroom inside. Sending out the cards dropped off my priority to-do list completely.

And then it was time. We had to let him go.

I still can’t talk about it without sobbing uncontrollably. Truth be told, I still can’t even really talk about it at all.

I was semi-nonfunctional for probably about 2 weeks after.

Slowly, I started getting back to semi-functional.

And now, all of a sudden, it’s the middle of February.

And my Christmas cards still are sitting on top of my built-in in my kitchen, waiting to be sent.

Which is why, my dearest friends and family, you will be receiving Christmas cards from us in February.

I hope you giggle at the absurdity of it. I have. It’s really the only way to overcome the complete and utter embarrassment of sending Christmas cards in February. And while, yes, I could just not send them, as any normal person probably would do at this point, I want to let everyone who is getting these cards know I love them and have thought about them through the year. I also hope they understand that sometimes if they need to send Christmas cards in February–figuratively or literally–I will never judge them, but rather embrace their struggles they’ve had, both big and small, alongside their successes and end-of-year summaries on the back of the cards with their smiling faces, just as I know you will do with us.

And so that, friends, is why you’re getting our Christmas cards in February.

The S-word (subtitled: why we don’t tell our kids they’re smart)

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Depending on your outlook, this is either a good or bad outcome of our general parenting approach.

Chris and I have one strict parenting rule in our house: we don’t say the “S” word to Connor (and we won’t to Daphne, either).

“Shenanigans!” You might say. “Surrender your silliness, you sly sycophant!” And while I doubt you’re actually saying that because weird, it’s none of those many S-words you just mentioned.

And it’s not that S-word. You know which one. (I know you know which one. And you know I know which one.)

The word I’m talking about here is: “smart.”

I can hear your questions and angry jeers now, and I’m starting to think this is all getting a little too interactive, especially considering these peanut gallery comments are entirely in my head. “Are you insane? Not telling your own son he’s smart? Do you want him to think he’s dumb? Do you want him to have a complex? Is this some sort of insane experiment? What do you think you’re doing?!?

To which I reply: whoa now, imaginary commenters. Calm down. You’re getting a little heated. Hear me out first.

This aversion to the s-word all started when I read this post/article on Khan Academy about why the author never tells his son he’s smart. After that I fell down the rabbit hole and came out with two very important concepts that, when connected, led to this one rule in our house.

Concept 1: Language Matters.

We know – and have known for a while – that how we speak and interact with our children matters. Many studies have shown that a large part of the education achievement gap has to do with the fact that disadvantaged children are exposed to far fewer words and less interactive language than their more advantaged counterparts in the earliest years of their life. And while that’s an entire discussion that has filled books written by people far above my pay grade with many socioeconomic factors at play (how we as a country treat new parents in the workforce/parental leave, school funding, culture wars, crime, health, education affordability and the growing disconnect between the education of the economic scales, etc. ad infinitum) that bag of beans is not what I’m actually here to talk about. What I do want you to take away from my research and my ramblings is this one thought: language matters. And what we say sinks into kids’ brains in ways we might not have realized.

I want to note many middle and upper-middle class parents have arguably taken this idea to a new overcorrected extreme and now narrate their child’s every move, all day, every day. “If disadvantaged children don’t get enough language, then my child will obviously benefit from the most language ever” seems to be a common ethos in modern (middle-to-upper-middle-class) parenting. I see this on the playground, and actually have written about it before here. Pamela Druckerman talks about this a lot in Bringing Up Bébé, as does Julie Lythcott-Haims in How to Raise an Adult. These are both books about parenting that struck deep chords with me, but also point out that while yes, language is good, children learning to be themselves in their own minds as well. It’s sort of like SPF in sunscreen: there are marked advantages to the SPF number in sunscreen to a point (SPF 30). After this, the advantages are negligible and probably not worth the cost of purchase. Talking and narrating to your children at points during the day indeed is advantageous, but after a point the costs of your sanity-prohibitive and both you and your child need some quiet time, too, since children also need the skill of self directing and experimentation on their own. Do you want someone chattering in your ear the entire time you’re trying to work out a problem? Neither do your kids. They need time to figure out problems for themselves as much as they need times of interaction and play with you.

(*I included an excerpt from Bringing Up Bébé at the bottom of this post that more clearly demonstrates this overcorrection. It is potentially my favorite passage of the entire book.)

But the overall point is language does matter. Children hear and understand more than they can express, and language comes with time over repeated instances and circumstances. So now that we have that down, let’s go on to the next foundational concept to our weird rule, and then I’ll connect them.

Concept 2: The difference between a “fixed” and “growth” mindset

First, the definitions.

I knew for sure that language is important, probably because it’s not particularly new information. What was new information for me was the concept between a “growth mindset” and a “fixed mindset.”

Stay with me. I know it sounds like jargon.

Essentially, when you praise someone (including yourself) for something they have done the praise is about one of two traits: a “fixed” trait or a “growth” trait. A fixed trait is one that exists no matter what you do: you’re born with it. Intelligence, physical attractiveness, and “natural talent” are all examples of this; you’re given a finite amount of this trait by the gods/your genes/luck and that’s what you have to work with your whole life. Growth traits are ones that, as the name implies, can be grown/cultured. Hard work, learning things, curiosity, stick-to-itiveness (real thing.), and “grit” (Angela Duckworth’s work about grit is fascinating, by the way) are all examples of growth traits.

When you start to tackle a problem or project and think to yourself, “I’m smart enough to do this,” that’s an example of a fixed mindset. You’re thinking about drawing from your pool of fixed amount of talent and using it. When you instead think, “I can work hard enough to do this,” or, “I can learn to do this,” both of those mentalities are utilizing a growth mindset. You’re thinking instead that you can grow to do something, regardless of innate talent or intelligence.

Next, why a fixed mindset is nicht so gut. 

“Okay, fine, cool, growth mindset is different. But why does it matter? If a person is smart or talented, then they’ll just succeed no matter what, right?” Well, it turns out that’s not necessarily true.

What actually happens when you have a fixed mindset is kind of fascinating yet also eventually debilitating**.

The first result is that with a fixed mindset you become less and less willing to try things that are increasingly difficult, which means less experimentation and much less willingness to stretch yourself. If you have been told repeatedly that your achievements are due solely to your intelligence (as opposed to your hard work, experimentation, trying again after you failed, etc.), you’ll go on fine for a while because your talent probably is enough to get you through what you need to do. Eventually, though, you will run into something difficult. It’s life, and it’s a sign of good things – you have progressed to a point where you need to be challenged and stretch your limits. However, if all you know is that you’re “smart”, what happens is you’re less likely to want to risk trying the difficult thing because your intelligence/talent/fixed trait might be called into question. “But, if I fail, that means I’m not actually smart,” is probably not the actual thought you’ll have, but it’s subconsciously there. You’ll be inclined to take the least risky/easiest path. And greatness isn’t achieved on that path, it’s achieved on the edges. It’s achieved in those places where the struggle is occurring. The hard thing is, though, those stretch zones are filled with mistakes and hard work. And if you’re never praised for having figured things out, or working hard, or, yes, failing and trying again, then you won’t know those are the qualities that will get you through them.

The second result of a fixed mindset is intrinsically tied to the first one but is worth breaking out on its own: people who are constantly praised for their intelligence/talent innately typically do not handle failure well. “Okay, like, who can?” you might be asking. Which, fair. Failure can feel like a punch in the gut, especially if you’ve tried hard at something. However, when you have a fixed mindset failure takes on an even bigger meaning. Instead of seeing failure as a sign to try something different or work harder, if all you’ve been praised for is your talent it means that you are a failure, not just what you did. It suddenly means that you’re not all that smart, after all, despite all praise previously indicating that you are. If you have a growth mindset, you’ll be able to frame it differently: you have found something that doesn’t work and can try something else. You can work harder. You have found yourself in a place where you need to stretch yourself, and that’s where greatness happens. When you fail, it’s not that you’re stupid or untalented, it’s simply an indication that something didn’t work. Doesn’t that seem better than you yourself not being intrinsically good enough? Of course it is – and is why when people with a fixed mindset fail it’s a catastrophe. A while back, Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, had a great video about how her father asked her every week what she had failed at, because he was determined for her to see failure as a good thing. It meant she was stretching herself. It meant she was trying something new and was challenged enough that she wasn’t able to sit comfortably on her laurels. It framed her entire view about failure not as a personal insult to her intelligence or talent, but that instead it meant that she was trying and working hard enough to be able to fail. I cannot encourage watching it enough.

(Finally) bringing it together

I’m pretty sure by now you know where I’m going with this.

We now know that language matters, and we also know that fixed mindsets aren’t good, but what does that mean in practical terms? What does that actually sound like? That’s where our rule comes in.

What we say to our kids impacts them tremendously, and while they won’t be able to express this for a long time, we can help frame their growth mindsets from the get-go through our language. When Connor figures out how to put the puzzle piece in his puzzle correctly, I don’t praise him for being smart, I praise him for working hard to figure that out, or trying, or working through it. Telling him he’s “smart” ends the conversation, and it’s a habit I certainly don’t want to fall into for when he’s older. Remember, language matters, and early language matters more than we may even realize. I wouldn’t ever tell him he’s stupid, but I also do not want “you’re so smart!” to be the only praise he hears and knows. When he fails at something I praise that, too. I tell him that means that he was trying something new, or that next time he’ll learn from it.

Look, I’m 30 years old and arguably better at building block towers than my two-year-old, but if I only praise him for being smart enough to build the tower, or – worse – if I prevent the tower from toppling I’m doing him a disservice. The learning in building block towers is twofold: the first part is the skills to build it, the second (arguably more important part) is learning that when it falls down – i.e., when it fails – what went wrong wasn’t life-ending, and that he can do something different next time to improve on it. I might show him or help him in the process, but I will not do it for him after that. He can stretch himself to his next level of greatness. If all I tell him is that he’s smart, he’ll never want to try anything new because he’s afraid of failing. He’ll only do what he knows he can do or has been shown to do with great amounts of assistance.

I want Connor to always know that working hard and figuring things out is what gets him ahead, not innate intelligence. Even if he is incredibly intelligent – which of course I believe with all my heart he is as I am a mom and have mommy goggles on no matter what – eventually he will get to a point in either his academic career or other career where he is met with people who are also all incredibly intelligent or talented. What will distinguish him then isn’t his past abilities to have easily done things, get good grades, or his intelligence. What will distinguish him is his ability to work through problems, accept failure as a barometer of what to do next time instead of as a defeat, and then try again with the new information at hand. No amount of intelligence can overcome a fear of failure or fear of being perceived as “not smart.”

Is it strange we do have this super harsh rule in our house? It sure seems like it sometimes. No matter how many books or articles I read (which I’ve listed a bunch at the bottom, if you’re interested) I sometimes feel very alone in this endeavor of not telling my child he’s smart. However, knowing that I can in some way help foster a growth mindset in my little one from literally birth is something so powerful I can’t help but try. I want him to know that he’s capable of doing anything, and not just capable of what his intelligence allows.

And so, with that, our shenanigans are up. We slyly subdued ourselves and stopped saying “smart” to our kiddo. Seriously.

 

*Footnote: Bringing Up Bébé excerpt

This is a quote about the constant narration and how far to the “other” extreme parenting in America has become from Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman that also brings in my favorite parenting reference book, The New Basics by Michel Cohen.

“American-style parenting and its accoutrements—the baby flash cards and competitive preschools—are by now clichés. There’s been both a backlash and a backlash to the backlash. So I’m stunned by what I see at a playground in New York City. It’s a special toddler area with a low-rise slide and some bouncy animals, separated from the rest of the park by a high metal gate. The playground is designed for toddlers to safely climb around and fall. A few nannies are sitting French-style on benches around the perimeter, chatting and watching their charges play.

Then a white, upper-middle-class mother walks in with her toddler. She follows him around the miniature equipment, while keeping up a nonstop monologue. “Do you want to go on the froggy, Caleb? Do you want to go on the swing?” Caleb ignores these questions. He evidently plans to just bumble around. But his mother tracks him, continuing to narrate his every move. “You’re stepping, Caleb!” she says at one point. I assume that Caleb just landed a particularly zealous mother. But then the next upper-middle-class woman walks through the gate, pushing a blond toddler in a black T-shirt. She immediately begins narrating all of her child’s actions, too. When the boy wanders over to the gate to stare out at the lawn, the mother evidently decides this isn’t stimulating enough. She rushes over and holds him upside down. “You’re upside down!” she shouts. Moments later, she lifts up her shirt to offer the boy a nip of milk. “We came to the park! We came to the park!” she chirps while he’s drinking. This scene keeps repeating itself with other moms and their kids. After about an hour I can predict with total accuracy whether a mother is going to do this “narrated play” simply by the price of her handbag. What’s most surprising to me is that these mothers aren’t ashamed of how batty they sound. They’re not whispering their commentaries; they’re broadcasting them.

When I describe this scene to Michel Cohen, the French pediatrician in New York, he knows immediately what I’m talking about. He says these mothers are speaking loudly to flaunt what good parents they are. The practice of narrated play is so common that Cohen included a section in his parenting book called Stimulation, which essentially tells mothers to cut it out. “Periods of playing and laughing should alternate naturally with periods of peace and quiet,” Cohen writes. “You don’t have to talk, sing, or entertain constantly.””

(Here’s a jump back for your convenience.)

 

**It is worth noting growth mindset thing is sometimes used as a panacea, especially around education. Let me be perfectly clear: it won’t help children being over-tested or put to sit in chairs for 8 hours a day without recesses. Or children who have increased lead in their blood because of the city’s drinking water (not just a Flint, MI problem, by the way). Or children who come in hungry because they might not get food in between leaving school and getting breakfast at school the next day. Or crumbling infrastructure. These are just a scant few of the structural problems facing our education system, and these are problems that no amount of a growth mindset will fix. Arguably, though, putting children into a constant fixed mindset puts them at a double disadvantage.

 

P.S. In case you’re interested in any of the articles or books about this that I linked above…

Books: 

  • Bringing Up Bébé: My favorite book about parenting that ties in food, sleep, praise, and everything in between in a completely delightful easy-to-read narrative.
  • How to Raise an Adult: Think Bringing Up Bébé but for Americans, with a strong focus on the back end about the push for the “best” colleges. Written by the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford who realized all of a sudden these kids had little to no skills on their own without their parents, and how we got to that point.
  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance: Angela Duckworth is so charismatic but talks a lot about how to have more grit, and why it is so important in our lives, and how the hard times are where we find greatness.
  • The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success: This really goes into the “failing is a really, really, really good thing” idea and explores examples of failures of all sorts and then how we can all fail better.

Articles: 

Video: 

When you find out your next baby is a girl

A few weeks ago we got the big news: WE’RE HAVING A GIRL! 

I am fairly certain this is Connor's reaction to us telling him he's getting a little sister instead of a new puppy.

I am fairly certain this is Connor’s reaction to us telling him he’s getting a little sister instead of a new puppy. Also, this is quite literally my favorite picture of all time, so I had to share it with you.

I’d say we were surprised when we found out, but we both were so sure it was a girl that by 20 weeks in that when the ultrasound tech told us it was a girl we literally replied with something along the lines of, “Didn’t you already say that? Because we knew.” (It should also be pointed out it took over an hour of the tech trying to get all the readings and measurements her exact words finally were, “Of course it’s a girl, a boy would never be this much trouble!” Which, okay, fair.) We are naming the new little nugget Daphne and we have since learned that people either react to that name with, “I love that name!” or, “Oh, um, so, how’d you come up with that?*”

We have a c-section scheduled for April 4th, which apparently is 3.75 months away, which sounds like that’s tomorrow, which freaks me out so much I need to stop talking about that fact right now before I continue this ridiculous run-on sentence any further.

So, moving on. A girl. Wow. While we knew we were having a girl even before we found out officially, Chris and I started talking about all the things we didn’t know about having a girl. Is diapering different? (Yes.) Is sleeping different? (Um, no? Yes? You mean likely little to no sleep for at least 2-3 months? Then no, no different, apparently.) We just wanted to know what we didn’t know! (Everything. We know nothing, per usual, Jon Snow.)

One of the big things we started thinking about (read as: people kept mentioning to us) was the subject of clothing. “Oh how nice you’ll have one of each!” people would say. (Agreed! Yay!) “Too bad they can’t share clothes because they’re different sexes though!” many would then continue. Typically I would look at the person befuddled because it would never occur to me that my girl can’t wear jeans, navies, blues, green, or any multitude of “boy” clothes. I can’t say I honestly care whether or not my girl baby “looks” like a girl baby. Babies are babies, and babies are cute, whether they are in pink or blue. Connor was constantly mistaken for a girl despite wearing “boy” clothes, and I’m sure Daphne will be for a boy, even if she is wearing a pink tutu and a bow on her head.

No, the real “problem” with clothes we’re facing is the actual logistical spacing of the chitluns. They will be 2.5 years apart (within 2 days of exactly 2.5 years, actually, assuming Daphne doesn’t make an early grand entrance into the world) which sounds great on paper until you realize that the 6 month difference actually means their clothes are diametrically opposed to each other. When Connor was 3 months old it was January and when Daphne will be 3 months old it will be July. Their sizes and clothes for the seasons, by and large, simply will not mesh well for reuse.

This timing conundrum is what leads me to looking at clothes for girls almost constantly and wondering, “what the damn hell, world?!” And then I start thinking bigger, which is when I usually start thinking that question in all caps in my head.

Suddenly all the articles I’ve read about girl and boy clothes make so much sense. I am given flashbacks to a Gap ad from this year that was almost universally panned because the boy clothes were advertised as “The little scholar: your future starts here” with a t-shirt with Albert Einstein on it (cute! So cute! Yay science! Industry! Innovation!) while the little girl clothes were advertised as “The Social Butterfly: …the talk of the playground” because, why? Girls don’t care about science? Girls have to be social to succeed while boys don’t?

I’m still baffled by this. Here, let me show you the exact ad I’m talking about and then we can go on.

What’s sad to me is that Gap got in trouble because the Internet-at-large decided this one time was annoying, not because they are the exception to the rule. Here, let me give you another example of what I’m talking about that didn’t get that kind of backlash.

A few months ago there was an Internet-at-large fad called “3 characters.” The premise is simple and fun: you name the 3 fictional characters that best encompass your personality or put them up as a picture (it’s more fun if you do the picture thing because The Internet). Chris and I had a healthy debate about his 3 characters and settled on these three:

(Chris does not actually fear the ocean, but often says things like this.)

(Chris’s 3 Characters: Nick Miller from New Girl, Danny Castellano from Mindy Project (pre-Hulu downfall), and Jake Peralta from Brooklyn Nine Nine. Extra note: Chris does not actually fear the ocean, but often says things like this.)

The important thing about 3 Characters** is that you name the characters that actually represent you, not the ones you wish represented you. When it came to my turn we stalled. Completely. We got Liz Lemon from 30 Rock and Jane from Jane the Virgin because her struggles in parenthood and balancing a creative career have been so beautifully depicted on the show. But then..nada. Here’s what my 3 Characters looks like:

3-characters-taylor-1

 

Again, totally stuck on my third. I racked my brain trying to find female characters. Mindy? Well, I love Mindy (well, before she went to Hulu, that is) and her style, but she’s not my inner being as she is (funnily) only interested in popular culture and her own self image. The Gilmores? Nope, not really. Rory is far too type-A, Lorelei strikes me as being far too immature for being 32+ (which I am happy to debate her stunted emotional development having had a child at 16, but still doesn’t capture my inner being either way). The Sex and the City ladies? Can’t say that any one of them captures a huge part of my personality. Jessica Day from New Girl? I love her style but I’m simply not as into crafting, glitter, and all things that make her funny. Lucille Bluth? Obviously into the “wish” category and not the “actual” representation one, like Jack Donaghy is for Chris. Anyhow, you get the idea. Thinking of female characters with big parts was hard enough, but finding female characters that didn’t have only one dominating personality trait became almost impossible, especially when trying to find a personality trait that wasn’t “hyper-tense” or “ultra girly-girl”.

The exercise was frustrating because mostly I wanted to put my three characters up and participate, but by the time I had finished my existential crisis and lack of understanding of why women in popular culture are portrayed as one-dimensional beings the fad was over. (To be fair, it lasted approximately 30 hours.)

I came to the realization that the conversation underlying my anxiety about having a girl was a much more nuanced conversation than what the-media-at-large was willing (and/or able) to have. It’s also a conversation I am definitely not qualified to speak at length about. But in my opinion, pink isn’t the “problem”, because if you like pink, wear pink! Pink is cool, just like purple, or blue, or green, or any color that strikes your eyeballs in a pleasing way. The problem for me, I came to realize, is that kids (and adults!) are rarely given books, cartoons, shows, that depict women or girls as lead characters with more than one personality trait, where male characters are more often multifaceted and nuanced.

So what do I do about this for my own children? Little things. I read Madeline to Connor just as much as Paddington. Just because Madeline is a girl doesn’t make it “off limits” to boys, just like having a male character won’t make a book “off limits” to girls (which, thank goodness, because we’d pretty much be left with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Madeline otherwise). The thing I work toward is normalizing female and male characters to both my children, regardless of their gender.

The thing, is, though, this normalizing thing is harder than it sounds, as demonstrated by my own difficulty with the 3 Characters exercise and Chris’s ease with it. Then, almost by fate, I met Andrea Doshi, who also happened to be thinking about this exact problem. Only, instead of stress-eating chocolate and cheese (as was apparently my personal solution) she went out and did something cool. Thank goodness for people like Andrea.

The lack of female protagonists isn’t in my head. According to a study done in 2011, only 31% of children’s books have a female protagonist. You guys, females don’t even make up a third of female protagonists in kids literature. Not. even. a. third. When I said “normalizing is hard”, I didn’t realize I meant “normalizing is next to impossible.” I’m going to add this to my “list of reasons to have a glass of wine in less than 4 months” as number 348,734,872.

instagram_bessie-and-bloony-on-front-porchSo while I was busy eating chocolate and cheese, Andrea and her sister-in-law Jimena started a passion project to create a series of fairy tale books with female characters as the leads, based on real-life women in history. Cool, right? Like, super cool. The first in the series is about Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to hold a pilot’s license. Since my dad was a pilot this one holds a very special place in my heart. This little girl dreaming of touching the sky someday is exactly how my dad talked about flying airplanes.

In order to get these fantastic books off the ground and printed there is a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money. Funds have to be raised by January 15, and for $15 you will receive your very own copy of “Bessie, Queen of the Sky” once printed. What I love is these books aren’t just for little girls – they’re for every child who wants to imagine what they can do if they put their mind to it, which is to say more simply: every child. And, because that wasn’t big enough, they will donate a book to local and international literacy charities for every book purchased in a one-to-one program. Wow.

My anxieties in raising a little girl (slash, child) in the world in which we live in today haven’t really gotten lower, and we as a society have a lot to talk about, clearly. But knowing that I can help normalize the idea of women and men both being able to choose their paths, favorite colors, and participating fully in 30-hour internet memes with equal ease is comforting.

Now, to actually go prepare for a second child to enter my house while also potty training the first. Because that is most certainly not comforting. TGFCACWP (Thank goodness for chocolate and cheese while pregnant.)

 

*The answer is: we agreed on close to 0 girl names and close to 15 boy names, and finally compromised on a name that was “old” (as in, “had been around a long time”, a Chris criterium) yet wasn’t super popular and was somewhat unique as well (a Taylor criterium). I spent a lot of time on nameberry.com. A lot of time.

**I am fully aware there is not actually any important thing about 3 Characters.

The one thing you should never do while pregnant

It all started innocently enough.

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Every so often, Publix releases limited-edition Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers. They are literally my favorite holiday decoration I own.

My friend from college, Bethany (who also runs myfakefoodblog.com, which is both hilarious and delicious, and who happens to also be from Florida) posted a picture on Instagram of her Publix Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers and tagged me in it, because if you know me at all, you would know this is a completely rational thing to do. Now, if you don’t know what the Publix Pilgrims are, hang with me. I will attempt to explain in a little bit, and also what led to my downfall this past Sunday.

A little while after she had posted her Instagram picture Bethany texted me with an emergency. Well, it would be considered an emergency if you grew up in Florida* in the 90s. And by emergency, I mean an “actual, factual, real-life, earth-shattering revelation” about someone she works with.

Now, let me fill in the story for those folks not lucky** enough to have been in Florida in the 1990s. Publix is a grocery store that started in Florida and has since grown into states in the Southeast United States. The thing is, though, Publix sort of has this whole other level of existence for Floridians where if I try to tell people from out of state that it’s a grocery store the immediate and overlapping next words from Floridians are, “but it’s so much…more.” They each have a sub shop that serves the divinest of sub sandwiches. The stores are clean. The prices are fair. The employees universally go out of their way to help shoppers and customers and wear large buttons on their uniforms that tell customers never to tip them, for shopping at Publix is a pleasure. No, literally. That’s the slogan: Where Shopping Is a Pleasure. And it is. Shopping at Publix is, quite literally, a pleasure. Florida puts Publix up on highway exit signs for the restaurants. Floridians love Publix. When I was in college in North Carolina (this was years before Publix had broken ground in North Carolina) I wrote to Publix to ask if they would please open a store in Winston-Salem. And you know what they did? They wrote me back. They thanked me profusely for being such a wonderful customer. They told me that customers like me where what made them proud to do what they do. It’s so much…more.

“Okay, so Publix is cool, I guess, but what did you mean by Publix Pilgrims, you crazy lady?” I’m sure you’re asking by now. I’m getting there, I swear.

So we know that while shopping at Publix might be a pleasure, just as pleasureful*** are the commercials Publix puts out, specifically around holidays. The Whos in Whoville didn’t need to sing to grow the Grinch’s heart, all they had to do was play him any one of the Publix commercials put out over the years. However, the single most quintessential Publix commercial that every Florida kid associates with Thanksgiving – and subsequently their childhood – is what we all call the Publix Pilgrims Commercial (capital ‘P’, capital ‘P’, capital ‘C’).

Here, I’ll give you a minute to soak it in.

Go ahead, play it again. It’s adorable. And I’m being quite serious here, these Publix Pilgrims are as much a part of Thanksgiving to me as turkey and pumpkin pie.

This is why when Bethany texted me that her coworker had in his possession the original Publix Pilgrims, I actually screamed. Yes, that’s right. The ones in the commercial.

I will give all Floridians in the room this time to compose themselves. Are we good? Okay.

After hyperventilating a bit, I got a little bit more scoop. Years and years ago, Bethany’s coworker produced the commercial (Bethany works in advertising, because she’s cool and I don’t understand how people that are cool actually still are friends with me), and I guess he got to keep the shakers. But the worst part? He doesn’t even know where they are now. My first question only a Floridian would ask was, “Why aren’t they in the Smithsonian?!” because in my head they are almost as culturally important as Dorothy’s red slippers. My other Florida friends corroborated this question as well, not even understanding that something this culturally and historically valuable to our favorite holiday could actually be privately held. I suppose he didn’t grow up with the commercial, but the fact that they aren’t in an historically-preserved shadowbox display above his (perhaps hypothetical) fireplace literally astounds me.

You see what I mean about the emergency text? Floridians get it. So let’s move on to what happened Sunday.

After getting back from the park where I screamed the scream that shall forever be known as “the scream of knowing someone who knows someone who possesses the original Publix Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers” (read as: high-pitched, incredibly loud, alarming, and misunderstood by those who did not grow up with this cultural reference of the Publix Pilgrims) I decided I must indoctrinate Connor into the world of associating the Publix Pilgrims with Thanksgiving. I turned on our TV (which is “smart”, meaning, YouTube-enabled), and played the commercial. Twice.

And then, not fully realizing the magnitude of what would happen after this, I accidentally allowed YouTube to autoplay the next video(s), which were all the Publix holiday commercials of all time.

Now, these are tearjerkers in the best of times, but with pregnancy hormones a-ragin’, I didn’t stand a shot.

First came this one, titled, “Head of the Table.”

*sniffle.* Is it dusty in here? It seems a little dusty in here.

And then this one played.

This is when the tears really started to get going.

But then…this one came next.

Oh man. I gave up all hope of wiping any tears away at that point. I was a full-fledged mess.

But finally, the coup d’état, the one that made me go from “crying” to “full-on ugly-cry bawling” wasn’t even a Thanksgiving/Christmas commercial. It was this one.

“You’re really going to love Mom.”

WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME, PUBLIX?! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! 

Even now, I can’t watch this commercial without ugly-crying. I think it might literally be impossible as a pregnant person to see this video and not sob.

You might think upon composing yourself, “But isn’t this all just marketing? Doesn’t it seem a little bit like Publix is toying with your emotions?” But, the thing about Publix is, it doesn’t feel like that. If you grew up with Publix, you get it. The people at Publix overwhelmingly make you feel this warm inside on any given Tuesday. These commercials are an extension of them.

It took me a good 20 minutes to compose myself after this marathon of (potentially pregnancy-related) emotional catharsis. Chris was crying too, only his tears were from laughing at me so hard he was reduced to tears. I’ll take it, I guess.

So that’s my story. If you are an emotionally-compromised pregnant person and do not want to be irrationally reduced down to a pile of sobbing tears in a matter of 5-7 minutes, do not watch Publix holiday commercials.

I would say I regret it, but I don’t. Thank you, Publix, for making everything better, and making every memory I have of being in your stores a pleasure.

*And maybe Georgia? Did you guys have Publix up there back then?

**Yes, I said “lucky to be in Florida.” Wanna rumble? Because I can rumble!

***Fun fact: I literally just learned that “pleasureful” is a real word

(And, to show you guys just how much I love you, this is a selfie I took no fewer than 10 minutes after Chris smartly turned the TV off to save me from myself. The struggle. is. so. real.)

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Dearest Trains (A love letter from my toddler to trains)

A letter from my toddler to trains:

Dearest Choo Choos,

You guys. Literally. This happens EVERY TIME we ride the train. I hope you don’t mind me using my pet name for you in such a formal letter, but I feel it is only right.

I can no longer remember a time when our love did not spring eternal. For me, there has only ever been trains, and there only ever will be trains. I think about trains as I sleep. When I awake, my first thought is not of food, nor water, nor dogs, nor cats, nor walks, but rather you, my one, my only, my Choo Choo.

There is a tall woman in our house with me all the time who calls herself Mama. She sometimes also plays with the trains and the tracks on which we can build empires, but I know her love is only surface level. I can see in her eyes she does not seem to possess the passion, the fervor, the pure adoration I have for you, my trains.

The Tall Woman often takes me for walks and strolls. Many times I see you passing overhead like the shining beacons of fascinating wonder you are. Sure, Tall Woman may sit and wave “Hi Trains!!” but it is only after I hear them first. I must wonder if she even cares if I’m not there. Tell me: if a train rumbles by in the city without a toddler, does anyone wave?

There are also days where we go far across the city and those days are the best days. We must stroll along the tracks of wonderment to a loading station that, as the Tall Woman describes every time as, “not our closest station but one that has an elevator because seriously Chicago, it’s not like it’s 20freaking16 or anything.” We ride in the elevator that somehow smells like my dirty diaper bin mixed with “industrial solvent” (Tall Woman’s words) and then, finally, we are there and our time has come. Our time has finally come!

I can see the lights of the train approaching. I start waving to you, my only, my love, and then, you come! You glitter and gleam in the sunlight! You have arrived! Sometimes in my excitement the man or woman in the front of the train waves or even makes the train make a strange squeaking sound the Tall Woman tells me is the train “honking.” I know not of this honking, but only of the fact that we can be united at last.

I close this letter to you hoping only to be united sooner rather than later. Do know, my dearest trains, that even when I look at other toys or take other modes of transportation I think only of you, my one, my only, my Choo Choooooooooooo.

With only the deepest of loves,

Wee Connor


Thomas and FriendsA special extra bonus note from the Tall Lady! You guys, it’s a giveaway!)

As you might have guessed, Wee Connor has officially hit the “toddler train obsession” stage. It’s adorable. I love it. And, for the record, despite what Connor’s letter says I really do enjoy this more than most any other toy he has in his possession.

So, in honor of this phase in our lives, I (for reasons I cannot fathom) have actually been authorized to do a special Thomas and Friends giveaway of their brand spanking new Blu-ray! Released just this week, I can officially give out 5 copies of the latest Thomas and Friends Blu-ray.

All you have to do to enter is write me something in the comments! Tell me what your child’s latest obsession/craze is! Is it trains? Cars? Dolls? Planes? Space? I love all of these things and want to hear about what’s going on with your family!

After the giveaway I’ll pick 5 comments at random and you’ll be contacted by me for more information on getting the Blu-ray. Good luck!!

I listened to “Part of Your World” as an adult

ugly old creepI had heard rumblings that you could finally know you had turned into a full-fledged-no-turning-back-now-too-old-to-function grownup was when you actually could side with (or at least understand some points of) the parents/authority figures in Disney movies instead of the protagonists.

Let me give some back story. The Little Mermaid was, bar none, my favorite Disney movie growing up. I spent literal hours, if not cumulative days, in my pool after school (oh, yeah, this might be a Florida kid motif here), pretending I was a mermaid. You know how there are those articles about how classic Disney VHS tapes are now worth tens of thousands of dollars? Well, clearly they have not seen my so-worn-out-they-were-disintegrating-15-years-ago-from-too-much-use tapes. (Does anyone else remember rewinding machines? I do.) And if you’re ready to get really jealous now? I had a (feel free to sit down because, again, you are going to be that jealousLittle Mermaid charm bracelet. I wore it with my overall shorts because it was the late ’80s/’90s and the ’90s were an incredibly strange time to be a child and overall shorts were a major thing.

Connor watching Little Mermaid

Parenting disclaimer: screen time rules have been loosened. Sometimes mom has to cook dinner. STOP JUDGING ME.

The moment I realized I could watch The Little Mermaid with my son with absolute impunity of enjoyment was a pretty great moment for me. And, don’t get me wrong, I still get that spine-tingling sensation the moment the opening music starts playing. I know all the words. I love this movie with all my heart.

However, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t turned into one of those full-fledged-no-turning-back-now-too-old-to-functioning grownups. This is why, when I listened to “Part of Your World” with new parent ears some things sort of hit me in a new way. So, if you will, allow me to break down this magical Alan Menken masterpiece through the ears of a parent.

Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat?

Neat? Um, well … “neat” isn’t exactly the word I would use, but I suppose one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so, yeah, we can go with “neat.”

Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?

Complete? Yes, definitely. For the love of all that is holy, “complete” is definitely the word I would use. “Hoarding” might be another one to consider.

Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl
The girl who has everything?

Considering you are a literal princess who has the apparent run of the entire ocean complete with a singing entourage and yet still has a cave ‘o of crap, yup. “Everything” just about covers it.

Look at this trove, treasures untold
How many wonders can one cavern hold?

Again, way too many. I’d really like to recommend this book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It might really make you re-think this little hoarder’s nest you’ve got going on. Do you have Amazon Prime under the sea? 

Looking around here you’d think
Sure, she’s got everything

Okay, Ariel. Sure, you’ve got “everything.”

I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty

That you do.

I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore

No arguments here.

You want thingamabobs? I’ve got twenty!

…right, so…that’s the whole point, right? Do you need twenty? Or would one suffice? It’s a difficult question but some self-evaluation might help here.

But who cares? No big deal,
I want more

I wonder if TLC’s hoarding show has SCUBA gear.

I wanna be where the people are
I wanna see, wanna see them dancing

I’m going to assume you mean more in the “Tchaikovsky ballet” genre than “errrbody in the club” way, so, yes, that’s a fair request.

Walking around on those
What do you call ’em? Oh, feet

I guess I won’t break it to you yet that feet are actually pretty disgusting. One order of suspension of disbelief, hot and ready!

Flipping your fins you don’t get too far

We’re going to have to agree to disagree here. I feel I’ve watched you span miles of ocean whereas you barely made it out of the castle in your three days on land. Objectively, you definitely get further in the ocean than on land.

Legs are required for jumping, dancing
Strolling along down a
What’s that word again?
Street

I also appreciate a walkable urban environment, Ariel! We totally have that in common.

Up where they walk, up where they run
Up where they stay all day in the sun

Hm, okay, so, here’s the thing. You have red hair and most likely will get a sunburn simply thinking too hard about the sun. Here, let me see if I can find that pamphlet I have lying around…yup, here it is: “Melanoma and you: wear your damn sunscreen.” Sorry, Ariel, but them’s the breaks.

Wandering free
Wish I could be, part of that world

Wait, today you went into a shipwreck, you have an entire unnoticed hoarding cave of “treasures,” and, not to harp on this, you’re the favorite princess of the king of the ocean. I feel like you and I have different definitions of the word “free.”

What would I give if I could live
Out of these waters?

This is a more telling line in the song than I realized, now that I think about it. What would you give? A kingdom, your family, a singing entourage of sea life to cheer you up at your whimsy. 

What would I pay to spend a day
Warm on the sand?

In fairness, Ariel, you have never had the pleasure of wiping down every molecule of sand out of every crevice of your car and body after a day at the beach.

Betcha’ on land, they’d understand
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters

Oh, honey. Oh, dear, dear, dear honey. The seaweed is always greener, indeed.

Bright young women, sick of swimming
Ready to stand

I’m a wee bit curious. Do you think yours is a common ailment up on land? That so many women on land have also been mermaids and are sick of swimming? Because this seems like a really, really localized request here.

And I’m ready to know what the people know
Ask ’em my questions
And get some answers
What’s a fire and why does it – what’s the word?
Burn?

Yay educational pursuits! You go, Honey, er, Ariel.

When’s it my turn?

Girlfriend, you are six.teen. years. old. You need to simmer down now and take that teenage angst and put it to good use, like cleaning out your hoarder cave.

Wouldn’t I love, love to explore that shore up above?

Well, sure, but lest we forget the man you are so in love with has the exact same desire to explore, but to explore your little realm of the sea. Exploring is pretty engrained much the human (mermaid?) spirit.

Out of the sea
Wish I could be
Part of that world

And now this song will be stuck in my head for approximately 32 years. There are worse fates. Alan Menken, you are a genius and my hero. 

 

Proof that toddlers are really just our baser selves

(Alternate title: Notes from 19 months, because I haven’t posted one of those in a really, really, really long time, and also that title is too long so we can just go with the original blog post title)

I used to think toddlers were living, breathing, walking, running, falling, crying, enigmas never to be truly understood. Recently, however, I’ve come up with a little bit of a different theory. It’s not so much that toddlers are so different from us older-folk, it’s that they are simply miniature versions of our baser selves. If we were to take our most basic desires of behavior and bundle it up into a smaller human it would be exactly a toddler.

Here’s what I mean.


They just walk away from conversations they have no interest in

Do you see this? This walking away thing? This is what happens when you think you're being really interesting to a toddler.

Do you see this? This walking away thing? This is what happens when you think you’re being really interesting to a toddler. Bye, Felicia.

My husband has said on multiple occasions that I get into more random conversations where people tell me their deepest life stories than anyone he has ever met. Going through the deli at the store? Sure, I’ll for some reason listen to your story about how you can no longer do yoga due to your achilles tendon acting up sometimes*. At the pet store buying dog food? Why not, please do tell me about how your aunt’s tuna casserole won the best tuna casserole competition in Muncie, Indiana, in 1988**.

As often as I get into these conversations I also cannot seem to get out of them. I don’t know where the breaking-off point is, so I inevitably just keep asking questions, assuming the end must be in sight. I always assume incorrectly.

Toddlers do not have this problem. One of my parents’ favorite stories about me as a toddler was that whenever they traveled (which happened a lot as a pilot and flight attendant) and we talked on the phone and I was done talking I would just say, “I’m done!” and then walk away. It didn’t matter what the person on the other end of the line was saying or even if they were in mid-sentence. If I was done, it was over. Move on, slick. Nothing to see here.

It’s a super power I wish I could harness again, but alas, it seems I am forever doomed to simply become entrenched in conversations about people’s cousin’s cat’s favorite snacks***.


They can bite into a large wedge of cheese and feel no remorse

IMG_20160516_115647Sure, that huge chunk of Jarlsberg is calling to you, but something is probably holding you back from taking that wedge and jamming it straight into your preferred facehole.

Call it, “societal pressure,” or, “that last time that happened I got so sick I vowed it wouldn’t happen a fourth time,” or, “this is what separates us from the animal kingdom: knives for our cheese wedges,” digging into cheese and treating it like the food crack it is has become taboo in our culture. (For shame!)

Toddlers know not of these societal pressures, which leads to scenarios (like the one pictured here) of them actually gnawing into an entire wedge of Jarlsberg with reckless abandon. This inevitably makes moms look over and say something to themselves along the lines of, “It’s dairy, right? So, like, it’s healthy?”

But look at this face! This is exactly what you want to do to that wedge of cheese and you know it.


When they don’t want to go somewhere they just start crying

Picture this: it’s Monday morning. You’re on the train/bus/in your car with the crush of humanity, headed straight away from the weekend and toward five days of work in a sad, grey little cubicle (or, potentially worse, a brightly-colored, blinding conglomeration of what corporate America has most recently decided “brightens employee spirits for synergy”).

On the outside you’re probably sort-of pulling it together. Your face probably resembles something along the lines of this:

andy samberg meh gif

While your inside is actually consumed by the desire to do this:

crying emma stone gif

Toddlers simply don’t possess that first “I’m screaming on the inside but I’ll settle for stinky-cheese face on the outside” face. In fairness, they have no motivation to develop said “cool” exterior. If they don’t want to go somewhere, the squeakiest wheel also happens to be the loudest one. There is much debate in the parenting world on how to handle said squeaky-wheel-turned-screaming-wheel debacles, but the point is this: your inner self wishes it could actually scream from the rooftops how it feels about going somewhere undesirable just like a toddler actually gets to.


Their dessert consumption tactics are ideal

Snapchat-2979400929942602501Have you ever watched a toddler eat dessert? It’s magnificent. If you want to see just how creative a toddler mind can become, hand them something sweet and observe the results.

I have many examples of this, but most recently Wee Connor and I went to a restaurant in Lincoln Park called Jam ‘n Honey. This restaurant is famous for putting huge jars of Nutella and honey on the table for your spreading delights. Obviously I allowed Connor a Nutella toast because I’m a terrible parent who subscribes to the “everything in moderation” idea, and also because Nutella is potentially proof there is a higher power out there who loves us dearly.

I didn’t even realize there was a right way and a wrong way to eat Nutella toast, but grownups clearly have always been on the “wrong” side of the spectrum since coming into our sad little grownup existences. Wee Connor schooled us all by taking said toast straight to his face, licking off the Nutella from the toast, putting it down, looking at me, and then saying and signing (this is the only sign he knows, and I don’t know where he learned it, by the way) “more!” emphatically. See what I mean? Realistically who cares about the toast? The toast is obviously a vehicle to deliver as much Nutella as can humanly fit inside a human stomach, so why would you destroy said vehicle? No more Nutella vehicle, no more Nutella. It’s so simple it’s brilliant, really.

If we all listened to our inner dessert voice we, too, could channel these tactics. Luckily toddlers wear those inner dessert voices on the outside, which is convenient because that’s where half their desserts end up as well: straight on the outside of everything.


*True story
**Also a true story, though details on that one might be blurred a bit
***You guessed it****.
****It went, in order of preference: Goldfish crackers, Friskies treats, shredded chicken, chopped tomatoes. And no, I don’t actually know how the ranking system was established.


P.S. I recently decided to become all official-like and start a Facebook page for my blog. Come on over and like it! I’ll be posting updates and maybe even funny or interesting things along the way.

I got to ride in an adult-sized stroller because sometimes life really is that awesome

When Contours Baby* contacted me and asked if I would perhaps be willing to come downtown to witness and/or experience FCB Chicago’s latest brainchild for parents allowing them to test strollers in a real way, I was intrigued because how do we actually know if a stroller is comfortable or not? (Babies are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to critiques of stroller ergonomics.) When I found out this would entail me hopping into – and being pushed in – an adult-sized exact replica of their flagship stroller I almost fell out of my chair in excitement.

Oh, who are we kidding? I absolutely, literally, fell out of my chair in excitement.

You see, after 19 months (whaaaat?!) of pushing another living being around in an ergonomically-designed wheeled contraption there was nothing – nothing – I wanted more than to experience this bliss myself. And wouldn’t you know? The name of the stroller model is literally Bliss. I’m talking fate, people. Kismet, if you will.

I know that's exactly what they described, but I will still never be able to handle it.

I know that’s exactly what they described, but I will still never be able to handle it.

The nice folks over at Contours had described the concept as a “full-scale, adult-sized, exact replica of the stroller,” and so I’m not sure why I was so shocked to see exactly that. Maybe I expected the general framework, but not all the details? But no. They spared no detail. The mesh undercarriage, the seat, the cute design on the inside of the sun shade, the mesh holders inside to hold toys (which I could only assume were to hold bottles of wine on the adult-sized one)? They were all there. Exactly to scale. Exactly as they appear on the baby-sized stroller.

The whole purpose of the day was for FCB to be able to film the stroller in action to get real reactions of people who are not used to riding around in adult-sized strollers (so their sample size was presumably pretty much any adult). They decided to film my piece down Michigan Avenue (the Magnificent Mile, for those not as familiar with Chicago, but who might have heard that term).

We planted ourselves right in front of the Water Tower, which is pretty much the epicenter of the most touristy part of the Mag Mile.

I strapped myself in with the 5-point harness because safety first, everyone

IMG_20160502_161818

Please note the lovely step stool…that fit in the undercarriage holder. Amazing.

I addressed my legions of adoring fans…

When you're famous I've learned it's always important to make time for the little people. And maybe also not call them little people. And then also realize you are in no way famous.

When you’re famous I’ve learned it’s always important to make time for the little people. And maybe also not call them little people. And then also realize you are in no way famous.

And then we set off down Michigan Avenue…

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I almost felt guilty about having someone so tiny push me and this ginormous stroller…

…but then realized this was pretty much the best thing that had ever happened to me. Also, karma. Or something.

Yes, moms of the world, riding in a stroller really is as awesome as we have always wondered.

Yes, moms of the world, riding in a stroller really is as awesome as we have always wondered.

People (tourists and locals alike) could not stop taking pictures. If I’m going to become internet famous, this is absolutely how I’d prefer it to happen.

Eventually I brought Wee Connor up with me into the stroller. I did my best “baby napping in a stroller” impression while he did his best “parent hating the fact that their child is napping in a stroller instead of in their crib” impression.

I'm so glad I could start being the most embarrassing human on the planet so early.

Nailed it.

The verdict? The stroller was super comfortable, the ride, while beyond understandably slow, was steady and smooth, and I pretty much had the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life on Michigan Avenue. Also, I got to ride in a freaking adult-sized stroller, and that is every mom’s secret dream.

Thanks for the good times, Contours! I had a blast.

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Just your average Monday in Chicago, folks.

 

*P.S. Contours is having a $150 Spa Finder giveaway on their Facebook page right now through Friday, May 6th!

**FCB Chicago is an ad agency who partnered with Contours to enter into the Cannes Lions. An earlier version of this post stated the entry was solely by Contours.

The day I realized I’m a “free-range” parent

IMG_20160308_163827It was the moment I was instructed to ask my 16-month-old if I was allowed to go to the bathroom something clicked inside me. 

Allow me to explain how this happened.

We live in Chicago and in Chicago the search for preschools tends to start shockingly early for parents for many reasons that are too numerous and possibly too politically charged to go into here. Though my friends in New York and DC are want to tell me that Chicago can’t even possibly compare to their situation (“You can still get into a preschool with a child that’s 16 months old? Pshah!”), education – even private education – in Chicago is a notoriously prickly scenario with education intrinsically tied to the politics, unions, and budget crises plaguing the city and state. Many of these reasons are why I, a stay-at-home mother of a 16-month-old, found myself attending a preschool open house. In their packet the kind folks at this particular preschool included articles outlining the values of “free play”, one of which, an Atlantic article outlining the crushing of preschoolers, I had shared on my own personal Facebook wall not three days earlier. “Is this a bastion of free play?” I thought to myself. “What luck to have a place four blocks away from our place that has also read the millions of articles about the Finnish schools allowing children to play that are circulating these days!”

As luck (I thought, foolishly, at the time) would have it this particular preschool also offered a “parent and toddler” class for the littler ones. They again boasted of pure “free play”, no light-up toys, and “dramatic play spaces” (which as best as I can gather in the preschool world now means miniature play kitchens). They offered a trial class to me in order to try the class to which I enthusiastically replied “yes,” and immediately started daydreaming about all the energy my son would burn off while he “free played” and how I could get out of the house and spend a morning talking to other parents. It really was a win-win scenario when I looked at it on paper.

When we arrived it turned out my “win-win” scenario was best left to paper. It didn’t take long for me to be grateful I wasn’t tall, else I’d fear being buzzed with all the helicoptering going on.

Prior to this the only “organized” activities my son and I had attended were a play group at the local German school where I was typically either the only American or one of two Americans and a music class we attended weekly where the toddlers all play together while the parents chat interspersed by songs or books. I very much did not want to get into a habit of overloading my son (or myself) with too many activities per week, mostly due to the fact that, first, I simply don’t have the patience for that and, more importantly, I actually wanted my son to be able to have true free time to explore his own spaces and imagine ways to play without structure. Some days we would go to the park, some days we would go to the coffee shop with a little play area, and some days we play – dare I say “free play”, even – around our home. Needless to say I was ill-prepared for the culture shock of witnessing the true-blue helicopter parenting that lay ahead of me that day.

The setup for the class was admittedly fantastic: there were two rooms, one with all sorts of art supplies such as clay, paints, sand, water, etc., and another room with toys such as puzzles, blocks, balls, kitchen and tea sets, and scooter bikes for the little ones to explore. We arrived, I introduced myself to the teacher and my son was off like a shot, ready to explore and play. I was relieved things were going to plan and then suddenly realized: none of the children were playing by themselves or with each other. I kept looking and was shocked to see every single parent playing with their child. I finally looked closer and realized that was actually a misjudgment: these parents weren’t playing with their children, they were playing for their children.

While pregnant, I read Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman and it resonated with me in many profound ways. One of the items she brought up as a difference between English-speaking parents (as she included Brits and Aussies as having this American habit as well) and the central-Europeans was the habit of a constant narration as their child played. It’s not that the French (or Germans, Italians, Swiss, etc.) don’t speak, read, and play with their children, it’s that they don’t constantly find the need to narrate their child’s every move when there is a perfectly good play environment and other children around them. That time is considered their time to explore and live in a child’s world with other children, and your time to hang back and allow them to do just that while also modeling peer-to-peer communication.

This would have been considered heresy at this mom and toddler class. Not only was a constant narration accepted, it was required. A quick soundbite went something along the lines of, “Oh, Suzy [an 18-month-old], you have a dolly? Oh do you like dollies? Do you want to put the dolly in the stroller? Can you push the dolly? Oh, are you done with the dolly now? Okay, do you want to go over to the kitchen now? Oh my goodness, the kitchen! Look at the kitchen! It’s a plate! Do you see the plate? Look at the plate! Oh, you have the plate! What goes on the plate? Does the tomato go on the plate? Oh, are you done with the kitchen now? Do you want to play with the ball?”

This narration never stopped. I was exhausted just watching these parents within five minutes. What I witnessed was not children “free playing” but children with a constant external voice butting itself into their heads. I couldn’t imagine trying to do anything with someone chattering away at me. “Oh, Taylor, are you putting away the dishes? Oh, do you have a plate? Where does the plate go, Taylor? Oh, no, the plate doesn’t go in the drawer, where does the plate go?” I would be a nervous wreck before finally getting so annoyed I would give up and let the person narrating do the dishes Indeed, this is exactly what happened for the toddlers. Upon finding a new toy and trying to play with it the toddlers would be swamped with an adult’s voice in their ear, not allowing them to discover and play on their own. Frustrated, they would then look at the parent playing with their new toy and move on only to have the cycle start again.

I refused to narrate my son’s every move. It’s simply not in my DNA to interrupt my child’s good time to needlessly narrate his actions constantly or break his ability to imagine and create on his own. The teacher every so often would come over and try to “teach” me what to do and I in turn would try to break her narrative to talk to her on an adult level. I tried making conversations with the other moms but had little to no luck. All conversation responses tended to be short interruptions of their one and only focus: their children. At one point one of the moms saw her child walk not six feet away and she broke in mid-sentence to go over to him despite him being completely content with the activity he had chosen. I felt like I had walked into an entirely different parenting universe.

In my first of what would be many errors that day I stupidly became overwhelmed with the urge to use the bathroom. To this day I don’t know what I was thinking: having a bodily function come over me like that. The bathroom was not only on the same floor as the mom/toddler class, but was so close it shared a wall. Under normal circumstances I would have seen my son happy as a lark playing on a little riding toy and I would have slipped out knowing that even if he became distressed in my absence by the time he noticed I would have been halfway back (to say nothing of the fact that I feel my son needs to learn that everyone goes to the bathroom and he will survive in the time away from me). However, in trying to play nice with the atmosphere I decided instead to notify the teacher I was going to use the bathroom so that she could, theoretically, look after my son since the adult-to-child ratio in the room would still be 1:1 even during my temporary departure.

In this moment I felt time slow between us. She not only looked shocked but appalled. I tried to fill in the space with a meager, “Is the one right next to the door okay for me to use?” as if to say, “I’m not actually asking you, you know.” She in turn filled the space with an, “Ummm” noise, a pause, and then followed with the words that would ring in my ears for weeks to come, “Have you asked your son’s permission to use the bathroom?” I thought about laughing and in a moment of rare clarity held back. I then thought about saying what I thought of this question (something along the lines of, “Why, no, because he is 16 months old and I don’t ask anyone, let alone a 16-month-old, if I may use the bathroom.”) and again, with remarkable clarity of mind, held back. I replied that, no, I had not, but he should be fine, and as I was turning around the teacher stood her ground and rephrased her position. This was not what I was expecting from this willowy teacher whose name I could only assume was something along the lines of “Moonbeam” or “Coriander.” “No,” she replied, “You need to ask his permission first so that he can understand and acknowledge what is going on.”

I walked over to my son. I knew what was about to happen but was so dumbstruck by Moonbeam’s sudden fortitude I decided to cede the ground. I looked down at my son, stammered something along the lines of, “Okay, um, so, I’m going to go to the bathroom, okay? Okay, cool,” turned around, and walked away in one fell swoop. Then, because I had not only alerted my son to my leaving but made a big deal out of it, he lost his composure and started crying as soon as I walked away. It was not lost on me that I could have already been back from the bathroom, hands washed, dried, and ready to go in the time it took for all of this to take place.

I sat down and outside the door and I heard my son’s wails not through the wall but right outside the door to the bathroom. Then I heard Moonbeam “comforting” my son, continuing the “narrate at all costs at all times” pedagogy that has been slammed into her brain, yet somehow this narrative seemed directed at me this time. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, your mom is right inside this door,” she said. “She will be right back, I promise, won’t she?” I heard her face swivel toward the door accusing me of emotionally neglecting my son as I committed the grave error of using the bathroom. I swung open the door, told my son to come in as I washed my hands, and Moonbeam half-flitted-half-stormed off.

We aren’t treating our children like little kings, I thought, we are treating them like gods. The rest of the 75-minute class continued in much the same way.

At one point my 16-month-old stumbled and fell onto his bottom running as toddlers are want to do. Moonbeam immediately comforted him and started to explain to him that, “Sometimes in life we fall down, and that’s okay…” and while I tried to stop her so as to head off another episode of upsetting my son for no reason I joked (what I was thinking I will still never know) that having a 50-pound Border Collie in the house was like a built-in big brother and my son was “resilient.” Moonbeam looked pensive and explained that while, yes, some children might seem more resilient than others, falling actually “crushed” a toddler’s self esteem. I made a mental note that my toddler was surely in the negative digits for self esteem points for all the times he’s fallen and yet somehow seems to still get out of his crib every morning. Were toddlers not designed to fall down so they could learn how to walk with their low centers of gravity and cushy rear ends? If a toddler puts one foot on top of the other and falls then haven’t they learned that’s not how walking works and they will try to not do that in the future? I was under the assumption that accomplishing something after trying different ways of doing it was what created self esteem, but again I was mistaken.

Toward the end of class my son was standing on top of a little platform and one of the older toddlers who was probably 2.5 years old actually pushed him down the ramp leading up to it. In no way do I believe a 2.5-year-old has malintent or was “bullying” my son. Instead I witnessed this preschool’s proudly-touted “conflict-resolution” in action. The adults came in with, “Oh, let’s play with this ball instead! Would you like this ball? This ball is so neat!” I sat there stunned yet again. Did I just witness what I think I witnessed? Did those adults in the room actually reward this other toddler’s behavior of pushing a smaller child down a ramp? The answer I inevitably came to? Yes. Yes they did.

Predictably, this preschool and my family were not a good fit. Moonbeam made a cursory, “Let us know if you have any questions or would…um…like to enroll in the parent/toddler class…” as we left and I made the requisite, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go talk it over with my husband and tell him all about it!” response (which, to be fair, was completely accurate) . We both knew we had just been on the childcare equivalent of one of the worst first dates in history. It was a firm swipe left on both sides.

Prior to this experience I had defiantly opposed trying to “label” my parenting style and getting caught up into a side in the “mommy wars.” This idea of non-labeling was taken straight from Bringing Up Bébé. Unfortunately the key difference between Pamela Druckerman (author) and I is that while not labeling your parenting style works in Europe it doesn’t quite translate for an American in America. By happenstance a few days prior to this entire experience I had started reading How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford, who saw exactly what overparenting had been doing to students and decided to write about not only how not to helicopter parent but also why we got to this point of believing that if a toddler stumbled it could crush his self esteem. She references Bringing Up Bébé often but frames her book from the perspective of an American parent and falls in line with actually labeling the anti-helicopter parent movement “Free-Range” parenting.

After coming home in a huff I realized it was time to decide allegiances and finally declare myself eligible for the “free-range” parenting draft.

To me the term “free-range” parent is misleading. Before reading about it I assumed “free-range” parenting equated to “let your child do whatever they want, whenever they want” when in fact it’s quite the opposite. “Free-range” parenting can better be described as, “allowing your child the space to make informed decisions, become an independent thinker, all while living within a reasonable frame of expectations and rules” parenting. “Free-range” seems a little easier to type out. It clicked with me thinking back to Bringing Up Bébé: expectations often yield reality. Essentially it’s the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy: whether you expect your child to behave like a tyrant or expect them to act decently they will satisfy your expectations. If you allow your child freedom to act within boundaries they will learn their own limits and feel secure knowing they are safe. I allow my son to climb and fall off play structures at the playground when other parents run to catch their children. As a result my son safely fell off the small obstacles but now respects edges of heights in a way I simply do not see with children whose parents have always hovered and caught them. Risk management is an important skill and begins on the playground and translates to the rest of their lives. If I do things for my son he can almost do, he will expect me to swoop in to finish the final details the rest of his life because he was never allowed to experiment, fail, and finally succeed.

Julie Lythcott-Haims goes into horrifying details about these patterns of young adults emerging into colleges and workplaces. Parents increasingly are asking to be involved in their child’s job interview processes because they have been involved with every aspect of their child’s life to that point and suddenly their children are unable to function. College students’ parents call their professors for them regarding bad grades on tests and essays. They arrive at college unable to perform basic functions such as cleaning their rooms, laundry, or basic cooking. High schoolers have a list of colleges chosen for them by their parents and their applications are entirely filled out for them because parents feel their child’s “only job” should be the job of high school and taking the SAT/ACTs. This lack of self reliance and self-actualization, Lythcott-Haims found in her research, goes all the way back to when parents like me are putting their children on the playground and not allowing them to fall or trip, believing things like “it will crush their self esteem” when in fact what you are telling your child’s self esteem that “you cannot do things for yourself, so I will do them for you.”

Many parents see unstructured, unsupervised time as wasteful. I see it as the time when imaginations and independence grow.We still do many things like reading, playing, and music/dancing together, but that is but one piece of the puzzle. I am not the center of my child’s universe, I am a part of it. An important part, but a part nonetheless. If he cannot find who he is without me he will be lost forever. 

Helicopter parents clearly come from a place of love. There is no doubt the parents in the toddler-mom class I attended love their children and feel they are doing the best they can for them. We all hope that hope. The world is becoming increasingly stratified and parents fear without their help their children will be trampled in the frenzy of college admissions, the job market, and a more complex and frightening world. The 24-hour news cycle does nothing to assuage their fears. However, some of the biggest success stories of our time come from people whose parents were decidedly uninvolved with their paths. They found new ways of thinking because they were allowed the freedom to think differently than their parents.

Parents play an important role in shaping their children’s lives, morals, ethics, and rules. They play important advice-givers and give their children the courage to grow their own wings while being supportive if they stumble. My hope for my son is that his wings will carry him to soaring heights with few crashes along the way. I think all parents hope that but have confused carrying their children on their own wings with their children branching out on their own. It is impossibly difficult to watch my son fall, but it is doubly worth seeing that frustration to see him take that next step up after he has stumbled and finally succeed on his own.

And I solemnly swear I will never ask my son’s permission to use the bathroom again.


Recommended (by me) reading:

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman (also referenced by me before, here)

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (shorter Washington Post article can be found here)