Santa? Bah-humbug!

Another round of Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Christmas/New Years has come and gone.  Now that we are back to what passes for “normal” life around here, I am grateful to be done with the whole exhausting winter holiday season.  I love the traditions associated with each of the aforementioned holidays, but I don’t like the fanatical hype associated with Santa and I really don’t like lying to my children about Santa.  So, we don’t. 

This Christmas, Little Sister was almost 3 & Big Brother is 5.5 years and we told them the same thing this year as we have every year:  Santa is pretend and it’s fun to pretend.  If pressed for further explanation, we say Santa Claus is a way of making an idea more real, a way of expressing love and thoughtfulness for those around us.  We also tell them that if they choose to believe in Santa, that’s fine with us, but if they ask us directly about Santa we will tell them the truth.

Some adults have a hard time fathoming this as a positive concept, as though being honest with our kids somehow “takes the fun away” and “ruins children’s innocence.”  Some people pin the idea on my Jewish husband, though we’ve both always agreed on how we’d discuss Santa with our kids.  I even had a friend jokingly request (at least I hope it was jokingly) that we ask our son not to discuss the possibility of Santa’s non-existence with their five year old, as they’ve gone to great lengths to facilitate the idea that Santa is Real.

Because I know we’re bucking the trend, I try to keep my defensiveness in check.  I try not to make it a big deal either way (because it ISN’T a big deal, people, it’s a story).  I tell my kids that other families believe differently than we do about Santa and that’s ok.  We talk about how Christmas is a time to do special things with special people in our lives and that gift giving and receiving is a wonderful part of the holidays.

But as much as I want this to be an easy “we do our thing, they do theirs,” it isn’t easy in practice.  For the first time, my kindergartener struggled with this concept, as he’s run into more Santa-mania because he now knows a wider scope of children.  He had to work to make sense of why his parents told him “Santa is pretend” and why his buddies say, “I know Santa is real!  My mom said so.”  Initially, Big Brother insisted Santa was real and we said he could believe that if he liked because it’s fun to pretend. 

He did…for a little while.  But on Christmas Eve as we tucked him into bed and whispered about what a wonderful surprise would await us tomorrow morning under the tree, Big Brother sighed.

“Mom?” 

“Yes, son?”

“I know Santa isn’t real even though (insert friend’s name) says he is.  You and Daddy put presents under the tree and in our stockings while we’re asleep.”

“Yes, we do.  And so do all your grandparents and great-grandparents and aunties & uncles.  But it’s still exciting to wake up in the morning as be greeted by a wonderful Christmas sight.”

“Why don’t you want me to think Santa is real?”

“Because someday you’ll learn that he is pretend and if you’ve always truly believed Santa is real then you’ll be very disappointed.  However, if you know Santa is pretend and you enjoy the pretending then you will always enjoy Christmas.  As you get older, Daddy and I don’t want you to wonder why we told you something is true when it isn’t.  I want you to believe what we say because you know we will always tell you the truth, even if it’s not easy to hear.”

I understand Santa is a cultural phenomenon.  I get that people have heightened emotions surrounding Santa’s existence, and I’m fine with how other families handle the concept.  I would never want another family to change their traditions or beliefs to more closely match mine.  But I dearly desire for my children to know in their heart of hearts that their parents will always give them credible information in a respectful, loving way.  When they are older, I hope this means they will choose to believe our advice about sex, drugs, and other tricky matters over the possibly inaccurate information disseminated by their friends (and perhaps their friends’ parents.) 

Did that chat diminish my son’s experience of Christmas?  It diminished mine a bit when I saw the disappointment flicker across his face during our talk.  But according to his reaction Christmas morning when the tree lights were softly glowing and the presents were in full array, he’s fine with pretending.  In fact, this year he really got into the holiday spirit of giving presents to others. 

Has it impacted him in other ways?  Maybe.  He’s the kid on the playground telling other children Santa is pretend because his mom said so.  Somebody’s got to keep it real.

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20 Minutes To Sanity

Just 20 minutes to myself every. single. day.  That’s all it takes to turn a sour mood sweet, refresh my tired eyes, renew my flagging spirit.  Sometimes I take a very long hot shower.  Other days, it’s a trip through my garden to weed, water, and wonder.  Now and then, it’s potato chips, beer, and music blasting in the garage with the door firmly locked.  Whatever else I might do in those precious minutes to myself, I know the having of them is completely and utterly vital to my sanity.

This At-Home Parenting Gig is heavy duty work.  Sometimes I wonder why I bother doing it at all – at 4 years old, Big Brother has entered a new phase of ignoring my every other utterance, and 16 month Little Sister is quick, quiet, and into trouble in the blink of an eye.  (She also bites, hits, and shrieks bloody murder much to our family’s consternation.)

If I were the Hired Child Care Provider, I wouldn’t be trying to fold the laundry, or make the dinner, or pay the bills, or make the grocery list, or schedule appointments while I was working.  I’d just focus on the kids and clean up the lunch dishes – right?  But as the At Home Parent, I do all that daily and much, much more.  Ask me how easy it is to go grocery shopping and put away those items while simultaneously handling my kids; go ahead and ask.  (Ah, but you know the answer, don’t you?)

So, yeah.  Twenty whole minutes to myself.  Time in which to remember I am an adult human being with thoughts and interests and hobbies that do not involve my children.  Teacher Man tries to give those minutes to me as best he can.  Sometimes it just isn’t possible.  Sometimes we squeeze it in and some other part of our life suffers, like having a family dinner at the table.  Mama-time might always be last, but it is never least.

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Why not EC?

Why does our culture teach us that our young children should, and some people  believe MUST, defecate and urinate in a diaper?  And why is considered radical to believe that our children can, and I believe SHOULD, be taught to do otherwise?

I’ve been slowly realizing that most people think we are totally odd for practicing Elimination Communication (EC) with our infants… and we think THEY are odd for mindlessly diaper training their babies.

How many people do you know who tell their children from birth, “Oh, that’s pee.  Tell mama before the pee comes out and next time we will pee in the potty.”  After all, your infant can’t possibly understand they are peeing, or that you want them to pee into an outside receptacle – and even if they did – they aren’t capable of exerting control over that process.  And, ok, let’s say they get the physcial part, but babies can’t communicate with you – or maybe it’s that you can’t understand them – to ask you provide an appropriate place to eliminate…right?

When I first heard about EC, I was completely dismissive.  I thought all of the above reasons were logical and valid, although I couldn’t actually explain where I got the idea that babies can’t participate in toileting – and parents couldn’t teach children about toileting until they were older toddlers.  Where did I get that?  From our culture.  The series of unconscious assumptions one has to make to believe that it is not only humane but actually preferable to diaper as long as possible.

Western culture encourages us to teach our children to crap their pants for the first 2 years of their lives, and adults will (eventually) clean them up.  That is, until it’s suddenly time to wear underwear and use the potty.  Most often this coincides with the age at which children are processing mostly solid food, which does produce a fairly offensive byproduct, so around 1-3 years old.  Developmentally, these toddlers are highly engaged in exploring mastery of their own bodies – on their own terms.  They are supposed to be testing their limits and learning to apply their acquired knowledge into mastery of the world around them.  That’s what we want, right?  We want to raise our young to be in charge of their bodies and be good problem-solvers, correct?

Well, guess what happens when you suddenly tell toddlers it’s time to learn a new skill – and not one they were interested in learning just now – about something they’ve been encouraged to ignore up to this point?  Who wouldn’t want to continue eliminating at will when there is SO MUCH out there to be explored; I suspect there is an internal monologue of , “I’ve already got this crapping thing down pat, and besides, you’re not the boss of me!”  Well, tantrums happen.  Power struggles.  That’s why the current philosophy of “He’ll train when he’s ready – right now he’s not ready” actually works reasonably well for both conventionally diapered kids and their caregivers.

But consider what might happen if you started talking to your child from birth, helping them become aware of their bodily sensations and the resulting end product.  What would it be like if your baby actually preferred to be clean and dry and defecate on the potty?  Would toddlerhood be much different if your child had been encouraged to use the potty from the start?  Would there be less tantruming, fewer power struggles, and fewer poopy butts to clean up?

I don’t know.  You see, I’m the only person I know in real life who practices EC.  All of our intelligent, loving, fantastic family and friends with children practice diaper training.  Many are just now starting to halfheartedly attempt “potty training” with their toddlers and feel like their kids “aren’t ready.”  So, I don’t know if the toddler experience would be easier in that respect because I have no frame of reference besides my own preschooler, my very young daughter, and the written anecdotes of virtual (and literal) strangers on my Yahoo EC Group message board.

What I do know is that conventional diapering families think EC is somehow a ton of work, albeit admirable – wow, you take your baby potty – but never something possible for themselves or their children.  Not one of our close friends has ever even tried to pee their own infants, although for the very first time, one did ask to take MY daughter pee when she had to go.  It boggles my mind that this friend doesn’t offer the same services to her own son who is one year older than Little Sister!

This is in no way to suggest that folks who diaper train their kids are somehow inferior or that diapers are evil.  After all, this is a “radical” parenting idea, remember?  (And in the interest of full disclosure: we use both cloth and landfill or “disposable” diapers for our child in conjunction with EC.)  But for people who are familiar with the concept of EC – perhaps because they are in our social circle – why on earth aren’t they at least communicating with their children from infancy about appropriate toileting, even if they never, ever try to potty them before age 2?!  Why aren’t they saying, “When you are bigger, you’ll put all your pee in the potty. Everybody likes clean, dry pants.” I just cannot quite comprehend that.  Caregivers repeat messages about what’s appropriately clean and safe in every other aspect of our babies’ lives, why not this?

I guess the general fear of contamination (urine! fecal matter!) and the perceived amount of work (looking for signals, relying on timing, the laundry, and, omg, *sitting there* while baby is on the potty) keep those families toeing the status quo line. The thing is, eventually those families will have to deal with all the above issues AND a tantruming toddler or preschooler. That’s what no one really tells you about conventional diapering. You’ll just be encouraged to “give it more time – he’s not ready” and the diaper companies will just keep making bigger diapers and charging you more for them.

So I will encourage you to try talking to your child right this minute about appropriate toileting expectations. Model good pottying techniques. Emphasize the loveliness of clean, dry pants. It can’t hurt, right? You don’t have to get so crunchy as to actually attempt to catch a pee in the potty (or outside or the utility sink or…), but be forewarned:  if you do, you might find yourself with these “radical” ideas about clean, dry baby butts and how to best achieve that in your own family.

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Why Am I Writing This Anyway?

My blog, BrainDump, is in its infancy – a state mirrored by my real life, as my current  job is at-home-parenting (AHP) a 3.5yo preschooler and baby (9mo at this blog’s inception).  BrainDump is my antidote to the constant de-centering of one’s Self that parents, especially the AHP, must do when raising tiny children.  You know the term “mommy brain” that childless people (and sometimes your husband) like to joke about?  Yeah, well, it’s no joke.

“Mommy brain” typically refers to the spacey behaviors that parents often exhibit whilst in the throes of Life With Little Babies.  Like culture shock on the traveler, the affect parenting has on one’s mindstate is unique.  We don’t all drive off with coffee cups on the roofs of our car or forget what we went in the kitchen for.  Some of us find ourselves unable to string together two coherent sentences that apply to anything other than the infant.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, reading, and staying somewhat current politically and culturally.  While not the most outgoing at the party, I could make small talk and have decent discussions with new acquaintances….that is until I became a mother.  Without knocking, Mommy Brain burst in through the door, put on its house slippers, and settled in for a long winter.  Suddenly, my days were full of the minutia of parenting – “He clapped!”  “She rolled over!”  “Oh, no, butt rash!” – and my poor brain just didn’t have room for anything else.

It is fair to say that Mommy Brain is evolutionarily important; afterall, if AHP – Mama in this house – doesn’t look after Baby’s well-being, there are a whole host of horrible things waiting to destroy one’s offspring.  And the first year of a baby’s life is so intense; consider that in the space of 12 months, a baby goes from unable to hold his own head up more than a few seconds to walking, talking, and plotting (well, it seems ours do anyway).  And then there is the sleep deprivation….yes, it is a form of torture.  The Geneva Convention says so.

So yeah, while being a Parent has been fabulous/exhausting,  I miss the Old Competent Me’s brains a bit and wish the Mama Me had a (virtual) Room of One’s Own.  Hence:  BrainDump.

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Real Feminists Are Family-Friendly

Erica Jong’s recent article, Motherhood Madness, decrying today’s version of Motherhood has caused quite a stir – even the a-political, anti-drama children’s design blog Ohdeedoh branch of Apartment Therapy had questions to ask its readership about her claims.

Jong’s article critiques Attachment Parenting (AP), “green parenting,” and the parenting  choices of celebrities, stating that the quest for “perfect” parenthood, and AP in particular, is as oppressive to women as the right-to-life movement.

Wow, seriously?!

I am a Women’s Studies minor and we have a feminist household in the truest sense of the word, but I just can’t go there with Jong.  You know why?  AP works for us.  So-called “green parenting” does, too.  Mom as At-Home Parent, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, cloth diapers, Elimination Communication, and “making” baby-food are all things my family does…because we like them.  These things also save us money, and we love that, as we are a family of 4 living in a pricey state on a public high school teacher’s income.  Somehow, we manage to feel happier than we’ve ever been in this so-called “prison” of family life.

Jong was right about one thing:  devoting yourself to your very, very young children does remove you from the political arena a bit.  It removes you from all extraneous relationships a bit, too.  Probably an evolutionary advantage, because tiny babies need SO MUCH CARE, you don’t have time for much else.  But I digress.  This is the first time in my voting history (and I have voted regularly in the last *gulp* 20 years) that someone else read me the ballot, offered a synopsis of the pros/cons, made suggestions, actually put pen to paper and filled it in, and then mailed for me.  (We vote absentee because we – usually – like to spend time reading up on the issues.)  Did I mention that tiny babies and three year old big brothers – and all the accompanying household management and my very part-time job – require a lot of time?  Because they do.

And she was right about this:  parenting does occur in the wide world and it should be dealt with as a community.  But hey, my local community includes junkies and fanatical religious whackos, as well as a marvelous group of friends and family, so I’m choosy about just which segment of the community-at-large I want my small children hanging out with.

Jong also seems to think that spending lots of time with your children and being involved with every aspect their lives is a bit….pathalogical.  Helicopter parenting does, of course, occur out in the field of Parenthood, but by and large most AP parents I know – and most parents in general – aren’t really the helicoptering type.  Then I remembered this is a woman who mostly let others do the physical and emotional work of rearing her child  (some 30 years ago) while she worked.  This is not a judgment; it’s  background information that puts Jong’s perspective in focus for me.

The so-called Second Wave Feminists of the 60s & 70s are a bit like WWII vets in their rhetoric.  It’s just not possible for them to think that anyone else’s war might be a very different, yet just as intense, of an experience as their own.  Jong simply cannot conceive that some women might actually ENJOY Motherhood, even with it’s “oppressive” breastfeeding and co-sleeping, perhaps even more than – or in addition to – a Career in the outside world.   Nor can she look at the present with satisfaction and exclaim, “Well, good thing we had the 60s & 70s feminist revolution so you people can make use of family leave and electric breast pumps and job sharing.  Really makes the whole parenthood thing work far better than in my day.”

It’s telling that her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, wrote a response to the controversial article and she kindly but clearly makes it known that she chose a different path from her mother…one in which Molly chooses to spend lots more time with her children and way less time working than her mother did.

The article’s finale seemed belatedly tacked on and rang utterly false; it ends with a kind of “let’s not be judge-y about the whole parenting thing, however you do it is fine” paragraph.  Psst, so long as it isn’t the evil Attachment Parenting way – none of the REAL feminists are doing THAT.

So really what it came down to, at least for me, is that this is a woman who devoted her life to her career, to advancing women’s roles in the workplace, and she’s mad as hell that some women – like that daughter of hers – are choosing(!) to stay at home with baby drool on their shirts, a load of laundry in the washer, and toys strewn about – and are perfectly content!

News flash Erica:  Some of us think that the fascinating and challenging work of raising a decent human being is damn near the highest calling there is and REAL feminists answer that calling the best way possible for their own lives.

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Getting to “Good Enough”

I’m a tiny bit of a perfectionist and a planner.  In my former life, the work I enjoyed most was detail-oriented and inter-personally challenging.  My To-Do lists boasted items neatly crossed-off, my plans had backup plans, and there was time to think Deep Thoughts.  In my professional life, I was that person in your office who stays late, helps out, and always seems to “have it together.” I had hobbies, hiked, and read multiple books at a time.  And once upon a time, my personal style could best be described as polished, comfortable, and offbeat.

Then I had kids.

Just over four years ago, TeacherMan and I moved to the Nor*Val, and a year later had our first baby.  Suddenly, my well-organized life was in shambles.  My fledgling Professional Organizing business suffered, stalled, and finally closed when I acknowledged I just couldn’t find time to organize myself much less anyone else.  As the At-Home-Parent (AHP), my new dress code was a ratty, drool-stained t-shirt, yoga pants, and Crocs.   “Organizing” was now code for “baby-proofing” and “hiking” meant hauling our enormous baby around in the backpack for naptime.  Sometimes I truly believed my brains were being sucked out through my nipples.

Oh, and we moved house 3 times in those 4 years.

When our child turned two and half, I could finally look at myself in the mirror and say with confidence, “Hello, world – I’m back!”  I was reading books written for adults again.  Doing crosswords and yoga.  Contemplating returning to the paid work-force and actually applying for part-time positions.  And while my brains weren’t quite back to the shape they were in prior to becoming a parent, I was, in fact, Getting Things Done and Doing Them Well.

Then we bought our first house:  a fixer-upper.

Oh, and we had another baby.  On purpose.

Once more, my brains oozed right out of my head during the short hours of the night when my newborn closed her beautiful eyes and my tired, baggy eyes sagged shut.  Once more, my house was a sea of toys, laundry, and crumbs on the floor.  Once more, my perfectionist self got a huge reality slap in the face:  infants and perfectionism don’t mix.

And so, I set my sights on getting to Good Enough.  Despite what the name implies (and yes, it is definitely less than perfect), Good Enough is a difficult state to achieve – at least for me.  I had a cleanliness standard  that I was achieving prior to Little Sister’s arrival (and no, I’m not a neatfreak – I have a professional interest in being tidy).  Said arrival of infant and subsequent departure of support personnel to their various day jobs left me responsible for both house and homebodies.

Note:  Preschoolers and infants are messy.  Cooking with preschoolers and infants is Very Messy.

“This floor is disgusting!” I’d wail when I just couldn’t tolerate another moment of my crumb-ridden kitchen floor.

“Yes, our floor looks just like a fraternity house kitchen floor,” TeacherMan would remark dryly.

Ok, I get it, I am given to hyperbole.  I am also given to an underlying guilt that I am Not Doing My Job when the house is messier than the impossible standard I was holding up for comparison.  Yeah, my workspace, i.e. my home, was cleaner and better organized when I didn’t have an infant to take care of, but now I do.  Therefore, the situation has changed and my standard should change accordingly.  Oh, and since this is my second infant, I also know how quickly this intensive time goes by; my floors will someday once again be up to my preferred standard.

TeacherMan is right.  Comparison is relative, and once I realized that I was in control of the comparison, my stress started to wane.  I decided to take the guilt out of the equation altogether and bequeath myself the right to clean the floors when time and circumstance permit/demand.  I also allowed myself to believe that my friends/family will still think I am Good At My Job even if there are visible crumbs on the floor when they visit.  On the whole, it’s made me a  happier person and my floors really aren’t noticeably messier.

That, I think, is the crux of Good Enough.  When I am mindful of that lesson, I find that I navigate my life so much more simply and joyfully.

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Thankful

Last night was one of the worst nights of  “sleep” I’ve had in weeks.  It came on the heels of several lousy nights of sleep.  Little Sister had me up twice before waking herself up in a sinus drainage-induced coughing fit so severe that she puked all over our bed somewhere ’round 2:30am.  A last look at the clock showed 3:47a before baby girl finally fell asleep in a freshly made bed.  She roused once more before dawn.  Suffice it to say I felt inhuman when I staggered out of bed shortly before TeacherMan left for work at 7a.

I am often thankful for my job as the At-Home Parent, but no more so than when I’ve had a night of crappy sleep.

Working in my PJs ranks near the top of my Thankful For list.  The kids don’t care if I’m an unshowered, braless zombie, but they enjoy it when their sleep-deprived mother lies on the floor and plays with them.  I appreciate the creative mindforce of a preschooler who can pretend to make me into a pizza while I’m lying prone on the floor with my eyes shut.  The baby adores crawling all over me, drooling and zerbeting, so it’s a winning situation for us all.

I am thankful for being (mostly) in control of my schedule, even when it means being an hour late to a play-date because the baby fell asleep in the Ergo 20 minutes before we were to leave, I’m still wearing PJs bottoms (but now wearing a bra – progress!), and 3 year old Big Brother took an excruciatingly long time to make his own AB&J sandwich.

I’m also thankful that the family we were meeting with fully understood why we were so late.

Somewhere a lesson surfaced in the aftermath of that sleep deprived night.  My hazy brain managed to just grasp its edge:  Pay Attention.  Simplify.  Let Go.  Breathe.  I ran with it, and it worked.  I made it through the whole day with only a solitary mother/child melt-down (why must my children never nap at the same time on these kinds of days?!).  When TeacherMan returned home, I finally collapsed on the couch in a short, but well-deserved stupor.  The lesson continues to resonate and I find that when I heed its practical advice, our small universe is well and I am thankful.

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