True Mommy Confessions 7 – Pre-School Edition

Last week I brought my children to a playgroup that meets in the basement of a church in my town.  There were many kids there ranging from infants to 5 year-olds.  The folks were friendly and there was a great, almost entirely enclosed space for the kids to play.  The facilitators had a simple craft for the kids to do.  They decorated “flashlights” (paper towel tubes) and then went on a “bear hunt” around the basement area.

As the other children played inside the enclosed area, my little J dedicated himself, in typical form, to escape.  I’m not just talking about escape from that area, but from the building.  We had come down an elevator, and J ran down the hall toward the elevator repeatedly shouting “press-a the button!”  Had I not chased him quickly enough he would have happily rode the elevator up and exited the building.  In the meantime, O pulled every single book off the shelves, and dumped several bags of blocks which she then proceeded to ignore.  She sat on the lap of most of the adults there, much to their confusion.

When the craft began, I tried to interest my kids in it.  Somehow, someway, all the babies and kids managed to participate but mine.  While the other kids colored (some with parents’ help), mine ran around, jumped on furniture, and attempted to escape up the escalator.  When the “bear hunt” began, my kids were nowhere in sight.

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Mommy Attention Span

I sometimes still prefer time with non-mommy friends even now that I’m a mom, and “Mommy Attention Span” or M.A.S is one of the reasons.  M.A.S. occurs when one loses all capacity for attention other than toward ones children.

M.A.S is not to be confused with “baby brain” or the way parenting generally slices and dices one’s neurons until there is nothing left but a soupy mess of incoherence.  No engaged parent can think straight!  We are always splitting our attention and it’s hard to concentrate with the responsibility for another being’s entire life on our minds.  BUT the little attention we can muster has to be able to shift.  Mommy Attention Span occurs when we try to squeeze attention to everything and anything else in between reacting to our children’s every move.

I understand when you are trying to talk to another mom, there are going to be interruptions.  Clearly, when someone is in potential danger, hurt, starving, or about to eat a small, non-edible object it requires mom’s attention.  But little ones are going to want attention anytime they can get it.  If I’m trying to talk to a friend about something hard, or even something inane, why does the fact that baby brought you a toy, drooled, or made loud noises, demand a response and break from your attention every time?

Example number two.  Moms are endlessly complaining about how they have lost the freedom to go to the bathroom by themselves.  This loss of freedom results not from the condition of parenting, but from… “Mommy Attention Span.”  Don’t get me wrong, moms (and dads who spend a lot of time at childcare), give up many freedoms, often including the freedom to put one’s own needs first.  But unless your kid is in some kind of peril, shut the door and go to the bathroom!  My kids have yet to set the house on fire or kill each other during the time it takes me to pee by myself.

In part, my feelings on this topic may come from having twins.  When you have twins, the illusion that you will be completely attentive to your baby and meet all her needs is immediately shot to hell on day one.  There’s something about two sets of little hands on each knee and two little mischievous faces looking up at me that says ‘no, this is not acceptable or necessary while I pee, they’re going to wait outside from now on.’  Are they slightly miffed when I shut the bathroom door in their faces?  Sure.  But two seconds later when I come out, they have forgotten all about it.  Who says we don’t have a right to a minute or two of attending to our own bodily functions?

Where did we get the idea that a good mom is endlessly attentive?  And what messages are we sending our children?  I’m sure on one level we believe we are equipping our children to have high self-esteem and feel like they are fascinating just by being them.  And indeed, it is critically important to reflect back to our children who they are in an accepting manner.  But not every minute!!  The truth is, they are not endlessly fascinating, and giving them the idea that they are could harm them.  There are going to be a lot of metaphorical bathroom doors slammed in their faces and they’re going to have to regroup and deal with it.

Children (and adults) need to be self-entertaining.  They need to be able to tolerate times when they are not being enjoyed just for being them.  That’s why our kids desperately need us to let them develop on their own.  They need time to explore their environment, and I’m not talking about a house full of loud, colorful, over-stimulating toys.  Leave your kids alone with a few Tupperware containers and pick up a book.  They will thank you later when they can read a somewhat long paragraph without becoming unfocused and wondering where the flashing lights and pictures are.

I believe for some of us, our relationships with partners and friends are suffering, and our connections to ourselves and the outside world are too.  The combined cultural notion that we should both want to be around our kids all the time, and want to be attentive to them all the time leave us with no way to connect with other adults.  Then, feeling cut-off, uninspired, under-stimulated, and just plain bored, we beat ourselves up for not loving being cut-off, uninspired, under-stimulated, and just plain bored.

Being attentive to children can be delightful, but often it is work… plain and simple.  We do it out of love, the same way we listen to our partners go on and on about aspects of their work we don’t fully grasp, or the way we listen to an elderly parent describe the daily happenings in the hallway at their nursing home.

We don’t expect to derive the ultimate pleasure from these activities, and thus we don’t attempt to do them 24/7.  We intersperse times when we ourselves can be heard and stimulated.  We need those times!!  So moms… if another mom, or a partner, or anyone comes around and your kids are safe and have basic care, give your attention to that adult, and for the love of god, accept theirs, you need it!  Give yourself some precious moments for you.  Be “selfish.”

Your children will thank you when they can sit in a classroom for hours out of the day tolerating not being called on or paid attention to.  They will thank you when they can be that partner who listens to someone talk without turning the topic to themselves.  They will thank you when their boss provides constructive criticism and they’re not thrown off balance because they believe everything they do is fascinating.  Your daughters will thank you when they learn that being a mother means your kids are your top priority, but not that you have to make them a priority every minute.  Moms, you still exist!  Let your daughters see you exist.  Let them see you ignore them now and then so they can learn that no role, even mother, should be powerful enough to erase them.

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True Mommy Confessions 1

These are the things no one says. 

I am tired of the color of the playroom walls.

Crying makes my organs moan and my brain ache.

I leave my kids in their cribs as long as I can get away with.

I miss leaving the house whenever I want.

I need a nap.

I need a drink.

Sometimes I wear earplugs.

I’m not always that interested in the things my babies do.

I miss laying around in bed for no reason.

Sometimes I wish I could go on dates, or at least go out, get tipsy, and flirt with people.

Breastfeeding is incredibly hard and takes more endurance and will than anything I’ve ever done (and I have a freaking PhD, wrote a dissertation, cared for my mother for 18 months while she died of a brain tumor, and spent 3 months on bed rest).

My favorite times are when I read books or write.

I am stubbornly refusing to give up my identity, Mommy is just one of many names I call myself.

Often friends and relatives are more excited to see my babies than I am.

Often friends and relatives are way more excited to see my babies than me.

Feeding babies solids is boring, not to mention messy.

My kids want to play with me, but I’m writing this blog.

When my daughter crawled for the first time, I was vaguely aggravated.

I bathe my babies as infrequently as I can get away with.

I spend a lot of time surfing the web looking into events I can’t go to.

I am jealous of my single friends.

I am relieved when anyone else is around.

I frequently feel paralyzed by the terrible, blinding fear that something will happen to my babies.

Still… I have no regrets.

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Breast Pumping, House Hunting (Not My Mom Part 2)

Hard to Believe this was real...

About two months after my twins were born, (while I was still pumping breast milk 8 times per day, never sleeping more than 2 hours at a time, walking around in nothing but a nursing bra, forgetting to eat, still recovering from surgery), I decided it was time to look at real estate.  I went online and found a house in the town Seth and I had talked about moving to someday, when we could afford it.

Two days later, I was dragging Seth, the twins, and Grammy and Grampy on a 45 minute drive to see the house.  I didn’t need to see it, I was sure we had to buy it, I just needed to convince them!  You are probably thinking, well of course you didn’t convince them.  But those pregnancy hormones must be contagious, because there they were, Grammy and Grampy entertaining the twins in the car, while Seth and I checked out the house.

We almost bought that house.  Then there were several more weekends of house searching, breast pumping in the car, in the bathrooms of cold, empty houses, babies screaming in the faces of real estate agents, forgotten diapers, two of us looking at each house while the other two watched the twins.

You think that’s crazy, let’s talk about keeping my house ready to be shown to potential buyers at a few minutes notice; pulling a shirt on, throwing boppy pillows and blankets down the basement stairs, my breast pump and nursing supplies shoved in the closet, spit-up stains on the couch covered by throw pillows, Seth moving two jumperoos, two baby swings, two bumbo seats, two everything into the garage, as I run out the door, twins in hand, fleeing from any germs the visitors might be carrying.

Then there was the Lysol-ing of the house afterward.

And then we REALLY almost bought this other house.  This time in the very w.a.s.p.-y, very white, but oh so fucking adorable (laden with big old trees and gorgeous colonial homes) suburb where I crystallized my identity as “the only democrat in the class aside from the teacher.”

Oh how those teachers ate up my anti-death penalty diatribes and feminist rants.

(I remember this one kid wondering aloud in AP Government how women could be in combat roles in the military because “What if they get cramps or something when they’re on their period?”  Oooooo, did he wish he was dead by the time I was through…)

Anyway.  The house was a money pit.  It was so big compared to our tiny two bedroom cape cod, and close enough to the universe of our price range, that in our deluded, sleep-deprived insanity, we convinced ourselves we could afford it.  Then when we found out it needed completely new electrical wiring and plumbing (only a tiny drip came out of the faucets), that it had a flooding problem and asbestos.  We proceeded.

This all sounds perfectly crazy now, but oh, at the time, how I yearned for that house!  Of course it wasn’t the house at all.  I was yearning for my mother, for my own childhood, for something known.  It is amazing how even if we know our mother did a lot of things wrong, in those first months when the shock of profound responsibility and feelings of profound incompetence set in, we go right back to what we know, for me even down to the neighborhood!

Somehow picturing my kids going to my elementary school, playing in the playground where I played, watching their friends get brand new SUVs when they got their licenses, and claw each others’ eyes out to get spots at ivy league schools was incredibly comforting.  Rationality and logic be damned.  My kids had to live in that house, whether it meant eating beans from a can every meal, and their parents divorcing as they caved under the financial stress.

This may sound hyperbolic, but I’m quite certain that house would have ended my marriage.  Not more than 4 months later my depressed, desperate shell of a husband left his high paying big law job for a lower-paying one that would allow him to be the involved, present father he desperately wanted to be.  That house would have meant a life sentence at a job that was sucking the life out of him, and my kids growing up in a world where that salary would have meant more than almost anything else.  But that wasn’t us.

As I sit here in my tiny cape cod, my twins upstairs in their shared bedroom, in my scrappy little liberal, gay-friendly, cute but by no means manicured town, where various grad student neighbors leave the occasional old couch out of the front lawn to rot in the elements, I thank god that my husband had the clarity to back us out of that deal.

So new moms, beware.  This is not the time for decisions more critical than which type of bottle to buy.  I wanted that house down to the very fiber of my soul!  The pain I felt when I had to admit we couldn’t do it, so inexplicable now, left me crying for weeks.  The loneliness, the terror, the utter and complete self-depravation of new motherhood would all be erased if I just had that house.

I wasn’t just like my mother, I was my mother, a woman whose house was literally the most important thing to her.  I’m sure SHE had thought her family would be fine as long as we had the right house, but my kids would have something infinitely better… Seth.

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Maybe we are all Undercover (My Husband Does Do That, Part 1)

There were wonderful mommy play-date moments where I felt like, wow, they get it, and believe me, no one who doesn’t have twins gets having twins.

(Don’t tell me your one and two year olds are “just like twins!”  Don’t tell me you were “supposed to” have twins.  The fact that your aunt’s secretary’s dog lives in a house with twins does not make you get it!  You do not have twins!  Goodbye.)

But a lot of the time in the midst of such gatherings, I felt this ill, empty kind of feeling as though large chunks of my identity had left the building.

Of course I could relate to topics like getting your twins to sleep (please, for the love of God!), dealing with teething, when to start solids, etc.  They may not have been riveting, and yet, I found myself hanging on the every word of those more experienced mommies… until about 6 months rolled around and I started to have this nagging feeling that… this just isn’t all that complicated… and this nagging desire to, oh, I don’t know, talk about something other than our kids for the love of fuck!

This one night, I attended a twin mommy’s night out.  It was AT A BAR – swoon!  I was so excited, I thought, ok, now we’re actually going to get to know each other, the mommies will be loosened up, away from their babes, bring on the slightly inappropriate, sexually suggestive adult conversation.  FAIL.

I remember at one point wanting to stab myself with my fork when they moved off the topic of what’s the best minivan, to a lengthy discussion of how to find baby socks that fit right.  I actually lost the will to drink.  It’s then that I started looking around at these really quite lovely, but not very interesting moms, and realizing just how white, rich, and straight they really were.

There were many other play-date topics to which I couldn’t relate, my personal favorite being why our husbands suck (and let me assure you, some of these husbands really and truly did suck quite hard).

Now don’t get me wrong, my husband can be an ass.  Then again so can I.  Of course I fight with my spouse.  But the truth is, (hushed whisper) I like my husband.  He is a fantastic husband.

But okay, not everyone has the perfect marriage.   It was the gendered aspects of the husband complaints which eluded me most, husbands not “helping” around the house, never “watching” the kids, not “letting them” buy jewelry, etc.  Really?  Am I living the in the 1950s twilight zone?

I was only willing to do marriage if it was going to be the same deal for my husband and me.  The traditional wife/mother role seemed like a much better deal for a potential husband than for me.  I guess it didn’t occur to me that others wouldn’t feel the same.

And who wants to be a total asshole and sit there repeating, “My husband does do that,” and adding obnoxiously, “My husband cleans more than I do.  He’s a much better wife than I am. ”

Then again, am I really even there if I just sit and nod and sip my white wine?  I feel like I’m “passing” in a way. Not in a way that could be clearly labeled, but in a more subtle, and yet poignant way, I feel closeted

I long for the day when I can find a way to be out and proud, but I’m not even sure what to come out as.  There is no magic word for my lifestyle, or the collection of identity bits that make me up.  I find myself wondering if we are all really undercover, looking at each other from inside our closets thinking she’s just a little too normal.

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