Proof of Good Parenting.

So many nights I feel like I’ve had the crap kicked out of me. Some nights I feel like that because I’m so physically exhausted that even the thought of getting up off the couch to get myself too bed is just too much. Sometimes I feel like that because I have actually been kicked, hit, elbowed and/or body-slammed, intentionally or not by my kids. And sometimes my mental (and physical) exhaustion is actually about getting crap out, just not out of me.

The other night it was the double whammy of kiddie constipation plus kiddie ninja warrior injuries.  As my mouth filled with blood, I thought I smelled poop.  I smiled, looking  like a sated extra from True Blood, and then laughed quietly thinking about what my life had become.  I also thought: Man, I am a damn good parent.

I’ll let that image linger while I backtrack a bit…

There are so many things that surprise new parents. Everyone says that your life will completely change. They say things will never be the same. That you will place their needs–their existence–ahead of your own.  (We can debate the appropriate reaches of this concept another time.) Despite all of the advice and words of prospective caution, the reality is full of surprises. So many surprises. There’s the lack of sleep, lack of sleeping in on weekends, lack of money in the checking account, and lack of time for friends, and work, and books, and exercise, and prime-time television (watched on its original air date), and personal hygiene, and lawn maintenance (of the real and colloquial variety).

For me, however, the biggest surprise was all the poop.  There is so much poop.  Poop everywhere, in inconvenient locations like a restaurant, or a highway going 70 mph when you just took a pit stop 4 minutes ago, or on your suit sleeve 6 hours after you left the house that you only notice as you go to shake the hand of a new client.  Poop all day, every day, in all its pooptastic poopertinence.

But sometimes there is no poop, and that’s a problem too.  The other night was about a lack of poop.  My toddler hadn’t pooped in days.  They say a kid can go up to a week without pooping, but I picture their little insides clogged up like a–well, let’s just say clogged.  The longer it lasts, the worse it gets.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Poop hurts, followed by a reluctance to poop, leads to holding in poop, results in poop hurts. It’s sad and uncomfortable–for them and for us.  People of Starbucks: Nevermind my kid pressing his hand against his rear and screaming at his poop not to come out.  Nothing to see here. Move along.

Anyway, my kid hadn’t pooped in a couple days. He was exceedingly uncomfortable, he couldn’t sleep because he kept being awoken by the pressing issue. He was weepy, and all-around the saddest sack of a kid I’d seen a while.  It was 2 am and I was rocking him in his darkened room, waiting for the adult dose of laxative to kick in, and I was exhausted. He would fall asleep and then wake up to complain and clench, then fall asleep again. The kid was putting up a valiant fight but I knew (and he knew) he’d lose eventually. At one point he sat up and looked me straight in the eye and said, “No poopy, not now. I busy.”  Let’s forget the implication that he’s heard any adult say “not now, I’m busy” and focus on the kid’s will power here.

This kid is a marvel of mind over digestion. He is a champion poop fighter. He said those words, fell back asleep while sitting straight up and then collapsed forward, striking his marvelous mind (surrounded by hard skull) directly into my mouth.  My tooth sliced in to my lip and I immediately tasted blood. I thought about getting up, but he was asleep. And he needed sleep. If I got up, he’d be awake and sad and angry all over again.

So I waited.

I rocked.

A few minutes later, I spelled poop.

The poop was coming and he was too tired to wake up and fight it, so I rocked some more until the deed was done. I laughed at myself. I laughed and marveled at the person I had become.  I was exhausted, but proud.  I’d put his needs ahead of my own.  He needed sleep and elimination.  I needed sleep, a boxer’s spit bucket and some frozen peas. I let him snooze for a while longer while we rocked in the chair before moving him to change his diaper and put him back to bed. He slept through it all.

This parenting thing is hard.  Your body takes a beating, along with your psychological well-being.  You think you’re not doing enough, or doing it well enough–then, you have these moments.  The moments when your dark circles and fat lip are big, swollen proof that you are able and willing to put their needs ahead of your own.  Proof that you are a good parent…no matter what the people at Starbucks think.

***

For the sake of the children, I add the following blanket disclaimer to all Goodbye Chicken posts: Any story about poop and any other gross or weird stuff done/said/experienced by any child referenced therein is entirely made up–so future friends, employers, lovers and voters shall not use said story against them.  Of course, any story, or part thereof, about children who are awesome, smart, beautiful and kind or otherwise good is entirely true.

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Look at them…ahead of me, always.

The Last Day.

My children are 6 and a half, almost 5 and 2. They are not babies anymore.  I know, I know…it goes so fast.  Kids grow up.  From the time you are first visibly pregnant, strangers tell you to enjoy it. They grow up so fast.  They are right, of course, though the topic of unsolicited and largely unwelcome parenting advice is for another time (as is the topic of people asking if you are pregnant).   It does go fast–sometimes. Other times the clock feels like it is moving about half as fast as a century-old turtle in molasses.  The sleep-little nights stack up to a mountain of exhaustion and you feel like it is never going to end.

I have wished out loud more than a few times for time to speed up.  I’ve longed for the end of sore nipples and for the diaper deliveries to cease. For the irrational “no” to stop being the most common word that escapes my 2 year old’s mouth.  For meals in public and adult conversations that are not cut short by the behavior of tiny-tot tyrants. For a time when I no longer have to brush 3 sets of teeth before I brush my own in the morning.  I know I shouldn’t wish for these days to end.  Each day is a gift and [insert another e-card inspirational quote and/or phrase here].  There are truly so many wonderful things about babies and small children, but for every delicious first giggle there is a brutal first fit of inconsolable crying.  This parenting thing is wonderful, and it’s excruciating.

But the days inevitably go by without our prompting, and babies–they stop being babies.  A few days ago, my 2 year old chose to use a potty.  We’d placed the green plastic seat in his room weeks ago and I half-heartedly planned for a weekend of potty training that would take place later, when I was ready for it.  He had his own ideas though and didn’t wait for me to be ready.  I was changing him for bed and he said, “I use da potty.”  I smiled and plopped him down, and he immediately employed the receptacle as it was intended.  We high-fived and cheered. He shrieked, “I deed it! I deed it!”, while his sisters danced a happy potty dance around him (think the classic sprinkler move…with an imaginary toilet, and the arms are not spraying water…well, you get it).   The entire surface of his face was painted with joy.  I was watching him watch his sisters and committing his triumphant, scrunched-nose smile to memory, when it hit me.  He’s not a baby.  I don’t have babies anymore.

This thing that I had wished for in so many low moments had happened.  Time was speeding by and it was as bittersweet as the chocolate I used to console myself after they were all in bed that night.

If we are lucky, our kids grow up.  We get to see them change and learn new things about the world and themselves.  We get to sit across the table from them and hear their thoughts on caterpillars, friendship and why ancient cultures no longer exist.  We get to see glimpses of the kind and funny, sarcastic and athletic, cunning and creative adults they will be.  And, if we are very lucky, we get to see them actually become those adults.

It was his last day as a baby, but I wished for more.  More days with my babies in all of their post-diaper glory, dancing awkwardly in celebration of passing milestones.  More time with them not yet embarrassed by my hugs and kisses and still craving bedtime stories.  And more days spent enjoying the moment we are in rather than wishing for the clock to speed up.

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Me and first baby.

In Familiar Country.

I drove across the panhandle of Florida, heading toward a hotel that I had never been to before.  It was a chain that I’ve stayed in more times than I’d like to count, and could navigate the entire place blindfolded if necessary because they are all exactly the same.  The location of the front desk ahead and to the left. Tepid coffee and water for late night arrivals about 10 steps in and 3 toward the right.  I’d never been to this city before yet I knew that so much of it would look like so many other cities I’d been to. Miles and miles of trees, or corn fields, or desert, or mountains, then suddenly an oasis of chain steak houses, fast food, big box retail and those hotels that I know so well.  I don’t like to think about it too much because it’s depressing as hell.  Then again, the optimist in me thinks: Well, at least the kids who grow up here won’t be crippled at the thought of moving away for college or jobs or whatever, because wherever they go–it will be familiar.  Then I think: Nope, still depressing.

I’m a sucker for those airport and hotel displays of brochures from local tourist traps.  Without them, I’d just be stuck with trip after trip of the same hotel, same bed, same rental car smell and same steak house salad, and my head just might explode.  I was thinking about the kinds of unique visitor experiences this place might have to offer–would it be another handful of places designated as purveyors of the best bbq ever or, if I was lucky, some historical sites with on-site, costumed reenactors–when I called my dad.  I told him where I was headed and he laughed.  I know that place.  I was near there for training before going overseas and that’s the town we used to sneak off to.  He said “overseas” instead of Vietnam.

I’m not sure why it struck me the way it did.  I’ve lived in a lot of places and my parents (and their parents) lived in a lot of places before I came along.  There always seems to be some familial connection to any place I go to and, frankly, I don’t usually think much of it.  This time was different though.  I wanted to see this place my dad had been.

The sun felt like it was sitting on top of the car and the air conditioner was working hard.  I was looking at the low, dense pine trees as I drove. They seemed short to me, as if the weight of the place’s humidity kept them from reaching a full height.  I saw enormous dragonflies, the size of small birds.  I saw the landscape through the eyes of my 18 year old dad, far away from the urban environment he grew up in and not far from being sent to war.

Maybe it was my own fatigue and homesickness at work, but my sense was that this place, so hot and foreign, probably made my dad feel very alone.  In fatigues and homesick, staring down insects that could carry a small dog away from its yard, I imagined that he felt lost.  I didn’t and haven’t ask him about any of this and I don’t plan to (unless you read this, Dad, and want to chat, xo).  It was a lifetime ago for him.

Another 50 miles down the road and my mind was on the hundreds of children arriving at our southern border a day and how fatigued and homesick they must be.  The radio voices were assigning blame for the crisis and generally calling for them to be sent back to wherever they came from.  [As an aside and without an opinion about what should or needs to be done about the situation, I wonder how those words would feel coming out of the radio mouths if they were forced to use the word "children" instead of "them"...but I digress.]  These children come from places where people don’t have the luxury to ponder why the pine trees are short because they are too worried about whether their kids will survive.  I turned off the radio, rolled down the windows and listened to the voiceless air instead.

I am (along with so many others in this country) so unbelievably lucky to live in a place where I have the luxury to think about trees.  To live in a place where I, as a woman, can have a career that provides for my family and the ability to travel to strange and beautiful places within our own borders, largely without fear.  To live in a place and time where I am pretty darn confident that my children will not fall victim to a war, and will not have to fight a war unless they choose to do so for their country.  To live in a place that so many others see as a promised land.

I drove by the military base that my dad was at so long ago.  There were just enough chain restaurants that it probably feels familiar to anyone stationed there now.  I optimistically thought about how a foot-long sub from a familiar restaurant might make a city kid far from the subway feel at home, at least for a little while.

I didn’t get the chance to see any other local sites.  I chose a late night flight back so I could see my girls, my very lucky girls, off to camp in the morning.

Being a Mom without a Mom.

You can’t compare the grief of two people.  You can’t measure sorrow.  The list of ways it could be worse is endless.  There is war and famine, there are parents holding dying children as I type this digital missive and others alone, lost in a world without love.  These are the tragedies that flood my thoughts when I suddenly realize that I’ve spent the whole day with a catch in my throat.  All day with eyes aching to unleash tears because, for some reason or other, this day of all days, I can’t shake the sadness of missing my mom.

My mind seems to jump to this parade of horribles in an effort to put my feelings in check–as if to ask, “how dare you be sad when there are so many others who are really sad right now?”  It never helps.  It only loosens the levee.

I lost my mom a few years ago.  Her absence is palpable and touches virtually every aspect of my life–though none more than my experience as a parent.   She was here for the first couple years of my oldest daughter’s life.  She saw two more granddaughters arrive after that, then left us as those girls were about to turn 1. She imparted tremendous parenting wisdom to my sister and me in those short years she was here as a grandparent, and even more in the years before.  But it wasn’t enough.  The parenting questions I still have to ask and mommy confessions I have to make…to her, only her, are innumerable.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve got plenty of people in my parenting village. People who love me and my kids and whose advice and help I rely upon.  It does, in fact, take a village and my village rocks…it’s just that sometimes it feels like I’ve got a DJ and not the live band at this party.  [No offense to DJs.]  I can listen to the records and maybe even dance to the covers played by other talented musicians, but my favorite, original artist is gone.

I’m sorry to be a downer. I’m afraid I just don’t have a quippy, feel good conclusion to this post in me.  There’s only a rankled refrain on my soundtrack today:  Being a mom without a mom sucks.

[I'll be right back.  I need some ice cream...]

[Ok. I'm back.]

Yes, I know it could be worse.  But I don’t have to measure my sorrow to give myself permission to feel it.  She told me this once a long time ago.

For those of you reading this, and thinking that your grief, your situation, is worse. You are absolutely right–because it is yours.  Go ahead, cry about it.  I’ll cry with you.  And then we can count the reasons we have to be happy together.  Those are the things worth measuring.

[This mint-chip coated conclusion is brought to you by Häagen-Dazs...and my mommy's wisdom.]

600.8 Miles from Home

We were outside.  Really outside, a long way from home.  In a state park, carrying fishing poles, hiking through the rain and meeting wildlife sometimes too closely.   I was repeating “stop,” “slow down,” “hold my hand” and “be careful” like a broken Gregorian chant record, if the monks were chanting warnings of physical dangers rather than spiritual.  We were soaking wet, and I was emotionally on edge from trying to keep three kids under 6 from meeting a river-swept end and arguing with my husband who had forgotten to pack the rain gear. [I made the list, he executed on it...he swore I didn't include those items on the list. I swore too and hoped the sound of the raging waters muted the swear words before they reached my kids' ears.]  A thought clung to me as tightly as my soggy, not-at-all-suited-for-this-adventure Anthropologie top: I’m an ass…and not just because of my clothing choice for today.  This dirty, sodden, spider-filled day was probably the best day of my kids’ lives so far because it was wild.  It was a real-life, wild adventure and I, and my grown-up ill-packed baggage, needed to get out of the way.

I needed stop letting my frustrations and fears interfere with their adventure.  I needed to shut up and let them explore.

But my half-Catholic, half-Jewish brain was stuck in a death spiral of worry and guilt, and concern over our lack of sufficient snacks.  Would they get sick from being so cold and wet? Would they slip/fall/drown/be bitten by a brown recluse or rattlesnake or black bear or West Nile-carrying mosquito or Lymey tick?  Would their confidence be shaken if they couldn’t make it to the top of those daunting rocks or catch a fish?   Would the ice cream truck in the parking lot at the end of today’s adventure have mint chip? [Okay, that one was more about me than them.]  Just name anything that could make their little, sweet faces crumple into tears, and I was worried about it.

I knew that most of those worries were nonsense.  Sure, some were valid (especially the snake thing), but not a single one of them warranted my compulsion to pick them all up and run.  So I stopped.  I stood back…a bit. And I let them run wild.

I told myself what most of us already know.  Kids need to get dirty.  They need to be scared once in a while.  They need to fail.  And we need to let them.

So 600.8 miles from home, over the course of a week spent where Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania meet, my kids got very dirty.  They were scared riding horses for the first time and frightened by the sounds and sheer size of the nature around us.  They failed to catch a fish…and didn’t care one bit.  They had a blast.

The long drive home was filled with talk of what they will do next year when we return to meet Grammy and Granddad at the house in the woods.  My 6 year old made a list.  They will go on long trail hikes, eat ice cream every day, ride really big horses and go fishing again, maybe this time from a boat.  And they will remind their parents to bring the rain gear.

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I Won’t Say a Thing About Your Parenting. I Promise.

2014 fireworks

I didn’t let my kids hold sparklers on the 4th.  But I did let eat them eat grapes…uncut ones. Popcorn too, they regularly eat those crunchy little choking hazards with very little supervision.  There are other things I let them do that other parents scoff at.

  • I let them watch cartoons and drink chocolate milk with breakfast.
  • My six-year old wears shoes with a one-inch heel on special occasions (despite the fact that she’s already about a foot taller than her peers…but who am I to height-shame her?).
  • They all slept with me (well, on me) for the first couple months of their lives.

The list goes on.  There are so many things I did and do that other parents and non-parents think are terrible.  There are also lots of things that other parents let their kids do that mine do not get to enjoy.  There are those hotter-than-the-sun-flame-popsicles affectionately referred to as sparklers, for one.  I’ve also convinced them that they are allergic to soda and that Disney World is not real–its only something other kids talk about when they want to make their friends jealous.   But guess what? They’re my kids, and my husband and I know what we’re doing.

Still, that doesn’t stop the parenting police.  It didn’t stop the woman one non-flame-retardant blanket over on the beach from trying to convince me IN FRONT OF MY KIDS that the sparklers are fine, I’m being over-protective and I should just let them hold them.  It doesn’t stop the sleep training specialists, EBF evangelists (that’s exclusively breast fed for the uninitiated), the “I may not be a doctor, but I’ve read some internet articles about vaccines” peeps or the uppity “babies don’t belong in bars” folks from shouting “You are doing this wrong!” on otherwise-friendly social media platforms and in grocery stores, parks and local watering holes.

So let’s make a deal, all of us parents and non-parents alike.  Unless we’re talking about a kid alone in a car or some other immediately life-threatening behavior, let’s keep the unsolicited personal parenting advice to a minimum.  I don’t mind a Facebook post, every now and then, that attempts to debunk (or perpetuate) some myth about nutrition, the causes of autism or the safety of household cleaning products.  For the most part, that’s a well-intentioned attempt at a generic public service announcement–one we can all take or leave, without feeling like we’ve been slapped in the face while sitting in a quiet corner of a bar, nursing a single, delicious midday beer as our baby sleeps soundly in her carrier nearby.  But the personal messages directed at people who are not your friends and/or have not asked for your opinion, the other mom in the park who just can’t help but tell me that the slide is too high for my 2 year old, the lady pushing fire into the until-now-unmarred-by-flame hands of my 6 and 4 year olds…those can stop.

I know how to parent my kids.  At least I think I do.  And we all know that confidence is half the parenting battle, so please don’t undermine mine and I promise, from this day forward, not to undermine yours.  Really.  Your kids can breastfeed until their 5th birthday before moving to an all orange soda diet, as far as I’m concerned.  I won’t say a word (to your face).  I promise.  This parenting thing is hard enough without comments from the peanut-free gallery.

On Siblings and Fairness, and Cupcakes.

Nothing is fair in love and war…or cupcakes and siblings.  Try as we might, we can’t provide the same childhood experiences to each child we may be blessed with (and I use the term blessed with all due respect owed to whomever and whatever Creator, omniscient being, doctor, partner, scientist, birth mother, surrogate, stork or dumb luck fairy you might believe it is owed).  I remember reading an article once about how these two kids who grew up with the same parents, in the same house, had drastically different recollections of certain of childhood events.  I remember thinking, “of course they did!”

We all approach each situation with different eyes and expectations.  We look at the same exact thing and see different things.  Eyewitness accounts vary greatly when people are interviewed after a crime is committed.  One saw a 6 foot ten, pasty twenty-something.  Another saw a red hat on a kid of about 5’ 7”.  Another saw a knife with a black handle and nothing else.  It is it any wonder that kids in the same house, experiencing the same thing recall it differently?  I have a sister.  She and I have not compared notes, but I am as sure as my face is freckled that my sister has a different recollection of our shared childhood on a number of major points. Continue reading

I Want to See Posts About Your Awesome Parenting…Seriously

There is a fine line between self-deprecating and self-defecating.  Just a quick switch of the pr with an f and you’re there.   As a parent, I’m all too familiar with defecation.  On more than one occasion I’ve found my kid’s poop on the cuff of my suit jacket half way through the work day, courtesy of a hasty diaper change before I left the house.  (I’ve since learned to roll up my sleeves, I promise.  But I’ll understand if you politely refuse to shake my hand after reading this.) As someone with a job that requires annual self-reviews, I’m also familiar with self-deprecation.  I’ve sat through more than one women’s empowerment lecture on the topic of effective self-promotion and I’ve read plenty of articles and books that describe the tendency of women to minimize their roles in the success of their organizations.  Too often, according to the experts, we ladies hide our lights under the team bushel.  “My team had a great year, and I’d like to believe that I played a significant role in our success.”  This is shitty way to promote oneself, according to those experts.  I agree.

But I still think a little self-deprecation can go a long way, and conversely, there is such a thing as getting carried away with the touting of one’s achievements—e.g., any bald attempt to steal the light from someone else’s bushel is not a good idea.  A little self-deprecation adds credibility in some situations and, in others, it can soften a hard target or make someone else feel a bit better about themselves.  There’s a time and a place to be self-deprecating. Yet, when it comes to parenting and evaluating our own performance in that realm, I think most of us are too self-deprecating.  You might be thinking: Oh no, you are sooo wrong.  You should scroll through my Facebook feed and see all the shameless self-promotion that goes on! Continue reading

Spirit Animals

We had a chat about spirit animals, and the internet is not my friend.

I have no idea what it was like to answer kids’ questions before the internet.  I’m sure my parents just made things up, just as I do sometimes.  Mostly I answer the best I can and when I don’t know the answer, and there’s wifi available, we all huddle together around a screen and look together.  Of course, I find the right website first, before the screen is turned to the wider audience.  [This is a lesson I learned with Peanut when she was 4 and we were debating whether dinosaurs breathed fire. She agreed that, yes, dragons had fire breath, but refused to concede that dinosaurs did not.  For 10 minutes we talked about the difference between mythical and extinct creatures, until she told me, "I got that, Mom.  But dinosaurs breathed fire too!"  So, I went to the videotape...or rather internet.  I googled dinosaurs and fire, clicked the first result and, lo and behold, there was a creationist educational site that showed a dinosaur and dragon in a fire fight, both shooting flames from their snouts with some exceptional 90s-style CGI. The website explained that all those plants the dinos ate created methane gas that was ignited by electric eel-like sparks in mouths...or something like that. Peanut 1, Mom 0.  Now, I find the site first then share.]

Continue reading

Away from Home

I travel for my job. Not as much as some friends I work with, but more than others. And not as much as those parents that need to leave for really extended times…members of the military and foreign service, folks on ships and rigs, actors on sets in Toronto (isn’t every movie filmed in Toronto?) and so many others.  There are also plenty of nights when I have to work so late that I miss bedtime and might as well be in Toronto.

Every night away can feel like one too many.  Here’s the truth, though.  My kids are fine.  Sometimes they miss me and, frankly, sometimes they don’t. Continue reading