Uniforms and Fairy Dust

January 30, 2015

Why do new parents seem so guarded or opinionated or defensive? Well, much of it is that they are protecting their new family.

Another thing I have noticed is that parents feel they have to subscribe to a specific style. In the years since I first became a new mom – over nineteen years ago, I have noticed that so much around parenting is trademarked. I believe that is all about marketing. I have written about how poor parents are the biggest target of marketing these days.

I remember when it was time to start feeding Phoebe solid food a mom at a La Leche League meeting suggested baby led weaning. This made sense to me – let her take food off the table – I would bite off a tiny piece of apple and let her chew it, I would continue to nurse her. Eventually I became a La Leche League Leader. A couple of years back at a meeting I was leading for toddlers a mom mentioned baby led weaning and I was thrilled to hear this concept being embraced until I heard about all the “rules around it. Rules? There is a book! Wow. I thought it was about being instinctive with a few guidelines about what foods to give and which foods to avoid so that they would not choke.

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I also noticed how people would comment on how attached Phoebe and I were. Of course, I am her mom, we are together (the company I worked for closed while I was on maternity leave and I was a full time mom then.) Then I learned there is an organization called Attachment Parenting – which I love! But I hear moms asking, “Is it is AP to . . . “ Or “does it go against AP if I . . .”

Then there are the breast feeders and the bottle feeders and the co-sleepers and the baby never comes into my bed, and there are “Never let the baby cry” and the Cry It Outs.

I belong to way too many groups on Facebook and I hear so many new moms asking permission to go outside of the rules of whichever category they have chosen to join. I hear arguments about how you cannot do this or you should do that.

Titles: Tiger Mom, Hippie Mom, Crunchy Mom, Stay At Home Mom, Working Mom

Does one need only belong to one “club?” Does anyone only do things exactly as planned out in a book? Do breastfeeding moms never give their babies a bottle? Do most parents have their kids in their bed at least some of the time? Do the families that make their own baby food sometimes use a jar or sometimes eat convenient food? Do the touchy feely moms yell? Does the Tiger mom cuddle? Does the home-schooling mom want to send her kid away to boarding school? Does the mom with the most awesome and fulfilling career want to quit her job and stay home?

If you asked these questions to these parents you would get a resounding YES from time to time.

It seems like a new mom has to wear armor to defend herself and her choices. She has to seek permission to care for her baby. Whatever happened to instincts? Have we cultured intuition away by writing books and coining phrases and categorizing everything and everyone?

Maybe the extended family has done things differently so a new mom feels she needs to defend her choices. Perhaps she is faced with criticism and needs to wear a uniform.

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Whatever it is I wish I could hug all new moms and blow some instinct like fairy dust at them and let them take it in, take in their babies. I want them to clear out the noise so they can hear. So they can hear that voice inside them that tells them: this is your baby, your child, do not strive to fit in, strive to find love, strive to find the wonder in your little person, strive to grow along with them.

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In the meantime I will interject my thoughts in those groups when I have it in me to do so. I imagine fairy dust with each click of the keyboard.IMG_7271

The Power of Tears

January 10, 2015

You never know what may come out of your mouth and how it may impact another person

In my early years as a La Leche Leauge Leader I used to hold meetings in my apartment. One steamy summer afternoon I sat on the floor of my living room folding laundry as Phoebe napped. The buzzer jolted me as I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was the day after the Series Meeting. A voice over the intercom said “I am here for the Meeting.” I buzzed her in.

At my door was a petite new mom with auburn curls and a five-month-old baby asleep in a dark red Baby Bjorn carrier. Beads of sweat speckled her stiff body. Tension permeated her.

“I am sorry but the Meeting was yesterday. Come on in and have a glass of water,” I said.

Her face fell but her body remained at attention.

“Come on in, I‘m just folding laundry. Have a seat.”

“No, I don’t want the baby to wake,” she replied.

She stood in my living room as I sat back down on the floor and went back to the task of folding a load of pinks, greens, oranges and yellows.

“It’s hard being a new mom isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes.” There was a pause.

Then, “and my own mother wants me to stop breastfeeding. She doesn’t understand me. I just want to cry,” she blurted out.

“Well, then, cry,” I offered.

“I don’t want to cry in front of my baby. I don’t want her to think I am weak,” she was incredulous.

“You know, there is strength in tears,” I said as I folded one of Phoebe’s flowery sundresses.

The floodgates opened. I didn’t know if it was five months of pent of tears or a lifetime.

Her body softened with each sob. Even her curls fell easier around her face. Her baby girl woke up and she sat on my couch and nursed her. At first she was stiff. I touched her shoulder and gently pressed her back into the back cushion. More tears fell.

This woman had traveled from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the East Village. If you live in New York City you know that is quite a journey on public transportation, particularly for a new mom.

I never saw the woman again or heard from her but I learned the power of simple words that day.

I often cry with the moms with whom I work and I cry in front of my children. I always feel powerful after.

Those Eyes

November 13, 2014

Looking through old photos of Phoebe I was taken back to the moments she was born. The thing I remember more than the pushing, the pain, the fear of what was going on with my body, more than thinking about our apartment move as I was in labor, more than thinking about moving out of Manhattan, more than thinking of whether she would be a boy or a girl, about what we would name her, I remember those eyes. Those eyes saw right into me. More than thinking if I would be a good enough mother, more than thinking about breastfeeding I remember those eyes.

She is a young adult now and I am still taken with her eyes. Looking at this photo when she was about two years old, the image is a bit blurry but look at those eyes.

Little Phoebe

I would wonder what was going on behind those eyes, what she was thinking.

There are certain moments in mothering that leave indelible images in my mind. There was when Chloe, at three weeks of age told me she did not like the light in her eyes while she was nursing – she pulled off my breast, turned her head toward the lamp beside the bed and fake cried then turned back toward me and stopped – she repeated this action until I figured out to turn off the light. She then happily latched on and nursed herself to sleep in the dimmed room.

There was the moment when two year old Finn looked up at me, a stressed moody mama trying to get out the door and get three children to school on time on a rainy day – you know that level of stress – I began to raise my voice, speak angrily. Instead of heading my demands to get into the stroller he stopped, crossed his little arms across his chest and proclaimed, “you have to be patient, Mama.” A tear rolled down his check. I listened.

There are many stories like this but there is nothing like a first. Phoebe’s first look into my soul made me the mom I am. Never forget to look into your child’s eyes. Never forget to watch your baby’s actions. Never forget to listen to the wisdom of a two year old.

Change and Magic

June 26, 2014

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Yesterday was my birthday. Today was the last day of school for NYC Public School children. This weekend all three of my children will begin their summer at camp in the Berkshires and Rob and I will be alone for four weeks.

My oldest child has one year of college under her belt. My second child will be researching high schools in the fall. My youngest will begin fourth grade.

This summer many friends are leaving New York. They are going to Portugal, Massachusetts, Portland (both East and West) Israel, and Phoenix. The list goes on.

Change is hard. I have trouble with change. I have a hard time packing. I am challenged to move things around like furniture and art on my walls. I am a creature of habit.

But I also have change envy. I am envious of all those friends starting out on new adventures. I feel a little left behind.

Working with breastfeeding moms and babies I get to relive those early challenges of motherhood, the dramatic changes in the body and the heart. As someone who advises about weaning I get to relive the emotions of that milestone.

I was talking to Finn on the way to school this morning and he told me he wishes he could perform magic. The first thing I imagined I would do if I was magic would be to bring back my mother. This year in October it will be ten years since she died.

If I was magic . . .

Oh, the possibilities.

For now, I will remain in New York. I will continue to mother my children through all of the changes they experience. I will nurture my relationship with Rob. And I shall seek change that is positive. I will embrace each day, each challenge, each wrinkle and gray hair.

You see, this is about getting older. Yesterday was my 49th birthday and I am thinking deeply about 50. It is such a milestone. When I was a kid I used to imagine a grownup being 35 years old. I am past that quite a bit. I have to consider what this means.

I walk down the street and I look at other women. I try to figure out how old they are. I try to analyze their state of mind. I try to figure out if they are happy and healthy.

I will take in this final year of my forties. I am happy and I am healthy. And I know deep down I do possess some magic!

I often play a game with myself to protect my children from potential angry outbursts from their mother – these outbursts are not unprovoked – no one can push your buttons like your offspring but it is my responsibility, my job, to model appropriate behavior. However, I am only human so I must enable strategies to guide my babies into functioning adults.

The game is that I pretend that I am the subject of a documentary or television show and I am supposed to demonstrate good parenting. Maybe this comes from being a Southerner who gives a damn what others think – though this aspect of my psyche is fading with my youth – but this idea had to spring from somewhere.

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My children are growing (and so is my body) so I am finding less of a need to “act” like a decent mother. Or perhaps I acted like it so much that as a Method actor I became the Decent Mother!

 

 

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I have had a new epiphany. You see, I noticed back at Thanksgiving that I was bursting out of my clothes as I gobbled up turkey and gravy and pecan pie and this wine and that cocktail and this cheese and that Pernil.

 

 

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Something had to give besides my seams. So, I joined Weight Watchers in early December.

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It is now June and I am within five pounds of my starting weight. I could celebrate a pound a month but at this rate I may be retired before I hit goal. In December my membership was truly a preemptive act to avoid more weight gain – let me hold steady through the holidays then come January I will slim down. Ha!

I know how to do this as I am a Lifetime Weight Watchers Member but the last time I lost any weight on the program I was nursing a baby into toddlerhood and let him suck the calories right out of me. I don’t know how large the wet nurse market is and I do not need another baby!

 

 

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So, today I decided that I would use my parenting strategies in my weight loss journey. I will pretend that Weight Watchers has a film crew following me around and I am the epitome of the model Weight Watchers Member. I will make smart choices. I will choose smaller portions, more nutrient dense, high fiber foods. I will eschew my beloved gluten free brownies. When I make my children buttery eggs in a hole I will eat a boiled egg and a half a grapefruit. I will leave morsels behind on my plate. I will choose mangos over cookies.Image

 

I will be the envy of those humans bursting at their seams as I begin to swim in my clothes.

Weight Watchers will make me their new spokes person and I will be voted Mother of the Year!

 

 

Boxes

April 7, 2014

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Computers are boxes that hold information. They are solid, finite. Computers rely on an algorithm of complete ideas. Computers categorize our lives, our files, our ideas.

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Humans are not boxes. We are fluid forms, soft, curvy. Our ideas are amorphous and infinite. I worry that the coming generations are going to be trapped in these boxes, these categories.

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I am a woman. I am in my forties. I am married. I am a mother. I am college educated.

These are categories in which I fit but this is not all of me.

I think of the challenges of checking off answers. The other day I called the United States Post Office. I needed to find out where a package was that my oldest daughter accidentally had shipped to our home address instead of her dorm. I needed to know if I could pick up her package even though it was not in my name.

There was a recording asking me various questions including the tracking number. This number was illegible as I imagine author of said numbers was in the habit of checking off boxes and not actually used to writing. The tracking number option was not an option. In fact, none of the boxes the recorded voice wanted me to choose was of any help to my situation so I said “Operator.”

She responded in confusion. So I said “customer service.”

She still wanted me to choose: send a package or repeat previous options.

I then said “Human.”

Her reply: I am sorry, I do not understand, do you want me . . .”

“FUCKING HUMAN!!” I screamed in to my phone. She didn’t flinch. I hung up.

Another recent situation with computer options was a package ordered form Target. My eight-year-old son has a new position: General of the Spy Club in his third grade class. For this position he needs to wear a jacket and tie. My husband ordered a crisp white shirt and sharp navy jacket. It was supposed to be delivered on Wednesday the 26th. On Thursday the 27th I tracked the package from an email with all of the ordering details. I tracked the package through UPS. They handed it off the USPS. On Friday March 28 I called and checked and tracked. According to USPS it was on time for delivery on Wednesday the 26th – remember I am calling on Friday the 28th. I placed several calls. The only human I talked with was from Target and every word uttered was from a script which I imagine had little check marks for each situation.

“I am sorry you feel this way. Your package is scheduled for delivery on Wednesday the 26th.”

“Do you know what today is? It is the 28th.”

There was not a way for anyone to help me because computers do not have arms, eyes or hearts. They cannot call and speak to UPS or the USPS and ask where my son’s General suit is.

My worst box checking experience was when I was sitting in the pre-op for a D & C at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I had been 17 weeks pregnant and a Doppler could not pick up my baby’s heartbeat so I went for a sonogram. The baby inside me had died. My body still felt pregnant and I did not physically miscarry. We decided on a D & C.

The Physicians Assistant asked me a series of questions before the procedure. Then this one:

“Are you pregnant?”

“Do you know why I am here?”

“I just need to know if you are pregnant.”

“I don’t know,” my eyes filled with tears for the thirtieth time that day. I didn’t think I could produce another drop.

“I need to check off a box.”

“How about: yes, I am pregnant, with a dead baby? Do you have a box for that?”

When people are trained to check off boxes they should get sensitivity training. There should always be an “other” box with a line for explanation. And that line should be endless.

I worry about so many new mothers these days. It must be so hard to be instinctive. They are encouraged to follow a set of rules that they can track. They have apps for everything: feeding, diapers, pee and poo.

When I had my babies and I was nursing them in the early days I was trying to keep my breasts balanced. When it was time to nurse I would gently squeeze my breasts to see which felt fuller so I could start with that breast. Ask many moms today and she may say, “hold on, let me look, I have it on an app.”

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Technology has a its place but not at the price of humanity. We are culturing the instincts out of ourselves. New mothers are following all these concepts:

Are you any of the following?

  • Attachment Parenting
  • Co-sleeping
  • Ferber
  • Sleep training
  • Home birth
  • Planned Caesarean
  • Home school
  • Public school
  • Private school
  • Breastfeed
  • Bottle feed
  • Homemade food
  • Prepackaged food
  • Baby led weaning
  • Blonde
  • Brunette
  • Bald
  • Young
  • Old
  • Friendly
  • Shy
  • Silly
  • Frustrated

It is my hope that we can learn to live in harmony with computers, that we not let them do our thinking.

Step outside of the box. Look into someone’s eyes. Think for yourself.

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The Myth of the Perfect Mom

December 30, 2013

We moms sure are sold a load of crap! All the images of mothers are glorified and sterilized and glamorized.Image

I am not talking about Giselle. We know she is glamorous and we also know she has a team that makes her look that way.

What about the rest of us, those of us in the trenches of motherhood? Why do we think we have to achieve some unattainable goal as high priestess of motherhood?

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Once in a while I may get what many would call a compliment – and frankly, I let my ego suck it all in for a while and I may hear, “Oh, Leigh Anne, you are an amazing mom!” or “You are a perfect mom!” If this comes from one of my children I will take it and toll around in it for days, even years because I know that it will be followed by some balancing statement like “I hate you, you are the worst mother ever!” And that will be followed by a hug or a request for mommy time. It is all in the job description.

Please, please, please do not throw that horrible label of PERFECT on me. I am imperfect and I embrace that.

But look at advertising for new parents and you see styled and glamorized images.

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What do we really look like after a new baby.

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This is me after my first baby was about two days old – see the look of bewilderment in my eyes? 

Most new moms are in a bit of shock. I hear repeatedly “No one ever told me . . . .”

We hide babies, we hide our breasts, we keep quiet about the dark side of parenting.

I wonder if the dark side would be so dark if people talked about it.

Did you know that breastfeeding in the beginning is very time consuming?

Did you know that newborn babies are not typically chubby?

Did you know that you can bleed from your vagina for days and weeks?

Did you know that sometimes you will pass a clump of blood?

Did you know that you may feel angry that you have a baby – not all of the time but some of the time?

Did you know that you would be riding an emotional rollercoaster?

Did you know that sometimes you will plan to take a shower in the morning and the next thing you know it is 7:30pm and you still have spit up and baby shit on you and you have only eaten stale leftover cake that wasn’t even home baked in a flavor you don’t even like?

Did you know that in all of that mess you will look into the eyes of your baby and feel a deep, confusing kind of love? A new protective kind of love?

Did you know that your baby doesn’t give a damn about your hair?

Did you know that your baby just wants to get to know you? He knows you from growing inside you but now that the courtship is settling in he wants to really get to know you. And he wants you to know him. Did you know that some moms fall in love immediately while others take time.

I think we all want to put on a good face when we go out with our babies. We feel a sense of accomplishment from just having gotten dressed and out of the house. Maybe we feel like we are failing so we have to put on a show and say all the right things. The problem is that other new moms believe what you say. Then other new moms compare themselves to you. Or maybe you are comparing yourself to the woman who says “childbirth was a breeze, my baby latched right on and has grown beautifully, she sleeps through the night and her poop doesn’t smell, also, my husband is a saint, he cooks every night and bought me this gold chain with my baby’s birthstone and a tiny haiku he wrote inscribed. He waits patiently for me to want to get intimate and my belly just seemed to pop right back into place.”

I play a game with myself. When I am feeling the stress of parenting and I really do not want to yell at my kids again or I do not want to scream at them in public, I pretend I am the subject of a documentary on parenting. I want to be prime example of keeping my cool. I stop and think: “what would be a productive action to take here.” I often fail at this game but sometimes I succeed. When I succeed I am setting an example for my children and possibly for other parents. But, I am not perfect, dammit!

One of the best gifts my mother gave me was the gift of imperfection. She let me see her flaws. I was not blinded by a sense of glamour and always being right. This was great because it made her accessible and it took the pressure off of me to not be a perfect mom. Don’t get me wrong – I do have my moments of genius. Mostly I am ordinary but to my children I am MOM.

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