Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint (although it definitely feels like running at full speed most of the time!). Even so, there are moments that stand out as being particularly difficult – like a steep hill around mile 19. These “moments” can last for days, as in a painful new tooth or stomach bug, or even weeks, in the form of a new baby or major relocation. In those trying times, we parents need to dig deep to maintain our perspective (and sanity!) to hold tight to the values we care about and let everything else slide. Sometimes, however, a rough patch is merely a moment in time, a fleeting instant where we are unexpectedly faced with a choice about what kind of a parent we want to be.
Last week, I was on my own with both kids after a long day of work. They had both been truly delightful evening – watching a new roof go on our neighbor’s house, reading books, playing nicely together and independently, and finishing their dinners without a fuss. When my 3-year-old asked if he could practice writing his name, I was proud of his initiative and quickly got him settled with a piece of paper and colored pencil. Of course, when his 1.5-year-old sister saw him drawing, she wanted to do the same. I duly chose a crayon for her and taped a piece of paper to a drawing board on the floor for her. With both kids scribbling furiously, I felt safe leaving the room to call a friend while washing the dinner dishes. Read more…
Forgive me, in advance, for this brief rant about my frustration with our American need to feel guilty about things that bring us pleasure. I’m not talking about activities that could hurt yourself or someone else – adultery, violence, gossip, stalking, etc. Rather, I mean those people who always say, “My Sunday evening bath is my guilty pleasure,” or feel the need to justify their love of Justin Bieber’s music. Even if you find joy in a morning croissant or an after-work martini, which are technically not healthy for your body, if they help you get going or relax, then why feel guilty about it? Life is too short.
To lighten the mood on stressful days, my boss likes to bring up pop culture – a new TV show he’s hooked on, a popular song that’s stuck in his head, or some celebrity scandal. I don’t have cable and watch almost no TV, I listen to podcasts rather than the radio, and for the most part, I am oblivious to celebrity gossip (except those tidbits covered by The Skimm, which I am addicted to). For a long time, my boss was frustrated that he could not connect with me on these “water cooler” topics. “How is it possible that you’ve never seen ‘Homeland’/ heard twenty one pilots / watched Jimmy Kimmel?!?” he’d exclaim with exasperated incredulity. In response, I would calmly explain that I only get 60-90 minutes a day to myself, and that I try to be judicious in how I spend that precious time.Then one day, my boss started telling me how upset his wife had been about a twist on the previous night’s “Bachelor” episode. I frantically plugged my ears and begged him not to spoil it for me, as I hadn’t seen that episode yet. He was flabbergasted to discover that I am a diehard fan of “The Bachelor” franchise (I have watched every single episode since it started in 2002). Since then, my boss loves to try to shock our colleagues and clients by revealing what he calls, my “guilty pleasure.” I protest, however, that I do not feel at all guilty about it and do not see it as incongruous with who I am or how I live my life. Read more…
Last year, during National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I wrote about the business case for supporting “nursing mothers” at work. Two years before, just six months into my (now 3.5-year-long) journey in breastfeeding, I wrote that “[o]f all the new baby myths, one of the most harmful (in my opinion) is that breastfeeding is an easy choice.” As the mommy blog universe lights up with posts extolling the virtues of breastfeeding and those who do it this month, I feel compelled to again offer an alternate (though not contradictory) perspective on this issue that is – literally – near to my heart. Read more…
“[T]he advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”
– Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948
I have been thinking about this post for a long time. I was going to title it “Nightmares,” to reflect the horrors from recent current events that haunt me, day and night. The first inspiration for this post was the March 22 terrorist attack on the international airport and train station in Brussels. I have always been deeply affected by the suffering of others, no matter how far removed they are. Even when the distress is only imagined, my emotional / psychological response is very real. That is why I do not watch many movies, or even television dramas. I avoid news broadcasts and read The Economist to learn about current events, so that I can just turn the page if things get too intense. But the Brussels attacks seemed to be everywhere; I could not escape the despair and terror that those explosions provoked around the world.
One particular video that was doing the rounds on the major news networks kept me up at night, and still crosses my mind regularly even now. A cell-phone camera scans a smokey check-in area where luggage has been hastily abandoned. Crouched against a wall are a sister and brother, not much older than my own children, clinging to each other and crying. What must have befallen their parents for these small children to have been left alone? I tried to tell myself that the photographer was their father, and that as soon as he stopped recording he scooped them up and brought them to family therapy to process the traumatic experience. But even if that optimistic interpretation is true, I know those children’s lives will never be the same. They will never be as carefree and innocently happy as my kids. How will the hate of others stifle their joy in the short- and long-run? Read more…
I have always felt blessed to have been born an American, and to be a beneficiary of the best this great country has to offer – beautiful landscapes, decent public schools, a diverse population, the ability to travel the world, and seemingly endless educational and employment opportunities. I realize, of course, that not everyone is able to enjoy these advantages, and to some, America is a very difficult place to live. At the moment, there are a lot of things that embarrass me about America (our complete failure to control guns or corporate lobbying, our presumptive Republican presidential nominee, our hypocrisy on racial and human rights issues, our culture of fear, …). Still, while I can find things to admire in every country I have ever visited, I remain very patriotic about my home. Similarly, I daydream about living overseas, but I wonder if I am willing to give up all that I have here, particularly in our nation’s capital. Today, after watching a joyful local parade surrounded by my children and their friends, and a boisterous block party with my eclectic mix of neighbors, I am very grateful to be an American.
I am all too aware that my babies are quickly growing up into little kids (see Growing Pains). It seems like almost every day they can do something new, and they are increasingly asserting themselves as independent people (which terrifies me). I spend far less time considering my own growth. While it is easy to note a child’s progress from sitting, to scooting, to crawling, to walking, non-physical growth is often only apparent in retrospect. It has been one year since I had a major growth spurt, and only with the perspective of time am I able to fully appreciate it.
Five years ago on Mother’s Day, my husband and I were enjoying a romantic weekend away at a spa in the Virginia countryside. I had been feeling kind of off for a few days, so I’d brought along a pregnancy test, figuring that if it was negative, at least I’d be relaxed and have lots of other fun stuff to do to take my mind off it (we were planning to go to a wine tasting that day), and if it was positive, I could make some Hollywood-esque announcement to my husband on the morning of Mother’s Day. As it turned out, when those two pink lines appeared, I just started crying hysterically, waking my husband, who had to spend the next few minutes trying to figure out what was wrong. After I recovered from the initial shock, the rest of that day passed as if it was a dream. I still remember it all very vividly, just like the day I found out I’d been accepted to my first-choice college, the day I interviewed for my first “real” job, and the day I realized I would spend the rest of my life with my now-husband. Each of those days in my life represented a clear turning point; even at the time, I understood that from that day on, my life would never be the same.
Although I knew everything was about to change, five years ago I could not imagine what motherhood would mean for me. Being a mother is the most challenging, exhausting, rewarding, and meaningful thing I have ever done. It has made me doubt myself, but also helped me grow into a stronger person. Having kids has helped me appreciate my own mother in ways I had not anticipated, and continues to shape my relationship with her. My children have also brought me wonderful friends – other mothers who are my support and my inspiration. Most of all, becoming a mother has brought two beautiful souls into my life. They make me laugh, they give me hope, and they teach me valuable lessons about myself and the world. I told my family I did not want anything for Mother’s Day; since becoming a mother, I have already received more than I could have ever asked for. Happy Mother’s Day, All!
Last week I had lunch with an old friend. Our dads were childhood friends, so she and I were basically buddies from birth. Although we lived in different states, our families got together every year for the week of Thanksgiving, so she and I grew up, if not together, in somewhat parallel lives. We played together, giggled about boys together, stressed about college options together, and forged into young adulthood with infrequent but meaningful reunions.
Our lives diverged five years ago when I got married and my friend moved back home with her mom. We lost touch, although we still heard news of each other through our parents. I was thrilled when she texted to say she would be in D.C. for a wedding and wanted to meet up, but I wondered if we’d have anything in common.
At this point in my life, my world revolves around my kids, so I have sometimes have trouble relating to friends who are single and childless. What do you mean, you’re exhausted? Who woke you up multiple times last night? Why are you so busy – don’t you only have your own schedule to manage? And I am well aware that the disconnect goes both ways. Before I had kids of my own, I found my friends’ children adorable and amusing, but could not quite grasp the effect they had on my friends’ lives. Read more…
For months, my husband and I – along with our parents, pediatrician, friends, and some random strangers – have been telling our son (who recently turned 3) that “big boys use the potty” in an effort to get him on board with potty training. We do not believe in using force, coercion, or shame to get our son out of diapers. Professional and anecdotal advice suggests that such techniques are generally ineffective anyway. Instead, we have been trying to motivate our son – pointing out how his friends don’t need to stop playing to get their diapers changed, buying him super hero underwear, and most of all, emphasizing that big kids listen to their bodies and use the toilet.
To be fair, this campaign has been lackluster at best. There’s no reason our son needs to be potty trained any time soon. He is not yet in preschool (and the crunchy, free-spirited school he will start in September does not require kids to be out of diapers at any age) and his sister will be wearing diapers for at least another year. It is actually much easier for my husband or I to do two quick diaper changes and be out the door than to deal with last minute potty requests (or worse, find out he has to go when we are already in the car, on a bus or train, or at a store or playground). Read more…
This week’s Economist featured a fantastic little article about fairy-wren mating practices. Stay with me … Fact: Most males are reluctant to raise another’s children. Fact: Almost half of baby fairy-wrens are cared for by a male bird that is not their biological father. Daniel Baldassarre of Cornell University undertook a study to find out what techniques male fairy-wrens use to try to guarantee paternity, and which strategies work best. The resulting study was published in Biology Letters on February 24. Baldassarre and his colleagues found that when challenged, all male fairy-wrens attacked the rival (to keep him away from their mate) and sang with their mates (to woo her and send a signal that she’s taken). Interestingly, the researchers discovered that a male’s level of aggression towards the rival made no difference in whether that male subsequently ended up raising another bird’s young. By contrast, “[t]he best duetters had almost no offspring born of adultery inflicted on them.”
I found this article very sweet, although not terribly surprising. Any woman would tell you she would rather be wooed by a man than have him beat up some other suiter, and yet, males throughout the animal kingdom continue to duke it out to keep other dudes away from their lady. Male fairy-wren and men alike should take a note from Mr. Baldassarre’s research – romance, not machismo, is the key to fidelity. Unfortunately for men, it takes more than the occasional karaoke to woo most women.
For me, the music to my ears is the six little words my husband knows will always get my attention and lift my mood: “What can I do for you?” I often say, “Nothing,” but just being asked makes me feel loved. And when I tell my husband I would appreciate it if he would empty the dishwasher, get the kids in their PJs, or give me a massage, he always honors my request good naturedly. I appreciate all of these little acts of devotion – big and small – but the most valuable is the question itself. He’s my mate for life (and there can be no doubt our kids are his)!