Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Single Mother's Perception, or This Hamburger Will Be Just As Good Cold

As a mom, I've found that I spend a lot of time walking a fine line - and not with my child, either, but with other adults. I've noticed just how quickly adults respond to me with negativity. Not in an "Oh, you're not married?" kind of way, but in a "yeah, being a parent really sucks, huh?" kind of way.

I'm pretty much an optimist. I like to see the bright side of things, and having a child has really made me more laid back. Personally, I think my subconscious is so busy worrying that one day she'll die in a terrible way to really lend me the brain function to stress over what time I get dinner on the table. But that's not what I'm talking about right now. Wait, what was I talking about? Right. Optimism. (I haz it.)

So, let me give you an example of what I'm talking about: today my Dad and I (and the baby, obviously) went to lunch and Carrie, as always, got hungry right before it was time for me to eat. So the server comes by to ask how everything is and sees that my food hasn't been touched because I'm feeding the baby. I say "I'm sure it will be great, when I eat it. She just seems to have a sixth sense about when it's time for Mama to eat!" and the server responded by saying something like "Mine were like that, too!" She should have left it there. But that would just be too easy, and then I'd have nothing to blog about. (Nothing to blog about! See what I did there? I made a funny.)

So this server goes on to basically trash-talk her children every time she interacts with me for the remainder of my meal. "My daughter was very vocal at that age, too, and now I just can't get her to shut up. It's like 'don't you see I'm working here?' and she never gets it!" And it's not just her, this happens all the time; this leads me to two questions:
  1. Are these people just frustrated? Or do they truly see these less-than-perfect moments as representative of the whole relationship they have with their children?
  2. Will I be like this one day?
It worries me, because I'm not like this at all. I don't mind that she wants to eat at the same time as I do. Who cares? We'll both get to eat in the end. I don't mind when her diaper explodes on her cutest outfit right before we leave the house. Not like she doesn't have plenty of other cute stuff to wear. Am I just in some sort of honeymoon period where her cute factor is outweighing all of the cons of having a child in my life? Will those scales tip one day (say, around her 13th birthday) and change the way I perceive my daughter? God, I hope not. Cause, let me tell you: being a mother is a blessing.

I just explained this to someone the other day, some complete stranger at the park with her 5 kids. We chatted a bit and it somehow came up that I'm single and she gave me the standard sympathetic head tilt followed by the line I hear most often: "that must be hard." Well, actually, it's pretty easy to be single. Being married - now that's work! She actually used the phrase "single mom," and I almost disagreed with her without even thinking about it. I just don't view myself that way. Yes, I'm single; and, yes, I'm a mom. But I definitely wouldn't define myself as a single mom. That label just has too many connotations of struggle and poverty and emotional breakdowns on the bathroom floor at midnight and trying to raise your child in ignorance of your daily battle with depression. And I'm just not there. She's just mine, and I'm just hers. And she is her and I am me. We complement, not define, one another.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of challenges in my life. I'm trying to find a job with a degree in theatre in an economy with about as much stability as a Jenga tower towards the end long, booze-filled game night. I'm a grown woman living with my parents who are, at the best of times, control-freaks with mess-ophobe tendencies. Plus, I hate my haircut. What I mean to say is: I got 99 problems, but the kid ain't one.

It's not a job for me to wake up in the morning and love my daughter. I can't look at her and think "damn, this sucks." Dropping what I'm doing to feed/change/bathe/entertain her is not the low point of my day. And people don't get it. They seem almost disappointed when I'm not upset about being a single mom. As if they don't understand that a woman could have a baby and accept all of the twists and turns on that path. Make no mistake, I am totally lost in the woods at this point in my life. But choosing to have my baby was like finding the iPod in the bottom of my bag. I might have no idea where I'm going, but at least I'll enjoy the walk now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Alternative Mama, or: Did She Really Just Say That?!

When my good friend Mer asked me to blog about being an alternative mama, my first thought was "well, I can't blog what I don't know; and in what universe am I alternative?" You see, friends, I consider the great city of Asheville to be home; and I am not, by any stretch of the imagination "alternative" by that community's standards. In fact, nothing short of NAMBLA is considered alternative by that city's standards, but that's beside the point.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I could see where she was coming from. Earth Mama aspirations aside, I'm not what most people would call alternative (ok, Kim, get a thesaurus for the love of pete!). However, the definition of that very word could mean a multitude of things. So, like any good geek, I took out my dictionary (read: typed "define: alternative" into my google toolbar) and found this: "pertaining to unconventional choices." Now doesn't that just warm the cockles of your heart? It does mine!

By this definition, I am indeed alternative because I just happen to live in a very white bread, Pleasantville-type city at the moment and I am anything but conventional by those standards. I'm fairly certain my friend based her request for this blog on the fact that I have tattoos, but I won't really be addressing that aspect of the alternative community because there are just so many more fun things to talk about! Suffice it to say that I have tattoos (four of 'em) and I'm a mom. Get over it, people. (See my comments about body modification in this entry.)

Here is a list of things people have given me sideways looks about:
  • wearing hats other than baseball caps
  • wearing my baby in a Moby Wrap baby carrier
  • wearing Chacos
  • bringing a reusable mug to the chain coffee shop
  • dressing my daughter in "boy" clothes (I'll have to write another entry about the gender binary and it's particular brand of uselessness at a later date)
  • wiping my daughter's nose on my shirt
  • stating a preference for cloth diapers/homemade baby food/secondhand nursery furniture
All of this I could probably get over, though. And I genuinely understand that I make some choices as a parent that other people don't agree with. But I had a realization, and I'd like to share it with the public: folks, pick your battles. I'm totally okay with a complete stranger telling me what to do with my child if I'm neglecting, abusing or putting her in danger. I'm even okay with complete strangers disciplining her if it keeps her safe, i.e. "Don't climb on that shelf, sweetheart, it's not safe. Let me reach that juice for you."

But this woman called me out last weekend on the choice of words I used to describe putting my daughter to bed. Really? Was that necessary? The munchkin and I were out with a friend, but it was getting close to her normal bedtime and my friend asked if she would be ok. I noted that my sweet girl was doing just fine, and that she'd probably sleep the whole way home in the car and once there I could "just put her jammies on and throw her into bed and she'll probably never wake up." And this complete stranger turned to me and said "Place. You mean 'place' her into bed."

Let's just clear one thing up here: I DO NOT THROW MY BABY. And if you seriously think I would, you don't know me at all. I turned to her and replied, "Clearly, I wouldn't literally throw her into bed!" I was all geared up for a fight when my friend said "Why not? Don't you think bedtime would be more fun for her that way??" And I lost it. Cracking up, I responded with "Of course I don't throw her in bed. She doesn't even go to bed, really, I leave her on the floor with the dogs. Duh." And this strange woman just stared at us AS IF WE WERE SERIOUS. Whatever happened to benefit of the doubt? Whatever happened to giving people a chance? Whatever happened to common sense?

Now, this woman might have been judging me an unfit mother based on several factors. One: we were in a tattoo shop at the time. It was my daughter's second trip to a tattoo shop and she loves the sound of the tattoo machine. White noise, folks. Comes in all shapes and sizes. It's not like I'd taken her to a Vegas strip club. Hell, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to touch anything in a Vegas strip club myself, no way in hell would I let my daughter in one! But, on the other hand, this woman had her 8 year old son with her as well.

Maybe she made assumptions based on the fact that Care Bear was wearing a "boy" outfit consisting of an white/black onesie with her favorite band's logo and jeans with black socks. In my defense, she was also wearing a color-coordinated headband with a bow. But, then, what does it really matter what a baby wears?

Maybe she was thinking I was a young, teenage mother. I guess I could see that? No, actually, I can't. Even when I was a teenager, I'm pretty sure I didn't look it. Maybe she got the wrong idea from what I was wearing (kids' size skate shoes from Target, anyone?) but I doubt it.

I think she was just nosy. I had forgotten for a few minutes, in this bubble of alternative culture known as the tattoo shop, where exactly I lived. Here, it's not ok to use exaggerative vernacular. (Is that a word? Exaggerative? I looked it up, but you can't always trust google...) Here, it's not ok to wear clothes that make you look like anything other than the picture of a mom. Unfortunately, I'm not just a mom.

I'm young. I'm into body modification and theatre. I like hats and crazy necklaces and plastic vintage bangles. I enjoy brightly colored shoes and loud rock music. And you know what? I'm still a good mom. My personal preferences have nothing to do with my ability to parent my child. And, no matter where I live, I refuse to feel guilty for not giving my entirety up for the sake of my progeny. Because, one day, she'll grow up and she won't need me every minute. And, by Goddess, I intend to have something left of myself to go back to. And I won't apologize for that.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Adventures in Homemaking: like Adventures in Babysitting, but without the fun hats.

I've been incredibly inspired the past few days to really get down and dirty with some stay at home mom-type skills. Yesterday, for example, I perused a food magazine while waiting for coffee to brew and felt the kitchen calling to me like the mothership. So I got this great idea to make apple chips today. What a cute idea! What a healthy snack! What an unmitigated disaster!

Let me give you some background on this situation. I'm not a bad cook; in fact, I'm pretty good. Once I have a recipe down, or even if I improvise, I churn out pretty tasty food. Ask anyone about my Christmas cookies or spaghetti sauce, I'm pretty much a rockstar at those things that I've mastered. But when it comes to trying a new recipe, I'm the culinary equivalent of a Red Shirt.

You know how a chef will try out a new recipe several times to tweak it just the way they like? I have to try out new recipes several times just to condense all of the errors in "trial and error" into a convenient time frame. This was all totally ok, until I had the realization: I'm going to be that mom whose cupcakes never leave the dessert table at the potluck. Because here's what will happen: I'll note that I have to make something for some important thing. Then I'll look up recipes to get inspired and I'll stumble upon something that seems super easy and delicious. I'll think to myself that a good recipe is a great way to make friends and I'll fantasize about people asking me just how I manage to make such delicious treats. So I'll go with the recipe I've never even seen before and completely cock it up. And, instead of people comparing me to Martha Stewart, I'll accidentally overhear someone refer to me as an absolute spacker and my life will be ruined.

Ok, so some bits of that might be touch melodramatic, but I have a head cold so work with me here. Now, on the other hand, I am a very fast learner. And I never let my failures stop me from trying. I do genuinely love to cook and I really, really enjoy when I do finally get that new technique down or figure out the trick to the fun new recipe. And, also a plus: I usually front-load my cooking adventures with failure. Then I learn the hard lessons all at once, and I can get on with the fun part of tweaking and changing and enjoying the cooking process and basking in the compliments when it's over.

So what did I learn today? That apple chips, if you do it right, are surprisingly easy to make and quite healthy if homemade. I learned that, if you follow a recipe to the T and something doesn't work right, it's most likely operator error and not a bad recipe. And I learned how to get melted wax paper off a cookie sheet: run the hottest possible tap water over it and scrape the ever loving crap out of it with a silicone spatula.

And the only reason I can admit to that publicly is because I know I'll never make that mistake again.

Earth Mama/Hippie Baby Dreams

My daughter celebrated her three month birthday six days ago; okay, she didn't really celebrate anything. I ate extra dessert and dressed her up. But that's beside the point. The point is: it's never too late to have a new mom realization. Learning is an infinite process, and the nature of motherhood is a learning curve. You cannot achieve a state of perfection in parenthood, Mama Nirvana is a myth. And that's ok.

I thought I knew what kind of mom I wanted to be before she was born, and then she came. And having a baby was just challenging enough to keep my mind off all my ideals. But now that she's older, and sleeping through the night (it's early, I know, but that's another post) and on a fabulous routine (also another post, the routine and I have a love/hate relationship...) I'm finding that I have a long way to go.

In my experience, there's a fine line what you wanted and what you got. I had great dreams of decorating the nursery for my first child with my partner by my side, tending to my every hormone-induced whim. I got a (not always happy) surprise and the guest room in my parents' house. I wanted to be that mom that could breastfeed lying down when the baby woke up in the middle of the night. I got cracked nipples and a dwindling milk supply. I wanted to co-sleep and snuggle my baby when we took naps at the same time. I got no naps and I let myself be bullied into keeping her out of my bed.

So it's no surprise that I really wanted to cloth diaper, but now I'm a slave to the disposables. My mother is from the convenience generation. Nipples hurting? Don't worry, just give the baby formula - it's just as good, even better because it's easier! Is the baby overtired and crying? Just let her cry it out while you get on with your business. So she really couldn't understand why anyone would want to go to the trouble of cloth diapering when we could just use disposable. And, since she was paying for everything for the little one, I couldn't really object. Of course, I said. Day cares won't even cloth diaper anyway, I agreed. I nodded and smiled and added three cases of Pampers to my baby registry.

But, really, I didn't research. I have no idea if day cares will cloth diaper - I suspect at least some of them would. Even that shouldn't keep me from cloth diapering at home and on the weekends. And I'm not even working yet, so I could have been cloth diapering (and saving money) for the past three months since I've essentially been a stay at home mom. I'm already doing laundry every other day, how much more work could cloth diapers really be?

The more I research it, the more I want to give it a try. And it bugs me that my parents still aren't behind the idea, because their preferences shape my reality. When we move into our own place (which will hopefully be sooner rather than later) I'm determined to try cloth diapering. Maybe just a weekend trial run. But I'm pretty sure I'll get hooked. Who knows what could come after that? Co-sleeping! Homemade baby food! I also have this great idea for a 1,001 Nights-themed nursery with a huge iron lantern light fixture and lots of drape-y fabric in jewel tones.

And one day, Caroline will wake up in her Moroccan-inspired nursery, I'll throw an adorable cloth diaper on her bum, strap her in the Moby wrap, put on my Chacos and we'll go for a hike. Because that's exactly the kind of mom I wanna be. My inner earth mama is dying to get out and commune with my hippie baby. I'm anxious to start teaching Caroline about the things that are important to me, and I can't let convenience get in the way.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Color Me Entitled

Ok, so this might come off as a bit....snippy. Just warning you.

So, I've worked with kids for about 13 years now. I've been a babysitter, a nanny, worked in a daycare, worked in drop-in childcare, volunteered with groups small and large, worked in a church nursery and been a camp counselor. I've done it, so I know how hard it is.

But, really, there's no reason my daughter should come home from her second week of daycare with a diaper rash when she's never had one before ever. I'm not exactly anal retentive (har har) about changing her diaper when it's wet at home, so how long are they leaving her to sit in her own urine that she's got a rash on her butt? That's just ridiculous.

Ugh, I sound so smug. So "if I can take care of her by myself and do myriad other household chores, how can two of you not make sure to change her diaper?" When, in reality, I know exactly how hard it is for two adults to care for eight infants in one room. I know, I know, I know it's a challenge to do that and I know, I know, I know that sometimes you don't get to things as fast as you should and you kick yourself for it. But there's really nothing to be done, that's just the reality.

And, of course, she could just be getting a diaper rash because that's what happens when one sits in one's own urine for any length of time at all - like a baby does in a diaper. It could have absolutely nothing to do with the caregivers at daycare. In fact, it could be entirely my fault.

But I'm emotionally incapable of admitting that I could have failed - even in some small way - during the same week that she's gone to daycare for the first time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Put Out My Senses

This week, the munchkin started day care and I went back to work (sort of). For these reasons, and others, my brain has been on overdrive this week and I can't really process enough of my thoughts to piece together an update. Instead, I give you a moment of peacefulness:

I Am Not Yours

Words by Sarah Teasdale
Arrangement by Z. Randall Stroope