Dear Other Parents, Here’s the Audio for the Pics I Post on Facebook

Hi! Remember me? Of course you do. I’m the friend who regularly posts idyllic pictures of my kids playing fantastically imaginative games and effortlessly building fine motor skills in my peaceful home. It’s not what it looks like. I mean, it is, but it isn’t.

Visual: That picture of us making peanut butter oat balls (well, sunbutter oat balls, I’m not a monster) with three little ones’ rapt attention as they learned units of measurement, volume, and other basics of culinary chemistry while concocting a healthy treat.

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Audio:

Vivi: Why don’t you have enough honey? Didn’t Dad tell you we were out of honey, like, last week?

Stuart: I don’t like flax. What is flax?

Tyler: I’m all done.

Me: I forgot the honey. Here, taste the flax. But we haven’t started yet.

Visual: The one of my two kiddos happily coloring in letters on a banner, made from the unbleached butcher paper Amazon uses as package filling, and reading “Vivienne’s Plants and Animals Sixth Birthday Party” for, well, you guessed it.

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Audio:

Stuart (after about three strokes of “skibble”): I’m done.

Vivi (after coloring in 2 of the 44 characters): I’m done.

Me: But you said you wanted a banner. You insisted that every great party has a banner. I just spent ten minutes tracing all these letters for you.

Vivi: Well, I’m done.

Me: The party is tomorrow.

Vivi: I know. I’m just done.

Seven hours pass

Me: Hi honey, how was your day?

Ian: Good. Ish. What are you doing?

Me: Every great party has a banner.

Ian: O-kay, let me help.

An hour later, at 10:45 p.m.

Me: Let’s just quit. The markers are dying. My hand hurts. I hate this fucking banner.

Ian: No way, I’ve only got “arty” left.

Me: What?! How is that possible? I’ve got all of “animals.”

Ian: It’s all in the wrist, babe. Here, let me show you.

Visual: The one where my kids decided to mummify me, wrapping me up in their dad’s undershirts and using magnatiles as jewels for my tomb, because we’d been reading all about ancient Egypt together.

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Audio:

Vivi: Stuart, stop! Stop it. I mean it, stop. I want to wrap up Mommy. If you put one more shirt on her, I’m going to hit you. Stuart, I’m going to hit you and take away everything you love.

Stuart: No, if you hit me, Mommy will throw away all your toys.

Vivi: Mommy, Stuart won’t let me do it. Stuart, let me do it. Stuart, let me. Mommy, he won’t. Stuart, let me do it.

Me (garbled as my head is inside my cardboard box tomb and the baby is basically jumping up and down on my bladder): Vivi, why don’t you just grab another one from the pile and do it instead of arguing about doing it?

Vivi: Fine. Stuart, pass me one from the pile. Stuart, pass me one. Stuart, pass it. I’m going to hit you if you don’t pass me one, Stuart.

So don’t stress about my apparently perfect parenting and cherubic children. Sometimes their faces are illuminated by joy and enlightenment; other days they’re smiling because that’s the look of glee they get when bitching and moaning. In parenting as in all else, looks can be deceiving.

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New Mom Needs More Input on Postpartum Body

At 2:06 a.m. on Tuesday July 28, Kelly Davies of Wilmington, Delaware proudly welcomed Beckett Atticus Davies, who weighed in at 8 lbs, 12 ozs and measured 21 inches long. Sources close to Ms. Davies say that mom and baby are both healthy and happy, with the exception of one post-delivery complication: “I’m just not sure how to feel,” Ms. Davies laments, “about my body. I wish someone would comment on it or write an article about it.”

Ms. Davies reports first experiencing nothing but exhaustion and joy. “But then I looked at my strange new belly,” she says, “and I knew I felt something. I just wasn’t quite sure what.”

The problem was apparently exacerbated by the assistance Ms. Davies had become accustomed to receiving. She explains, “My co-workers were super helpful before the birth. ‘You’re huge!’ they’d say whenever I entered a conference room. ‘You’ve got to have twins in there,’ my boss quipped at least three times a week. It was so clear to me: I was really big. Now though, I just don’t know.”

Her husband, Jeremy Davies, adds, “Right after the birth she was all, ‘Wow, my body pushed that big baby out. That’s amazing, right? I’m supposed to feel strong and powerful, right?’ I was all, ‘Yeah, you’re like Superman strong.’”

But it wasn’t long before Ms. Davies began to doubt her chosen emotional course: “I saw my new Super-ass in the mirror, and it looked mighty alright, but not, like, good.”

Luckily, Ms. Davies soon recalled the Facebook post of an acquaintance (who wishes to remain anonymous). “That’s when I was like, ‘oh right, there’s just more of me to love!’” Ms. Davies says. This realization led to a reputedly delightful two-minute interlude spent bobbing to Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Base,” during which Ms. Davies was heard to call out, “I’ve got all the right junk in all the right places.”

Yet the mood in the room quickly darkened when Trainor addressed “skinny bitches.” In our exclusive sit-down Ms. Davies later recalled, “See, I used to be thin, you know, before the baby, and I read that skinny-shaming is just as hurtful as fat-shaming. But then there was this other article saying that it’s not the same, because skinny-shaming is like reverse racism: it may exist, but it’s like a bug splatting on your windshield one day versus getting your car t-boned every time you try to drive. So it would be, like, skinny-racist to love my new butt now, wouldn’t it?” This conclusion apparently drove Ms. Davies to frantically shout, “Turn it off! Turn it off! Just put on some Britney.”

A labor and delivery resident on call that evening reports another sudden change of atmosphere upon the arrival of Lindsey Abrams, who has been Ms. Davies’s best friend since either seventh or eighth grade (there is a complicating factor involving Katie Banasik, who may or may not have been Ms. Davies’s actual best friend in seventh grade). When Ms. Davies confided her confusion, Ms. Abrams took over: “Absolutely not, Kelly! I forbid you to think negative thoughts about yourself! Your body is your gift to your baby. You gave him life. You wouldn’t take that back so you can still be pretty would you?!” Ms. Davies reportedly nodded vigorously throughout this pep talk.

After Ms. Abrams’s departure, however, Ms. Davies says she reconsidered: “I read that motherhood shouldn’t be all sacrifice. I mean, if I just accept these new saggy bags I used to call breasts like it’s okay, what does that say about my ability to set boundaries?”

Seeking an end to his wife’s “serious yo-yo act,” Mr. Davies briefly glanced up from his cellphone and murmured the reassurance, “I think you’re hot no matter what.”

He then located an op-ed defending minor cosmetic surgery. Ms. Davies described the article to us in detail: “I took notes. It said that some things are totally okay to hate. But it depends. Like, I’m allowed to be pissed about the spider veins because fixing those up is a quick outpatient deal with a laser. But I think I’m supposed to live with my varicose veins because I’d have to go under anesthesia to get those done and, you know, Kanye’s mom died during a boob job. So I have to learn to love those.”

“Also,” she added, becoming increasingly agitated, “I think I really hate my stretch marks. But maybe I think they’re a red badge of courage? Like, a sign of love, but not sacrifice, just like hard-earned or something. I don’t know. The whole thing is just so confusing.”

Holding his now tearful wife, Mr. Davies chimed in: “I know, babe! I’ll go get your laptop. What you need is more advice.”

A visibly relieved Ms. Davies exhaled, “Thank you, honey. I’ll feel so much better once a few more people weigh in on my body.”

The Diet Everyone Should Be Talking About

Originally published on Mrs. Muffin Top

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I recently went on a diet that made me feel fabulous about my body.

It was an accident really. I let my subscription to US Weekly lapse, not due to lack of interest, but because having young kids means running triage on one’s hobbies. After some binge-watching that left me nearly comatose, I also attempted a TV-free lifestyle. Of course I whip out the laptop at night to watch Nashville and The Mindy Project after the kids are in bed; and in moments of desperation I stream Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for my three- and six-year-olds. But we don’t watch much, and Hulu and Amazon show few and no commercials, respectively.

I didn’t even realize I was on a media diet until I happened upon a buffet the other day.

I’d taken a weekend trip with just one kid, which—since usually all three compete for my attention like it’s a sequined pantsuit and they’re headed to Studio 54—felt totally liberating. Returning home with the baby enclosed in a front pack, I found myself able to look around, truly processing my surroundings rather than having the world slide by in a blur. It’s not that I’m ordinarily dazed or anything—quite the opposite actually: it takes narrow focus on my little balls of energy to keep them from tripping people, dismantling things, and endangering themselves.

But that day I was able to walk out of the jetway and make eye contact with folks waiting to board the outbound flight. I even read the overhead signs with enough attention to head in the right direction for once. When the corridor t-boned into one of those convenience stores that conveniently offers water and M&Ms for five times the normal price, I spent almost a full minute staring at a brightly-lit spread of magazine covers.

All weekend, I’d felt confident. Sure, I’m ten pounds over my pre-baby weight, and only the stretchier items in my closet fit. I’ve got a bit of muffin ready to peek out over the top of too-tight pants. But I’m not huge. My general shape is the same as before, just at a different scale. And there’s nothing sad-sack about my boobs, er, well at least not when they’re filled with breastmilk.

Dancing in heels at my school reunion, I’d felt self-assured in a flattering outfit created by layering one dress (covered the arms but too short on the thighs) on top of a second one (strapless but popped out at the waist to lend my lower half a necessary air of mystery). I’d texted my husband a selfie, and could almost feel the drool in his answering, “Hot mama! Wish I were there.”

All it took was sixty seconds of airport cover-gazing. The sight of so many lithe, toned torsos completely deflated me. All of a sudden I felt fat—which I guess means the images actually inflated me, as far as my self-conception is concerned.

And what else matters? If you’re within the range of healthy weights, your body functions well, and your partner finds you attractive, what could be more important than how you feel about yourself in a vacuum? Why on earth should I care what a handful of women who optimize their appearance for a living look like?

I should leave it at that, just ingest the images and not swell with self-doubt, but “should” doesn’t matter. I see their flat tummies, and I compare. I can fight to change our culture, take a ride on the Dove train, but the only real solution for me, right this minute, is to go on a diet.

After the unintentional media indulgence, I’m now on a purposeful regimen. I refuse to consume the glossies, turn my head anytime a Nair commercial appears, and shut off Modern Family when Sofia Vergara’s tiny waist speaks louder than her massive wit. Once again I feel fit, content with my postpartum shape and plans to get back to my personal baseline in due time.

Who among us would like what she sees in the mirror each morning if Heidi Klum stood half-naked on the other side of the bathroom, complete with contouring makeup and special lighting? Do what I did, and kick her out of your house. It’s a new kind of diet. Cheese and chocolate in your face? Yes. Models and actresses in your face? No.

From Brazilian Wax to Living Lettuce

I used to buck the enviro-responsibility trend with gusto: “If God wanted me to recycle, he’d send me a magic sorting hat like the one in Harry Potter,” I’d say, delighting in my friends’ disgust. For years I saw organics as a brilliant marketing ploy, duping suckers into spending twice as much money on the same items. “Ooh,” I pictured the chumps thinking, “six-dollar blueberries must be twice as good as three-dollar blueberries.”

After living in the Pacific Northwest for four years (two clumps of granola on the hippie equivalent of the Zagat scale) and joining a Waldorf-inspired, parent-participation preschool community in San Francisco (three clumps), I’ve noticed a steady creep in my sensibilities.

I still like to think of myself as a yuppie, but the root-bearing head of “organic living butter lettuce” that I bought the other day—”It’s really fresh! Ready for you to harvest!”—indicates otherwise. As do my zealous co-sleeping and constant baby-wearing.

Intense scientific scrutiny of my behavior over the years (or thinking about it in the shower one day, one or the other) reveals a five-step progression:

Step 1. Make fun of something other people are doing. (“Grass-fed, pasture-raised beef? Are you fucking serious? Are we denying cows any other essential rights? What thread count are their sheets? Were they provided adequate educational opportunity?”)

Step 2. Start to feel bad for not doing it. (“Gah. I really should be using stainless steel storage containers for school lunches, but Ziploc bags are so much easier, and I am really stressed right now.”)

Step 3. Do it. (“Hmm, I’ve got this empty Cheerios box. Should I recycle it or repurpose it? I could cover it in computer paper and let the kids decorate it to upcycle a gift box. Don’t want to waste even more trees though. Maybe I should just reuse it to store my felt scraps.”)

Step 4. Forget that I ever didn’t do it. (“White rice cakes made with cheddar cheese dust? How could anyone put that kind of chemical-laden garbage in their body? They don’t even have kale or miso flakes or anything.”)

Step 5. Proselytize. (“I know eight dollars for a roasted almond, sea salt chocolate bar sounds like a lot, but it’s organic. The salt is scraped off the hulls of local fishing vessels, the almonds are grown with gray water, and the cocoa is harvested using fair wage labor. It’s basically a bargain.”)

Although, come to think of it, my decisions to join a sorority and start getting Brazilian bikini waxes followed the pattern. Same for texting, Greek yogurt, and Yale alums. I go from laugh at it to swear by it like Bruce transitioning to Caitlyn: slowly, but completely.

It makes me wonder, which of the things I currently mock will I soon be unable to live without? Hipster granny panties? Ultimate frisbee? Hypnobirthing? Camping? Kefir? Facial hair? I can never be completely sure.

The whole thing is utterly ridiculous. You should try it!

Water Play, Yay?!

Originally published in Golden Gate Mothers Group Magazine – July/August 2015

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After I delivered my third baby, a hospital nurse carefully, almost reverently, passed me a “sitz bath,” a plastic tub that sits on top of a standard toilet seat with a bag of water connected to it by a tube. You know, so that a new mama can submerge her beleaguered lady parts in warm water without hoisting herself into the bathtub. Since the gravity-powered nether regions soaker didn’t float my boat the first two times around, I tossed it aside. “Wait!” my husband cried, “Stuart will love that.”

Sure enough, nine months later my three-year-old still plays with it, gleefully spraying his dad with the hose in the shower every morning and, thankfully less often, spinning in a circle, squirting water across the bathroom. Both he and his five-year-old sister are also obsessed with camelbaks and water bottles, love to pour liquid back and forth between cups, go into paroxysms of delight when handed a hose, and can think of nothing more exciting than covering portions of the bath spout with random parts of their bodies in order to send the remainder of the flow spraying in unforeseen directions.

For me, each of these activities, of course, totally blows goats. I’m not a huge fan of wool carpets that smell like sheep and bathroom mirrors covered in water spots. I like crawling around on my hands and knees mopping up liquids off our floor about as much as accidentally swallowing a bug or wearing a bra that cuts off my circulation. But I suck it up in the name of building neural pathways and motor skills.

That’s not all. As with pretty much any kind of independent activity, water play supports language acquisition, problem-solving, logical reasoning, and imaginative exploration (which in turn leads to increases in sustained attention, memory, impulse-inhibition, and more).

Water provides a medium for psychological growth as well. “Schemas,” otherwise known as compulsions, drive much of kids’ play behavior. The urge to fill containers with water is known as the “enclosure” schema, playing with running water fulfills the “trajectory” schema, carrying it around in buckets satisfies the “transporting” schema, and mixing it with dirt to create mud helps meet the “transformation” schema.

Not to mention the chance to build math and science skills through experimentation with volume, gravity, force, displacement, and causation. With a bit of parental assistance, the possibilities are endless. We play a game called “hot, warm, cold” that introduces the concept of “change in state” (i.e., solid, liquid, and gas) without any explicit instruction. I just fill three bowls with water, one hot enough to produce steam. I ask the kids to close their eyes, hold their hands over the bowls, and guess which is which. We also put an ice cube in each bowl and watch what happens. Once we even tossed in some oatmeal to see how it would fare. I would try dirt, but I’m afraid the hot bowl will end up looking too much like brownie batter for anyone’s good.

Throughout all this learning, they’re amped up, thoroughly enjoying themselves while accomplishing something. Sort of like me getting a pedicure before a big event.

So each time I want to scream about the actual or potential mess, I bite my tongue and tolerate their wet exploration. I set boundaries, of course, mandating that water remain in the bathroom, kitchen, or deck area. I also draw the line on my son experimenting with the wonder that is his God-given hose. Any developmental benefits that result in our home smelling like a BART elevator will just have to go unclaimed.

We talk about wasting water, both in the context of the drought and in terms of the concept of “enough.” Knowing when we have enough water to play happily—and understanding that is truly all we need, regardless of how much we might want—helps us maintain an “attitude of gratitude.” A sense of “enough” when it comes to water leads to a better ability to discern when we have enough ketchup, M&Ms, and, down the line, Manolo Blahniks.

In this way, water play is really just a microcosm of parenting in general: I challenge myself to let go a little and not sweat the small stuff so that I can produce considerate, grateful people with healthy curiosity about the world and the ability to refrain from peeing on things.

The Dark Side of Gratitude

Originally published in Moms Magazine

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The week before my third child was born, I posted a Facebook status that was more thank you note than update:

Viola invited both of my kids over this afternoon; I am nodding off while getting a pedicure. Jeannette managed three kids at the playground while I went to the chiropractor and got a therapeutic massage. ‪#‎blessed‬ ‪#‎thankyouvillage‬

Posting it, I swelled with gratitude (and fetus), feeling utterly supported by my mama network (and compression hose).

Then the comments rolled in. “Blessed you are!” remarked one friend. “Wow,” wrote another. Just like that, my mood darkened. I barely resisted the urge to reply: “Every other moment of the last six weeks, I’ve managed two kids and a household while barely able to walk, on feet that have been pedicured and massaged three times in the last five years. Plus, I’ve bent over backwards—when I still could bend—to help these folks in the past.” That my hackles rose at even the slightest insinuation of fortuitousness revealed a deep-seated fear.

The phenomenon recently resurfaced when a friend mentioned how encouraging her partner has been of her work editing a local magazine. I thought about my own husband’s unfailing support of my writing and wanted to respond, “We’re so lucky,” but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I’ve made it one of my life’s missions to promote his interests and pursuits, both professional and personal. His reciprocal commitment to my fulfillment is wonderful, and it’s rare, but it’s only fair. Calling it “lucky” seems like a diminution.

I realized that I’m able simultaneously to feel both thankful and deserving; but somehow by saying I’m grateful, I worry that I make the support seem gratuitous.

I’ve since talked to many a mommy friend and learned that my reaction is “a thing.” What’s going on? Are we suffering from a mass crisis of faith? A sneaking suspicion that we don’t deserve the good around us? That the charmed lives we lead are a boon and not worlds of our own careful creation? Putting socioeconomic and racial privilege aside for the time being, the answer is “no.” Neighbors, friends, and family should pitch in to help one another out in a pinch. Men should support women in their professional endeavors. And parents should be able to engage in leisure activities and hobbies.

Perhaps as a stay-at-home parent, I’m all too familiar with my work being devalued unless I stick up for its difficulty. I’m often afraid to broadcast how much I love it lest others perceive my gratification as a vacation. Although, come to think of it, my professional experience tracked the same course. Those at the law firm who worked tirelessly, never turning away a project or appearing to accomplish the gnarliest of tasks with joy and ease, worked thanklessly. Sure, top performers had to put in long hours, but the junior attorneys whom partners valued most were those who didn’t conceal the fact that work was hard work.

Viewed through this lens, hesitance to express thanks isn’t a defense mechanism, borne of insecurity or irrational fear. It’s an informed reaction to our tendency to give others only the credit they give themselves.

Yet we need to say thanks. In fact, our happiness depends upon it. As William Arthur Ward once quipped, “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Two decades after Oprah first encouraged us to keep a gratitude journal, positivity research has so definitively established a link between the expression of thanks and happiness that a cottage industry of gratitude-specific books thrives.

Gretchen Rubin, author of New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, pithily summarizes, “Studies show that gratitude is a major happiness booster.” The concept is simple: it’s difficult to feel negative while acknowledging much that’s positive; or, put another way, gratitude acts like rain on your pity party.

So how do we thank others without the fear of trivializing our own efforts? Particularly for moms, we express gratitude without papering over our labor. We air all that is fortunate as well as all we do to direct our own fortunes. We thank God and everyone else for our fabulous families and amazing jobs, while allowing—even inviting—the world to see us sweat.

Mama’s birthday wishes: a historical perspective

When I was five, my most fervent birthday wishes were the following:

  • Eat what I want
  • Not have to clean up after myself
  • Run around
  • Do everything all by myself, but never be alone
  • Go to Target

At 15 years-old:

  • Have no one tell me what to do
  • Drive where I want
  • Never be alone
  • Go to Target

At 20 and 25:

  • Have everyone show up at my party
  • Get drunk
  • Eat cheese fries
  • Go to Target

At 30:

“I don’t need anything, really. I’m so blessed. If you must do something, maybe a new outfit for the baby from Target? No alcohol, thank you. I’m nursing!”

At advanced maternal age (35):

  • Eat what I want
  • Not have to clean up after myself
  • Not run (or drive) around
  • Have other people do everything for me
  • Things that can’t be done for me, like pumping and showering, do alone
  • Have no one tell me what to do
  • Sip a glass of wine, okay maybe four
  • Go to Target (alone)