Don’t Tell My Kid Not To Cry

Parents are supposed to work super hard to keep their kids happy, like, all the time.  If your kid is crying in the grocery store, then something’s wrong.  If your teenager is depressed, then you’ve failed as a parent.  If your child is angry and frustrated, you’d better punish fe because that’s just unacceptable.

Okay, so I exaggerated to make a point, but I think all the above is complete crap.

Popular rhetoric often says “I just want my kid to be happy,” and I think that’s a horrible goal – because you’ll fail.  We all will.  It’s also just not the point of life.

Unfortunately, I hear this (or read it) all the time.  What’s even worse is that I hear the negative side of this message (“Don’t worry!”  “Don’t feel sad!” and “Ooh, don’t you cry!”) to which most of us don’t give a second thought.  I suppose it makes sense to me that we would wish someone happiness, but I hate it that in the process, we too often demonize sadness and the expression of more so-called vulnerable feelings.

Like everyone else, I want the best for my kid.  I want him to have it all (whatever that means).  I want my kid to have a normal, rich life and that means experiencing the full range of emotions on a regular basis.

All this essentially boils down to: Don’t tell my kid not to cry.

You may think this message [being told not to cry] is harmless, but I assure you, it’s not.  By telling my kid not to cry, you’re telling him that his feelings are invalid.  You’re telling him that sadness is bad…or weak…or embarrassing.  If he internalizes the message as he gets older, he may interpret that he is bad or weak for feeling such things.

As for right now, he’s a baby.  Crying is normal.  (It’s also normal for humans of all ages, for that matter.)  Crying is how he communicates that he needs to be cared for.  As a parent, it is not my job to stop my baby from crying; it is my job to develop a tolerance for it.  And I suggest you do, too.

There’s a diaper commercial that I saw recently that promises that if you use their product, your baby will “always be comfortable.”  And I was like, “Are you kidding?!  Babies are hardly ever comfortable!  They sit in their own pee and poop and they get horrible gas and colic and they have huge teeth shoving their way through their hard gums…no one would be comfortable with all that going on!”  But the implication is that, as parents, it is our job to make sure that our kids are always comfortable.

The Princess Bride had it right: “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”  Like diapers.

But back to that commercial.  What crazy high standards!  Nye, impossible standards!  And dare I say it – unhealthy.  As humans, we are meant to feel emotions – all of them – so we can bond with each other and learn from our mistakes and protect ourselves and live full lives.  I desperately don’t want my kid to feel self-conscious about living an authentic life just because other people may be squeamish around tears.

The other layer that plays into this issue is gender.  Although my son can’t express his gender yet, chances are he’ll identify as male, and little boys get the “don’t cry” message far more than girls.  This double standard scares me, and I hope to give my son the much more powerful message that he should be able to feel sad for any reason and express his sadness at any time.

I also want my son to know that whenever someone tells him not to cry (or whenever someone invalidates any of his feelings) that it says more about that person’s discomfort around authentic displays of emotion than it does about him.  Because as long as he’s being authentic, and as long as the way he chooses to express himself doesn’t hurt someone else, then he’s one brave little man.

When Worlds Collide

Something exciting happened, you guys.  And it was something I’ve never done before.

At long last, I was finally able to meet a fellow blogger in the real world!

Thank you so much, Dawn from Tales From The Motherland, for driving all the way to my home to meet me and my baby boy!!

Meeting someone in person whose writing I’ve consumed for quite some time is a very odd, exciting experience.  There was this collision of worlds as I tried to piece together Dawn’s voice and mannerisms with her presence on the page.  There was a mixture of intimacy and understanding along with this semi-awkward (for me) getting-to-know-you-phase.

It’s hard for me to meet new people, and that’s why blogging is extra special to me.  Through my blog, I get to “meet” people and delve into meaningful conversations right away; I get to skip the meaningless (for me), anxiety-ridden chit-chat and get right to the point.  Plus, there’s the added bonus of being able to take extra time and compose and edit exactly what I want to say.

Finally meeting Dawn in person was pretty awesome.  Because we dig each others’ writing, we already knew each other on a deeper level, and getting to see each other face-to-face added another layer to our relationship.

Dawn and I talked about a bunch of things in our too short visit (which means we’ll have to do this again sometime): blogging, family, living in the Pacific Northwest, raising kids, blogging, both of us being mental health providers at times in our lives, blogging.  I got to pick Dawn’s brain about moving forward with blogging (however that may look for me) and about her recent success on The Huffington Post (go read one of my favorites here!), which is much deserved.

At one point, Dawn commented (and I’m paraphrasing) on how we all present a certain self in our blogging, and that she appreciates it when that self lines up with the self we present in person.  I’m glad that she thought that my writing matches how I present myself in person – I really appreciate that feedback.  It also got me thinking about how rapidly my self is evolving, especially since becoming a mom, and how that is reflected in my writing.  Basically, my visit with Dawn gave me the kind of feedback I’d never had before, and really got me thinking about my writing and inspired me to keep on working at it, even if it’s only in 20 minute increments while my little man sleeps.

Dylan's still not sure about our redheaded visitor...

Dylan’s still not sure about our redheaded visitor…

So thanks again, Dawn!  I’m so glad we finally got to meet and I am happy to call you a friend – both online and in person.  If y’all haven’t read her stuff yet, I highly recommend you check her out.  You won’t regret it.

(Here’s Dawn’s post on our meeting, in case you missed it.)

End of the Boob Train

My little boyman is now 6 months old.  Someone please tell me how the frick that happened.

In many ways, I feel like we won the baby lottery.  I got exactly the features I had hoped for (dad’s blue eyes, my strawberry blonde hair, overall cuteness). He’s always been a champion sleeper.  He’s never been picky about bottles, formula, or pacis.  Most of all, I am amazed at how happy his default disposition is.  He’s usually making eye contact, smiling, cooing, laughing, but what amazes me the most is that even when he’s crying or whining or just generally upset, we can usually still make him smile or laugh, even if it’s just for a moment.  He wants to be happy even when he’s so hungry or tired that he’s cranky.  I love this guy and he amazes me every day.

That said, our hardest struggle by far has been breastfeeding.

Dylan didn’t latch with any consistency until day 8, and up until then he would only latch in front of the lactation consultant.  She manhandled my boob and smashed Dylan’s face into it, and for some reason it worked…but the second we got home and I tried the same rough technique, he’d push and struggle and kick and scream at my boob for 20 minutes until I was crying and gave up.

My milk came in rather late, and even then I wasn’t making very much.  All this created a yucky feedback loop/catch 22: Dylan wasn’t latching, and so my production wouldn’t increase, but my production was already late and low, and so Dylan didn’t want to latch cuz he knew he wouldn’t get much.  Talk about frustrating.

I did everything I could to increase my supply and nothing helped very much.  Nevertheless, I kept at it and Dylan and I slowly worked our way into a routine that worked for us that included breastfeeding, pumping, and formula.

After 6 months of hard work, I think we’re at the end of breastfeeding.  My supply recently dipped even more, and lately Dylan’s been getting frustrated.  The experience isn’t fun or cuddly anymore and I have done all I could to get him this far.

I’m pretty sad about stopping.  Before giving birth, I had assumed that I’d be breastfeeding as long as I was at home with Dylan during the day.  I’m currently fighting guilt and telling it to take a hike.  I’m frustrated with my body, for not doing what I expected or wanted.

There’s a part of me that feels some relief about the decision to stop.  Breastfeeding and pumping has been hard work and very time consuming, and I am looking forward to daily life being that much simpler.  But, I’m gonna miss the cuddles, the oxytocin rush, and the feeling of motherly pride that came with it.

I keep reminding myself that Dylan’s gonna be just fine.  Like I said above – he’s crazy happy.  He’s such a good kid.  We also just started solids and so far there isn’t a food he hasn’t not liked – that’s my boy.

And…now that I think about it, I’m gonna be just fine, too.  Just like everything else, we’re getting through this together, my little boy and I.

Was breastfeeding hard for you, too?  I’d love to hear your stories.  Thanks for reading!

A Day Not Entirely My Own

Today is my birthday, and this birthday feels different.

I have realized how giving birth has changed my entire perspective on birthdays in general, but especially mine.

Up until now, I’ve always thought of my birthday as belonging to me; it’s my day.  The anniversary of the day I was brought into the world.

But really, the passive voice of that last sentence is misplaced.  In actuality, my birthday is the anniversary of the day my mom brought me into the world.  My mom worried and labored and felt pain and sweated and cried and felt crazy beautiful joy and relief.

I guess I couldn’t really get it until I had done the same thing for someone else.

My mom was in labor with me for 24 hours.  My dad drove her to the hospital, which was about 30 minutes away from home.  My mom remembers being pissed that my dad’s breath smelled like potato chips as he led her in the Lamaze breathing in which they had taken classes.  My parents talked about a very insensitive nurse who couldn’t get some medical reading because my mom was writhing in pain during a contraction.  I would like to be able to track down that nurse and punch her in the ear, exactly 32 years late.

At some point during the labor, my mom announced she wanted an epidural.  Apparently, someone informed my dad that it was too late in the process for an epidural to do any good, and so my dad ended up lovingly lying to my mom, telling her the pain meds would be coming any minute now.  I can only imagine how much of a champ my mom was for getting through the remainder of the laboring process completely unmedicated.

And so I came into the world at about 2:15am on February 10th, a Thursday, head first but facing up.  At that time, few parents knew the sex of their baby before birth, and my parents were no exception.  My mom wrote in my baby book that I was alert and had strawberry blonde hair, which are the exact same phrases I ended up writing in my son’s baby book.

So today, I celebrate my first birthday as a mom even though it’s not entirely my day.  And in six months, my son will get to smash his face into sweet, damp cake for the first time, but it won’t really be his day.  Not all the way, at least.  That will be a day when I’ll be telling anyone who will listen how I brought this perfect creature into the world.

…maybe that will be a day when I should make myself my own smash cake.

And by smash cake I mean celebratory booze.

My Happy Thought

Robin Williams died on my son’s due date.

I loved this guy.  I loved his work.  I went through the stages of grief when I found out – starting with disbelief, of course.  I was (and still am) so sad that depression took this very talented human being from us.

After Robin’s death, in watching all the memorials on the news and daytime TV, and in seeing all the clips strung together on Facebook, I started counting all of his movies that touched me, that I grew up with.  It’s a lot.  His movies were so emotional; I’ve long known that his were the ones I went to when I needed to tweak my mood – which usually meant inducing tears and reconfirming my faith in the human spirit.

In going through my movie collection, I realized I didn’t own one of my absolute favorite Robin Williams movies – Hook – so I bought it and ended up watching it soon after my son was born.

I absolutely adore the story of Peter Pan.  There isn’t a more fabulous story that captures the sheer joy and adventure it is to be young and to remind us that we can always go back to Neverland in our hearts (second star to the right and straight on til morning) whenever we want.

In re-watching Hook, I was prepared to feel that joy and excitement that comes with the story, and I was also prepared to feel sad that the person I was watching who was once so full of life and youthful glee was now gone.

What I wasn’t prepared for was my new reaction to the story now that I am a parent.

Remember the scene where Captain Hook starts teaching Pan’s kids about how parents hate their children?  He very eloquently describes how kids’ whining and demands (“He took my toy! She hit my bear! I want a potty! I want a cookie! I want to stay up! I want, I want, I want, me, me, me, me, mine, mine, mine, mine, now, now, now, now…”) drive their parents crazy.  Maggie (fun fact – it was her character I played on the playground with my friends when this movie first came out) points out that her parents read to her, “because they love me very much!”  And Hook retorts back that parents read to their children to shut them up.

In to end the lesson, Hook gave Maggie an F (to which she freaks out…probably why I was suited to play her character) and then declared that her parents were happier before she was born.

This scene struck a new chord, one that hadn’t been struck before.

Holy shit – Captain Hook was right.

There I was, hopelessly sleep deprived with a wee infant attached to my boob and tears running down my face because I got it – but not the it I was expecting to get.  This movie was supposed to remind me how joyful life was!  Instinctively I knew I wasn’t supposed to be listening to the words of this dark and sinister man, but for the first time in watching this film, my eyes were opened.  The guy had a point.  In my very short career as the parent of a newborn, I already knew I’d do things I previously said I’d never do if it meant my kid would sleep.  I wished for my old life back on a daily basis.  I fought with my husband about nothing and everything.  Some days, I was kind of miserable.

I considered growing a beard and joining the crew of the Jolly Roger.

Thankfully, the movie continued and we came to the scene in the Lost Boys’ tree house where Peter was desperately trying to find his happy thought.  He picked up his old teddy bear and had a flashback to a hospital room where his wife was handing him his brand new baby son, saying, “Peter, you’re a daddy!”

That was it.  This is why I wanted to watch the movie in the first place.  He was flying again, and so was I.

I was bedridden for the first 12 hours of Dylan’s life due to some minor complications, so when we were in the recovery room at the hospital, Brian started changing his first diapers and rocking and soothing and being a daddy.  It was amazing for me to watch, and it had reminded me of that same hospital scene in Hook.  Through tears in my eyes, I shared my thoughts with Brian and my heart was bursting.

Hook really got it right in more ways than I first realized.  It fascinates me how quickly and profoundly popping a baby out of me has changed my perspective on the whole world, let alone this movie.  Before, I had thought that the story was more about “always being a little boy and having fun,” and now I see this whole new layer about the love (“It’s the L-word, Captain!”) and struggle between parents and their children.  Yes, it’s about learning how to stay young, but it’s also about learning how to grow up.  And most importantly, it’s about finding (and keeping) that happy thought that keeps us all going.

Well, Dylan is our happy thought.  Our poopy, screamy, cuddly little happy thought.

There are so many great lines to quote and parallels to make about this movie and life in general, but the best is at the very end, where I don’t feel like Robin Williams was really having to act much at all.

He said,  “To live would be an awfully big adventure.”

Thanks for sharing your talent with all of us, Robin.  I am so very glad that you’re not in pain anymore.

 

 

Ripped Open

Someone once told me that becoming a mother had ripped her open, both emotionally and physically.

At the time, I had an idea of what she meant, but now I have a much clearer sense.

Never have I felt so wide-open, so vulnerable.  It’s exhilarating and exhausting.

I cry much more easily.  I cry at diaper commercials.  Sometimes I cry when my son cries.  There is also such joy.  Pure, radiant bursts of joy.  My son’s smiles.  Watching my husband lovingly change a diaper for the first time.  Crying at diaper commercials.

The lows are lower and the highs are so much higher.

For me, becoming a parent has slammed me into the present like nothing else.  I am so overwhelmed, and my son’s needs are so immediate, that I am forced to focus on right now and little else.  Right now, he needs to eat.  Right now, I am going to sleep.  Right now, I am changing a diaper.  While I wipe his butt, we’re the only two people in the entire world.  He stares up at me and watches my face as I concentrate and hurry to finish the job.  I catch him looking at me and we share a smile.  Then we’re on to the next right now.

At the same time, becoming a parent stirred up my past.  I am remembering how I was raised.  Brian and I have discussions over how we were parented and how we want to parent.  I hear my mom’s voice, and even my grandma’s voice, come out of my mouth.  The past has been unearthed and laid over the present for me to walk through again.

Also at the same time, the beginning of life has catapulted me towards the future.  Since Dylan is our first child, and the first grandchild for both sides of the family, his existence has shifted everyone into a new life stage – a couple to parents, parents to grandparents.  It makes us all think of end-of-life issues.  With luck, Dylan will live to see us die.  He’ll see a world that I will never see.  It’s a concept that is very hard for me to wrap my brain around, and it’s both comforting and terrifying.

It seems odd to me, but the times my son just rips my heart out aren’t when he’s screaming bloody murder.  It’s when he seems bored or has this dejected look on his face.  Up here in my brain, I know that this is me projecting my stuff onto him and that he’s probably just content, or at the very worst, he’s just trying to process the world around him.  But here in my chest, my heart breaks for him, and I am not quite sure why.

Many, many parents say that they can’t imagine their lives without their kids.  I know this will happen for me at some point, but it hasn’t yet.  There are times, sometimes multiple times a day, when I wish for my old life back.  I wish to feel productive in a way that I am accustomed to.  I wish to have more free time.  I wish to have more sleep.  I wish for more predictability in my day.

When I find myself making these wishes, I reframe my frustration and ask myself what I can learn from this.  Again and again, the answer is patience and acceptance.  When I was working as a therapist, a supervisor of mine once said that we are given the clients we need.  So far, I think the same goes for kids.  My son is going to teach me, even force me, how to be more patient and how to accept that I am not in control (and I never was to begin with).

So, thanks, my baby Dylan, for ripping me open.

You’re going to teach me how to be a better person.

And I’m going to let you.

Happy Belated Halloween

You guys know how much I love Halloween.

And so I couldn’t let it go by without concocting some sort of costume for myself, babydaddy, and nearly 3 month old little duck.

If I had my act together a nanny and tons of sleep, time, and money I would have made Brian be a sexy pilot (because he already is one), I’d be a sexy flight attendant (because I aspire to be one), and Little Duck would have been a sack of peanuts.

Maybe next year.  I’ll just have to stop feeding Dylan to make sure he’s still tiny and able to fit in said peanut sack.

For this year, I decided to go easy.  The D-man would be the cutest Pumpkin Spice Latte in the whole world and Brian and I were baristas.  It fit because Dylan is sweet, expensive, and we made him with love.  And extra foam.

First I looked on the Starbucks website to see if I could buy the green aprons that the employees wear, but I needed an employee number in order to do so.  Nards.  So I went to Amazon and tried looking there, and found some for like $60 soooo I decided to make my own.  I just bought green aprons and ironed on the patches that I found on Amazon.  I also found the cute iron-on Starbucks logo that went on Dylan’s plain white onesie.  I glued a real Starbucks sleeve (I’m authentic, y’all) to some ribbon and tied it around Dylan’s cute waist.  I drew the drink option boxes and such on the back of the onesie freehand.  My friend helped me sew the foam for around his neck, and my mom made the pumpkin hat.

Boom.

 

Happy belated Halloween, y’alls.

Adventures in diaper-changing: a dialogue

The scene: I am changing yet another diaper while the babydaddy is preparing a lovely meal that the two of us will no doubt share under the din of high-pitched screams.

Me: Oh god!

Babydaddy: What?!

Me: …The baby just farted in my face.

BD: Ew, gross.

Me: I know.  And it was forceful, too.  A quick, hard puff of air to the face.  Kind of like a foul-smelling glaucoma test.

BD: Ha!  We should rent him out for that.

Me: We could sure use the extra meth candy bar money.  But who would pay for something like that?

BD: Maybe people without good health insurance?

Me: Let’s look into it.  (pause)  Hey, this would make a great blog post.  I’m really behind in my blogging.

BD: Phrasing, lady.

Me: But seriously. Help me flesh out this conversation we’re having so I can post it.

BD: Again, phrasing.

Me: What would be a good ending for this post of dialogue?

BD: Phrasing.

Me: I still got it.  Now start making flyers for our new mobile infant glaucoma test machine.

 

Mommy “Blogger”

So, all you Mommy Bloggers out there – tell me how you do it.

Cuz I have no idea how to fit all the things to do into my day, plus blogging.

It’s quite ridiculous, really.  All the things we’re told we should be doing as mothers.

I’m supposed to feed the squid every 2-3 hours.  But first I have to change his diaper to help wake him up and/or calm him down before feeding.  On a good day, this takes 5 minutes.  On a bad one, he pees all over himself and then projectile poos all over the clean diaper I had waiting for him.  So, sometimes “changing a diaper” can take 20 minutes.  Then we breastfeed (The fact that we’re actually breastfeeding now is a whole other story.  It used to be 20 minutes of let’s-scream-at-mommy’s-boobs-and-kick-and-squirm-fun-time.  Not fun.) maybe 10-20 minutes each boob.  And then, since I don’t make much milk (sad face), we supplement with formula, which takes another 10-20 minutes.  And then he’s probably got himself a wet diaper (or worse) that needs attention.  And THEN I try to pump, if he doesn’t scream when I set him down to do so.

By the time I am done pumping, he’s maybe asleep.  Maybe.  If he’s not, I start over to figure out what his boggle is.  If he is, then I have a decision to make – do I try and sleep?  (note the word “try.”) Or do I fold laundry?  Or wash the bottles?  Or cry in the bathroom?  So many choices…

And then, it’s time to do it all over again.

There’s no time for it all.  Do midwives and nurses and doctors hear themselves when they’re telling you to do all these things?  Because I haven’t even mentioned the walks I’m supposed to be taking or the sitz baths or pooping or eating lunch or training for American Ninja Warrior.

And then there’s blogging.

So hang in there with me, Psychos, because I don’t plan on going anywhere.  I just may have to start blogging during my scheduled crying-in-the-bathroom time instead.