my ‘mommy problem’ problem

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You probably saw it in one of your social media feeds in the last week– a New York Times opinion piece by Heather Havrilesky called Our ‘Mommy’ Problem. Most of the piece was stuff I head-bobbingly agree with. One of the things I most feared prior to motherhood, and one of the things that most annoys me about it now that I actually have children, is the way women with children are reduced to “mommies” and mommies alone, not allowed or not able to have an identity outside of their relationship to their children.

I also kind of always hated the word “mommy” in general. It sounded infantilizing to me. I was determined that my children would always call me “mama” or “mom,” never “mommy.” But the entire world refers to me to and in front of my children as “mommy,” and so they have started calling me “mommy,” too. Sometimes I’m “mama.” Sometimes I’m “mommy.” Sometimes lately, I’m “Sawah,” as they’ve noticed that their dad and I call each other names other than “mama” and “daddy” and they’re trying to figure out how we can be people with names and also their parents. (One day, when they’re grown ups, they’ll realize we’re people, full stop.) And in my children’s sweet, small voices, just about anything they call me sounds sweet and lovely, at least the first 5 times in a row that they say it. This, I loved:

Why does this word irritate me when the wrong person says it? When my kids call me “Mommy,” I feel a surge of pride and happiness. “Mommy” is also my mother’s name, thanks to the fact that my older sister shamed me when I tried to switch to “Mom” in my teens. But the “Mommy” I say to my mother or hear from my children is a private word, a word that defines the relationship between me and my mother, or me and my kids. It’s like the word “sweetheart” or “lover,” but arguably even more intimate.

But the essay lost me when it started blaming social media, our filtered window into each other’s home lives, for making mothers into something they don’t want to be:

We are besieged by Facebook images of sun-kissed children canning homegrown peaches and building tiny replicas of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks and being home-schooled on organic dairy farms in Wisconsin. We know far too much about other people’s lives these days, and the more we know, the clearer it becomes that we are doomed to lag behind the pack in this increasingly high-stakes game.

I know I’ve been one to defend the filtered world of Instagram, but I immediately thought of a quote widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Image via Etsy, click to go buy this seller’s lovely print.

I mean, what do the homeschooling dairy farmers really have to do with you, you know?

I have lofty aspirations of being a Crafty Mom. But I have 2.5 year olds, two of them, actually, and I have realized that doing crafts with them is just not worth it, to me, at this time, most of the time. Because it takes me an hour of internet surfing to get the idea, and then I have to gather supplies, and then the actual project requires me to first get them occupied with something else for 20 minutes while I set it up, and then they spend 5 minutes on it and make a massive mess, and then I have to bathe them and then occupy them so I can clean up the mess, and then I need a nap. Maybe we’ll do crafts one day when it’s easier. Maybe I’ll just get over my urge to be That Kind of Mom. But in the meantime, it’s not like the moms out there with toddlers, crafting, are actively crafting to make me, way over here in Arkansas, feel bad. They’re just dancing to the beat of their own drummer. (And I mean, maybe they are trying to make me feel inferior, in which case, they’re assholes, and who cares what assholes think about anything?)

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I get that Slacker Mom is a really popular internet genre. There are like, two kinds of moms online and they are either the ones writing super detailed Pinterest tutorials or the ones writing hilarious f-bomb laden tell-offs to the Pinterest moms:

My sister-in-law told me about a mom at her kid’s elementary school who took the basic school T-shirt that everyone got and painstakingly created a beaded fringe at the bottom, replete with cinched waist and perfectly cuffed sleeves. All of the other little girls gathered around, screeching variations of “I want the same thing!” Incredibly enough, instead of laughing in their unrealistic faces the way our parents might have, all the adults started mumbling, “Yes, O.K., we can do that, sure, I’ll learn a challenging new craft, no problem. Tonight, of course. We’ll do it tonight.” This made my sister-in-law, who was already late for work, want to teach a few people the artisanal craft of rearranging someone’s face using only your bare hands. We are outclassed at every turn. We are outspent and out-helicoptered and outnumbered. It used to be good enough just to keep your house from being coated in a thin layer of dog hair and human feces. No longer.

I mean, for sure, no one can make you bedazzle a tee shirt without your consent. You seriously, really, for real do not have to do it. Sure, on some vulnerable day, you may see some lovely Anthropologie-model of a mom post a picture of her doing some insanely enriching and hippie-tastic nature-related gross-motor-skill-developing spiritually-affirming whatever in her backyard, all with perfect hair and kids who have on like, matching clothes, and you may like, actively hate her for all the ways she’s making you feel. And on those days, maybe close Instagram and walk away and have a cookie and hug your kid and watch some cartoons and tell both of you that things are all gonna be OK.

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Just being my best impersonation of one of those Anthropologie moms being all educational-nature-tastic while also basking in the ray of sunshine that follows me wherever I go. You can’t see my kids, but they are impeccably dressed, wherever they are, off camera, I assure you.

But on a good day? On a good day there is just no reason for you to take that shit personally. Because she’s not backyard Montessori fine motor skill meditating TO YOU. She’s just doing her thing. You see your dance space? It’s over there, and it’s got nothing to do with hers, so just go on with your bad self over to your dance space and you do you. And maybe unfollow people who bring you down. And maybe talk nicely to yourself and let yourself know that you are the mother your children need, and they don’t need you to be anyone else but you.

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And then maybe if we can stop constantly seeing other mothers as the problem, we’ll all have some energy left over to pursue our own self-care and interests and hobbies and careers and righteously tell off the strangers in public who insist on calling us “Mommy” instead of…oh…anything else.

hippie crap: a cloth diaper post

One of the few things I felt very strongly that I wanted to do as a parent was cloth diaper the girls. It’s also one of the things I get asked about most often (seriously, random texts from friends asking “can you tell me about this cloth diapering thing?”), and I figured it might be easy just to write about it and have someplace to point people when they ask me questions. So here’s that post.

Why Cloth Diaper?

Different people cloth diaper for different reasons. For me, there are two biggies. The most important to me was the environment. We recycle, garden, compost, bicycle, eat mostly vegetarian, and try to consume sustainable products. Knowing that the average baby produces at least 1.5 tons of diaper waste, all of which goes to a landfill and never biodegrades (seriously, even if you use “compostable” or “biodegradable” diapers, if you don’t compost them, they don’t get enough air and sunlight in a landfill to ever break down), I really wanted to find a better, more eco-friendly way to deal with diapering. The way I see it, we’re preventing at least 3 tons of landfill waste, and that’s huge.

My second reason is financial. Having two babies in diapers to potty training would cost at least $2k, and knowing I would probably at least be buying pricier eco-friendlier diapers if I were using disposables, that total would likely be closer to $4k.

Etta rocks a newborn Lil Joey diaper.

Now, there are seriously dirt cheap ways to cloth diaper a baby, but I was a little afraid of the cheapest option of prefold diapers and covers. I wanted to go with the easiest options, most like disposables, where you just put on the diaper with either snaps or velcro, it’s all one piece, and all I have to do is toss it in the wash afterward– no folding or pinning or other origami type skills necessary, so I chose All in One (AIO) diapers for the newborn (NB) stage and one size (OS) pocket diapers for the rest of my diapering days. I stalked deals online (Zulily, Babysteals, EcoBabyBuys, Abby’s Lane, Cotton Babies), shopped used (Spot’s Corner, various message boards, Ebay), and received many of my newborn diapers as gifts from our registry. I personally spent $125 on newborn diapers, and did not pay full price for a single diaper.

Overall I had 36 newborn AIO diapers (BumGenius, Kissaluvs, and LilJoeys) for a total cost of $388. Additionally, after the girls outgrew the NB diapers, I sold them online for $245, bringing the actual cost of my newborn diapers to $143, and, considering what I actually personally spent as a result of receiving so many diapers as gifts ($125), essentially got paid to use cloth diapers for the first 9 weeks.

I also built up a stash of 36 OS pocket diapers (BumGenius 4.0, Rumparooz, Fuzzibunz, and Alva), plus 4 Flip covers and 12 Flip inserts, plus 12 fitteds (Rearz and Thirsties) and 6 hemp inserts (Thirsties) to use for overnights. The total cost of this stash, essentially 60 changes of diapers, which I hope will last until the girls potty train, was $545.90.

$545.90 is less than one half of what I would have spent on disposable diapers for just one baby.

In addition, I purchased two large hanging wetbags, for $30 each, and 4 travel size wetbags for various prices, one at $5, one at $18, and two for $14. That adds $51 to my total.

Other folks are convinced that cloth diapers are healthier for their babies because they don’t have chemicals in them. Others swear their kids get fewer diaper rashes (this has been true of our experience). And others claim that cloth diapered kids are potty trained easier. So, maybe some of that interests you.

What are the diapers like?

OS diaper on the left, NB AIO on the right. Both from BumGenius.

For the newborn stage, the diapers are truly not much different than a disposable. The AIOs I chose are all one piece, with waterproof fabric on the outside, soft fleece on the inside, and microfiber “soakers” (the absorbent part) in between. They closed with snaps or velcro. Because the poop of formula- and breast-fed babies is water soluble, there is nothing more required than taking the diaper off the baby, tossing it in a wetbag, and unzipping the wetbag and shaking the diapers into the washer when the wetbag gets full. They can be tumble-dried on low or hung out to dry (the sun does wonders for keeping them white and fresh), and there’s no folding or stuffing required. I really don’t see how this is any more work than tossing the diapers in the trash and taking the trash out when the bag gets full. I did not find changing the diapers to be any more disgusting than the disposables we used in the hospital.

Inside a NB AIO.

The OS pockets for 9 weeks and beyond have one extra step. The absorbent soaker is not sewn into the diapers like with the NB AIOs, and instead must be “stuffed” into the pocket of the diaper after washing, and removed from the pocket of the diaper before washing. This extra step is worth it, though, because pockets can be stuffed with more and different inserts to customize absorbency, for example, by using hemp inserts in addition to or instead of microfiber inserts (that typically come with most pocket diapers) at nighttime for added absorption.

Inside a BumGenius 4.0 OS pocket diaper.

The way OS diapers are in fact one-size is that they are adjustable to fit most babies from about 10 lbs to 35 lbs. Most use snaps to change the “rise” of the diaper, and either have snaps or velcro/aplix to customize the waist. The only diaper I have that doesn’t use snaps to adjust the rise is my Fuzzibunz, which use leg elastic adjustments to change the size.

My girls were born at 6 lbs and wore their NB AIOs for 9 weeks, up to about 12 lbs. At that point, they still physically fit into the NB AIOs, but had outgrown the absorbency, leading to leaks. We switched them to the OS pockets at that point and have not had daytime leaking problems.

Rocking their first “big girl” OS diapers.

Nighttime leaks were another scenario as we began to get stretches of sleep up to 6 hours. This led me to look into fitted diapers. Fitteds look a lot like OS pockets in that they are adjustable in size. However, with a fitted, the entire diaper is absorbent, not just the soaker, so they can hold a lot more fluid. They can also be stuffed with additional inserts to make them even more absorbent. Because the whole diaper is absorbent, fitted diapers must be used with a waterproof cover. Right now we are using Thirsties Fab Fitteds at night with an additional Thirsties hemp insert and our Flip covers and have gone up to 8 hours with no problems. Even after that long, they seem like they could hold more liquid.

But isn’t it so much work?

Even with newborn twins, I haven’t found cloth diapering to be oppressively labor intensive. If you’re one of those people who hate laundry, you might hate this too. I don’t mind laundry, or diaper laundry, because a machine does all the work, and most of the work required of me can be done while sitting on my butt in front of the TV. It’s easy enough to do the cold rinse on the diapers, and then add in all the dirty baby clothes, blankets, bibs, and burp rags for the wash. I do about one extra load of laundry per day. If I had more diapers, I could do laundry less often.

But isn’t it gross?

One of the most common reactions I get is “ewww poop in your washer.” Well, blowouts and leaks happen even with disposables, so unless you’re planning to throw your kid’s clothes out every time s/he has a blowout, leak, or spitup incident, there’s going to be poop, pee, and puke in your washer too.

Other folks are grossed out that I bought some of my diapers used, noting a squick factor similar to used underwear. Once washed in hot water with soap and a little bleach, I saw no problem with it, personally.

Another common question is whether or not I have to touch poop. So far in my experience: not any more than when we have used disposables. When the girls start solids, we will have to “plop” their poop into the toilet and likely spray it off with a sprayer attached to the toilet. But overall, I don’t feel like I’m getting my hands any dirtier than I do when I change disposable diapers.

What about leaving the house?

I don’t do much different when we leave the house, except I take a smaller travel-sized wetbag to hold the dirties until I can deal with them when I get home. If we go on vacation to someplace without access to a washer and dryer, I will either buy the disposable inserts for my Flips or use disposables.

Anything else?

One thing to keep in mind with cloth diapers is not to use anything on them that might coat the fabrics or make them less absorbent. This means using “cloth diaper safe” detergents and diaper creams. Lots of folks use all kinds of specialty detergents, and there are lists that will let you know what’s safe, but I use Tide Ultra because it’s cheap, easy to find at Target, and gets my diapers clean and fresh-smelling. Folks buy all sorts of indie diaper creams too, but we use California Baby, which I can get at Target. Burt’s Bees is also cloth diaper safe, as is the lanolin you might also use on your nipples if breastfeeding, as is coconut oil.

Any questions?

Feel free to ask!

If you liked this post, you might like my later posts about cloth diapering: