it’s apparently breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, i’m not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

When I nearly died from complications after delivering our twins, I grieved one thing possibly more than any other: the loss of my ability to breastfeed my babies. Breastfeeding was just something I knew that I would do. It was really important to me, and in our first few days in the hospital, I was breastfeeding Etta and pumping to send milk to Claire in the NICU at Children’s Hospital, too. I remember the agony of my possessed hospital pump that would randomly turn itself to high and threaten to rip my poor nipples right off. I remember the ritual of Jon cleaning all the various parts in the hospital room sink so we could get ready to do it all over again all too soon. And I remember the pride I felt in sending those little 2 ounce bottles of “liquid gold” to my girl recovering from surgery to close her myelomeningocele, feeling comfort that if I couldn’t be there holding her, at least she was getting a little bit of me to strengthen and nourish her. It was so important to me, that when I was intubated and unconscious in the ICU myself, my husband had a lactation consultant bring the pump up, because he just knew I’d be very mad if I woke up and discovered they had let my precious milk dry up.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Unfortunately, when I woke up, they told me that drying up was exactly what I would have to do, because the medicines I needed to help my heart were not safe for nursing moms, and there were no safer alternatives. I had to stop breastfeeding so my heart wouldn’t stop beating.

From where I sit now, with happy, healthy three year olds, this seems like an obvious choice– the clear, right thing for my health. But at the time it felt rather devastating, because I believed I’d be settling for “second best” for my babies. Oh, how I cried. I remember noticing that even my damn formula can said “breast is best” on it and SOBBING. And for a while, I felt sad or defensive every time breastfeeding came up. Sad because I didn’t get to do something that was important to me. Defensive because I felt like so many people essentially wanted to see a doctor’s note to justify our “choice.” “Breast is best” became a trigger for rage– oh yeah? Let me show you how bonded I am to these bottle-fed babies! Let me tell you about immune systems and antibodies when these formula-fed kiddos haven’t had a single ear infection in over 3 years of life!

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

But now, 3 years in, it’s amazing to realize how all of that has just kind of fallen away. My kids eat food now. They drink mostly water, and sometimes whole cow milk. No one really asks if they were breast or bottle fed. No one really questions our bond, or their intelligence, or their health. They’re just happy, healthy kids, and what seemed SO IMPORTANT and SO DEVASTATING to me back in that hospital room, my breasts and my heart aching for what I could no longer give to my babies, well, it seems so far away and so small now.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Today, I don’t feel a twinge of pain or sadness or loss when I see my friends nursing their babies. Today, I can stand alongside other parents and say that our culture needs to do a whole lot more to support nursing parents. And today I also feel a whole lot of compassion for those of us who feel a little too aware during breastfeeding awareness month, too aware of what we perceive as our failings or shortcomings, or too aware of what we perceive as judgment from others, or too aware of loss and pain. To you who are still in that place, I am writing this to say: it gets better. Your babies will thrive not because of what they are drinking, but because of your great love. They will be bonded to you not because of your breasts but because of your hearts. They will be healthy because of your care, not because of antibodies in their milk. They will grow, and they will thrive, and this big deal will shrink and shrink and disappear in the rearview. I promise. I’ve finally made it there.

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threenager

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Back when we were first entering the twos, people started warning me: “Don’t believe the Terrible Twos thing. Twos are fine. Threes are terrible.” For the most part, I didn’t mind the twos. Yeah, they developed attitudes and the ability to say NO! But I was mostly too enchanted with their growing verbal skills and emerging personalities and ability to walk and fetch things to be too bothered.

Now that I’m a few months into three, I think people were right. THREE, MAN. THREE SQUARED, ACTUALLY. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. When they are good they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid. Two-year-olds can be defiant, but three-year-olds are committed and they won’t shut up about it. They’ll give you a monologue manifesto about why you wanting them to put on their shoes/eat that thing they asked for and then decided they hate/use the potty/hold a hand/stop stealing toys from their sister/stop WHININGOMG is the most ridiculous thing in the world. And then they’ll put a hand on their hip, give you the stink-eye, and go HUMPH! for emphasis.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Claire in particular seems to embody another three-year-old stereotype. She’s a “threenager.” Three going on fourteen, I kid you not. She’s moody and sassy, yes, but she also desperately wants to be older. Here are three things that keep happening again and again.

I must, I must, I must increase my bust…

That was a line from Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, a book I loved at 13 and which seems to speak to Claire’s soul already at 3. She’s amazed by boobs. She admires them, she asks me about them, and she compliments me when I’m wearing particularly cute boobs, by which she means a sports bra, particularly my neon pink one. And she asks me daily if her boobs are coming in yet. Nope. Probably not for another 10 years, kid, and then, considering your genetics, probably not by much, anyway.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Steal my kisses

Claire has also recently developed an affinity for “wip-stick.” Her mama happens to love a bold lip color, and she is always complimenting me on my color choices. And then she demands a kiss, on the lips. How sweet, you might think. But it’s not about showing affection. She’s hoping some of my lipstick will wear off on her lips, so she can wear it too.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Learner’s permit

It’s normal for little kids to be interested in cars. We have a lot of toy cars, but to Claire they’re about as satisfying as when she said she wanted a “baby” for Christmas and she had to keep correcting people, “not a doll, a real one.” Claire wants to DRIVE. Every day when we get in the car, she asks me if she is “tall enough” to drive yet. Nope. And you’re not nearly old enough, either, kid. She has to settle for the race car carts at the grocery store. Which she drives like a crazy New Yorker, hollering “BEEP BEEP! OUTTA MY WAY!” to the folks just trying to shop. I blame the book “I Stink!” about a grouchy big city garbage truck for that one.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

My little threenager isn’t all sass and shenanigans, though. She’s also full of sweetness. She appears to be a natural-born nurturer and has been dubbed the junior babysitter of our playgroup. She’ll gently and expertly hold all the baby siblings, fetch their pacis and diapers for their mamas, and happily hand them toys and blankies to play with. Mostly, she’d rather play with the babies and chat with the mamas than play with her same-aged peers. She also takes excellent care of her own mama. She’s always asking me how I’m feeling, stroking me gently, giving me giant bear hugs, and picking random moments to whisper “I wuv you, Mom,” and totally melt my heart. She pushes me to my limits, confuses the heck out of me, and totally has my heart.

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.

listen to some mothers

LTYMcastYesterday, I had an amazing experience not even an utter deluge of underarm perspiration could dampen. Let me back up…

I joined a cast of 14 women and 1 man to stand on a stage and tell stories about motherhood. In 32 other cities this month, other casts did the same. And as someone who truly believes in the power of stories to change the world, it was akin to a holy experience. Continue reading “listen to some mothers”

parenting olympians

My girls rocking their 2012 London Games onesies nearly two years ago.
My girls rocking their 2012 London Games onesies nearly two years ago.

I am unabashedly obsessed with the Olympics. Winter or Summer, it doesn’t matter. I love watching people achieve their dreams, compete for their countries, and doing their parents, always featured in NBC’s heart-wrenching human interest stories, proud. The summer after the girls were born, pinned to a couch under sleeping or eating babies, I watched a lot of the London Summer Games. This year, my only couch time is after those babies are in bed, but I’ve been watching quite a bit of the evening coverage as well. (If you’re also into watching the Olympics, follow me on twitter and join in on the live tweet action after 7 pm– just make sure to use a hashtag so your friends who are less obsessed can filter your Olympic tweets from their streams.)

One thing that stands out about the Olympics are the ads. Pretty much every spot you see that isn’t for a car or truck features an Olympian of some kind. Proctor and Gamble have been running a series of ads called “Because of Mom” in which athletes thank their mothers for helping them achieve their Olympic dreams. I have no real beef with people celebrating their mothers or motherhood. Motherhood is great! It’s just that…you bet your sweet bippy that if my girls ever make it to the Olympics (I’m thinking 2 man bobsled, maybe?), they’ll have their dad to thank as much as their mom. Because they are blessed to have an amazing dad, and I am blessed to have an amazing coparent. My husband and I are both blessed with amazing and involved dads, too.

I mean, it’s really no wonder I grew up to marry a man who turns out to be an amazing dad, because involved parenting is just what I expected based on what I grew up with. My dad, a doctor, but also a scientist, came into my science classes with a little red wagon full of props and gave talks worthy of Bill Nye. He worked odd shifts, so he drove a lot of carpools. He created elaborate treasure hunts for us with riddle clues. He got me into nerdy stuff like Star Trek and the Civilization computer games. He got me through high school math and science, both of which were hard for me, with intense, one-on-one homework help, complete with antics like “the ribosome dance,” which I will never forget, ever.

I’m willing to bet at least a few Olympians had dads like my dad and my husband. Unfortunately, P&G isn’t talking about them. I say unfortunately, because just as I mentioned in my “inspiration” post, kids need to see normal, everyday people as role models– how can people who may not have amazing dads in their life grow up to be or expect to co-parent with amazing dads if we don’t see dads being normal and amazing in our lives?

I do want to shout out a company getting it right. I loved this Frosted Flakes ad featuring one of our women ski jumpers (first year in the Olympics for their sport after decades of fighting for equality!), Sarah Hendrickson and her dad:  Sarah clearly has a dad like mine. They even have the same taste in names for their daughters!

Meanwhile, if you go looking for a P&G ad featuring a dad, you’ll find this, from Tide: 

DADMOM? REALLY? A dad who stays home with the kids and takes care of the house isn’t Mr. Mom. He’s not a dadmom. He’s just a dad. He’s parenting. He’s caretaking. He’s not stepping outside his gender or being anything less than a man– a man who has and cares for a family. It’s like when I hear people say a dad is babysitting his own children. Nope. That’s parenting, folks. People of all gender identities and expressions can do it.

P&G claims to be a “proud sponsor of moms.” Well, sponsors usually pay people, rather than expecting to be paid, P&G. And I’m not buying the gendered view of parenthood that you’re selling.

I also have similar issues with their vision of disability: 

While on the one hand, I love that they’re running ads featuring athletes with disabilities that showcase them as athletes, using the same visual style and soundtrack as the able-bodied athletes, they lost me at the final tagline. I’m not one of the world’s toughest moms just because my daughter has a disability. As I said on twitter when I first saw the ad, I think most people are as tough as their circumstances require them to be. We all rise to the occasion. If you “don’t know how I do it,” it’s just because it hasn’t been required of you (yet). Just as it doesn’t take a special person to love someone with special needs (because they are no more inherently easy or difficult to love than any other person), it doesn’t take a tough parent to parent a child with a disability. Because you just parent them, because they’re your child.

If someday Claire is a Paralympian, she’ll be thanking both of her parents. And she certainly won’t be calling us any tougher than anyone else.

testing our patience

If you asked pretty much anyone who knows me, they will confirm that I am generally not a patient person. I always thought that it was a good thing that I married Jon, because he brought a calm, steady patience to the table, mediating my fly-off-the-handle tendencies to balance me out a bit. While pregnant, I was sure our children would like him better, because he’d be the endlessly patient one, and I’d be the frustrated, snippy one. It’s also a fact that I generally fall apart and begin to freak the eff out when sleep deprived, with deprivation meaning anything less than 8 consecutive, unbroken hours of sleep, possibly less than 10. (Seriously, ask Jon sometime about that incident where I *sobbed* on a red eye flight.)

But, as Jon noted during an epic Etta screamfest yesterday: maybe it’s maternal instinct or something, but somehow I’m the one with more patience with the babies. Now, I am generally opposed to making biological generalizations about things like “maternal instinct” and other forms of gender essentialism, so I have another explanation, one I offered to him: it’s just that, if I freaked out over all of this, I would literally be freaking out every day for the rest of my life. Being patient is just a self-preservation technique for living with two tiny humans who occasionally like to SCREAM THEIR EVERLOVING FACES OFF FOR SEEMINGLY NO REASON.With whom I am often left all alone.

That’s not to say I don’t sometimes *feel* like freaking the freak out. This newfound patience is not without limits. Heck, there was even that one afternoon where I handed screaming Etta to Jon and literally flopped on the floor toddler-tantrum style, in a silent flail that expressed all the frustration and exhaustion I felt. There have been evenings where I swear, if I have to do one more baby-related thing, I will just lose my shiz, so I have to sit and drink wine and read fashion blogs for 30 minutes while he handles the babies, no, do not even ask me to draw up a syringe full of one of their myriad medicines. I have a feeling these moments will keep occurring.

In the meantime, it’s been a strange world to be the patient one. I basically don’t even know how to deal with Jon being frustrated and impatient, because it’s such a complete role-reversal. Not that he (or anyone else in a similar situation) isn’t totally justified in his frustration, but he’s usually the rock and I’m usually the tornado, and we whirlwinds don’t much know what to do when our rocks go flying around. Not that he’s really flying off the handle. My husband is so naturally even-keeled that his impatience and frustration looks like anyone else’s level-headedness, but still, I find myself getting frustrated with his frustration, as if I’m saying in my head, “BUT YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO FREAK OUT! YOU HAVE TO BE THE CALM ONE, ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY!” Which is, of course irrational. He gets to feel his feelings, just like I do.

All of this is to say, this whole parenting thing is a strange new world. I was afraid of the ways it would change us, but it’s changing us anyway, like it or not.

In closing, here’s a triptych of Etta demonstrating how we freak the freak out around here:

 

 

babies=pandas

I have had an epiphany. Panda bears are like babies. Babies are like pandas. Bear with me. (ha)

The other day I tweeted this picture and had the following exchange with my friend Kyran:

And that’s when I realized: BABIES ARE LIKE PANDAS.

See, I’ve long been convinced that cuteness is pretty much the only thing keeping pandas alive at this point. I once visited a panda exhibit at the Memphis Zoo and learned that pandas, biologically, should be omnivores. They have the teeth and the digestive system necessary to digest both plants and meat, like every other bear. But pandas, they are not so into the meat eating. In fact, they are like the hipster vegans of the animal world. They’re like, listening to Morrisey and munching on roughage instead of hunting some prey, and as a result, they have to literally eat bamboo all day long, just to get enough calories to stay alive. This means that all they do is eat and sleep, because they basically don’t have the energy to do anything else. I mean, do pandas even mate in the wild anymore? I’ve read about zoos basically having to use panda pornography to try and convince their pandas to get it on. And would we even be going to all this trouble to save pandas (who clearly don’t WANT to be saved), if pandas weren’t one of the cutest things in the world? Nope. Cute: it’s keeping pandas alive.

Same thing happens with babies. Nature gives them giant heads and googly eyes and thigh rolls so that we will want to keep them alive, because Lord knows they can’t do it themselves. Claire, for example, seems determined to kill herself with her favorite thing in the world: food. At least once during a feed, she will either try to breathe milk– perhaps she loves it so much, breathing it seems to be the next best thing to eating it–or will suck the nipple so far down her throat that she gags herself. Meanwhile Etta, like many babies, seems determined to fling her giant head around and hurl her body out of our arms on a regular basis. And so we spend all our time trying to keep these very cute and possibly suicidal tiny beings alive. Because they’re adorable.

Babies are the pandas of the human world. Pandas are the babies of the animal kingdom. Cuteness is the only thing ensuring the continued survival of both.