I am Grateful, But That’s Not The Point

gratitude

I have a lot to be grateful for—two healthy kids, a husband, who is not a serial killer (yet), a house and food in my fridge (and under the couch cushions) and a lot of technology for my children to fight over.

But, don’t tell me to be grateful.

It’s a common refrain for older parents to tell younger parents to be “grateful” for “this time.” I’ve heard this platitude in the check-out line at the grocery store, the park and in my email.  This advice is usually dispensed when I’m being bitten by a teething baby or my three-year-old has decided that toys are weapons to be used against the scourge of younger siblings. Last week, I was tired, hungry and walking through the grocery store at 4pm, preventing the baby from launching himself out of the cart with one hand and grabbing the bananas with the other, while my daughter whined that she wanted was “all da cookies!”

“I bet you are grateful for those children,” said a woman walking by, smiling as if she was imparting some great wisdom.

I am grateful. I am grateful for their smiles, their fuzzy hair, the way they fake sneeze to make each other giggle. I’m not just grateful, I adore the way the baby wants to color with his sister and the way she tries to tell him what to do, “Come on, bubba, we gonna make leaf piles!” Even at night, cleaning through the house, I find myself tearing up when I see a baby doll wearing my daughter’s underwear, or a play steak stuck in the toy oven. Folding little shirts that cover little bellies, recounting to my husband that my daughter comforted the baby when he fell or that she spent half the day pretending to be a “fairy pig”—this is the highlight of my day.

But gratitude has nothing to do with what I am feeling in that moment trying to avoid an apocalyptic meltdown in the grocery store. It’s not even beside the point, gratitude is so far away from the point that it could be another galaxy.

Being grateful has nothing to do with also feeling, sad, frustrated or at your wits end because the baby climbed on the table and is reaching for the chandelier. Gratitude is not some super power that can automatically cure you of all-encompassing exhaustion when you have to spend three hours rocking the baby at night because he is teething. In those moments, I am grateful that I have a child, who will not spend his life toothless. But I’m still tired. I’m still frustrated. My neck still hurts from sleeping on the rocker again.

I hear parents use gratitude like a magic wand. “Oh, I’m tired and one cup of coffee away from a murderous rampage, but I’m so grateful! AND BLESSED! That too! No, those aren’t tears, I’m so happy.”

Applying “gratitude” as some sort of parenting cure-all is essentially selling snake oil. It makes parents feel like they aren’t doing enough, being enough, or that there is something wrong in them for getting frustrated when their kid fake burps at the mailman, again.  After all, no one would suggests to a president that “Hey, I know your country is freaking out over the remote possibility of an Ebola epidemic and terrorist are threatening every foreign policy gain you’ve made, but hey, at least you are the leader of the free world, right? Don’t you also get a chef?”

Today, I am grateful for so many things. But I am also a human trying to parent other humans who like to ask strangers if they “poop babies out of their baginas.” I often tell my daughter and baby when they are exhausted and hysterical, “It’s okay, feelings are for feeling, let it all out.” It’s a mantra for them, but also for me. It reminds me that this world we navigate, kids or no kids, personal chef or not, is complicated. It’s tricky. It’s exhausting and frustrating and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

The Pioneers Didn’t Have Netflix

JudeSnow

The morning of our first snow in Iowa, we had three meltdowns over putting on snow gear and one of the meltdowns was mine.

I am not a native Midwesterner. I spent most of my formative years in Texas, before moving to South Dakota, then Minnesota, and now Iowa. In Texas, snow is mythical, like a toddler who eats anything without a fuss—often heard of, but never really seen. As a child, I fantasized about long, cozy winters, filled with snowmen, hot chocolate and Pa Ingalls tying a rope between the sod hut and the barn, so he doesn’t die while feeding the cattle.

No matter how good I become at being a Midwesterner–making tater tot hot dish and passive-aggressively saying, “Well, he’s nice.”–I don’t think I will ever be good at winter. Some Midwesterners view the first snow as magic. I view it as a warning to abandon all hope until April.

And this is why I dread the snow, because winter with children is less sweaters and snowman and more like a five month long scream of anguish.  As I struggled with the sadistic tango of hats, coats, mittens, hats, coats and more mittens. I had to send my three-year-old to time out for throwing off her winter apparel because it wasn’t sparkly enough. Then, I had to grit my teeth against the baby screaming, “No hat! No hat!” He has few words, but the words he does use are lobbed as weapons. “Up.” “All done.” “NO!” And now, I guess, “Screw you, I want to freeze!” Just in time for the winter. Write that one in the baby book.

Of course, when we got outside and the wind whipped around his fuzzy little head, he grabbed his ears and said, “HAT! MOM! HAT!” Like, why didn’t I think of putting a hat on him? What kind of mother am I? Thank you infant son, for making such well-articulated points. Could you do it without pulling my hair?

In High School, I read a book about a pioneer woman, who, left alone by her husband in a sod hut over the winter, goes insane. There is a scene in the book, where the husband returns from his chores to find his wife sitting in the cold, rocking in the rocking chair. I never understood that at the time. Why did she go insane? It’s just winter. But now I know. She had kids and she lived in a sod hut. I live in a charming house, but I’m one rocking chair away from going insane on the prairie and it’s only November.

To be honest, I don’t think my kids could cut it as pioneers either. My three-year-old won’t even put a toe outside unless she’s donned head to toe in pink winter gear. I try telling her that Laura Ingalls never had Minnie Mouse hats and she still survived, but my husband points out that it goes both ways. Ma Ingalls also didn’t have Netflix or a coffee maker or a heating system, so why am I whining?

I could think deeply about that question, or I could just go out and buy a rocking chair.

 

EllisSnow

 

This was originally published in The Gazette as part of my column, “Pants-free Parenting.” I usually republish these on Fridays, but this was too apt going into Thanksgiving.

I Won’t Tell My Children To Lose Weight

babyJeating

When my daughter was a baby, she was fat. And I don’t mean, chubby, I mean good, old fashioned, wearing 24 month clothes at 9 months old, kind of fat. She was glorious. During that time, I had a lot of well-intentioned parents assure me that she would thin out.

“Don’t worry,” a friend said gently, “my sister was fat and now she’s really thin.”

As if when looking at my child all I could see was a meaningless societal standard of beauty as opposed to the adorable, smart, happy little baby before me.

I’m not going to tell you what my daughter looks like now. Because it doesn’t matter. Because even if the doctors were concerned and Michelle Obama was knocking on my door to stage an intervention, I would never tell my child to lose weight. I will talk about being healthy, I will talk about being strong, but I will never, ever tell her to change the way she looks.

On Talk of Iowa, Iowa State counseling psychologist, Taylor Locker, noted, “Children as young as first grade or kindergarten want to be on diets, want to be thinner, or believe that they are too heavy or too fat. […] At least by first grade, children are starting to notice their body size.”

This isn’t what I want for my children. It’s not what I want for me. Of course, children have to notice eventually, that’s the world we live in. But before that, before they begin to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, before they start staring in the mirror and wishing they could magic themselves away into another body, I want my children to always know that they are loved exactly how they are. Even if they smoke. Even if they knock over a liquor store. Even if they are fat. Even if they don’t like queso. I don’t want my children to change. I never want them to be more (or less) than what they are.

I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood and childhood desperately wishing I was prettier, thinner, more athletic, less brunette, less socially awkward. I think of all the time I’ve wasted fighting against my body instead of dwelling in it. There is also the time I’ve wasted trying to be something other than what I am—a loud mouthed, kind of pudgy, imperfect white lady.

I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want them to struggle to come to terms with who they are. I don’t want them to waste time with self-loathing. There is only so much of their journey I can control, and I’m sure they will have to find their own way. But for now, I want to be their compass, pointing them the way toward love. But I have to calibrate myself first—I have to check the way I talk about how I work out, how I eat and how I dress. I want to model healthy and active and acceptance.

Because, besides keeping our children alive and warm, that’s our first job as parents to model an unconditional love. A love that meets them where they are as chubby little babies and deeply flawed adults. I don’t know who my kids will be—fat, thin, mean, nice, smart, in jail—but I do know I will love them, not based on what they could be or will be, but based on who they are in that moment.

The people that my much-abused body created—a body that deserves some appreciation.

Don Quixote, Tome Club and links

This is part of the ongoing #TomeClub series, where I and a few of you suckers decided to read Don Quixote together. I am not going to title these in a clever manner. I am sorry to disappoint you.

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I haven’t forgotten you Tome Club and the two people still standing with me. We all had the flu for a week (except the baby, who eats a lot of dirt and thus is impervious to human weakness). So, I’ve been furiously catching up. Kindle says I’m 51% done with the book and my goal is to finish it this weekend. That’s right. Suck it, family time. I’m finishing this book.

Don Quixote is very delightful, when I finally worm my way in. But it is a bit of a slog. Because it’s just people talking and walking, which Dave points out is the majority of The Lord of the Rings, which I remember loving. Here are THOUGHTS. Such important. Much deep.

  • I love that we haven’t met Dulcinea, I hope we never do. I love the power of a character who never shows. Tom Stoppard did this in Arcadia. Lord Byron is a powerful character, who never has a line. In this way, you see the tension of how people create characters in their minds. How much of these women is reality and how much of them is just the narrative pushed on them by the men? Again, I think of Marcela, who just says, screw you I’m out and walks out of the story, because she can’t win. She can’t compete. She can’t fight. She cannot be who she is without the men around her pushing their own narratives on her, so she walks away. In this way, I hope we don’t meet Dulcinea, I hope she doesn’t play.
  • Also, hello, author anxieties. At the beginning of the second part, Cervantes lashes out against a counterfeit part two of his novel, which I thought was a narrative device. But no, actually, some fool wrote a fraudulent part two and Cervantes got nasty about it. Of course he did. He has every right. But still, it makes me giggle a bit, because even the author of one of the great works of literature had a pissing match. It’s perfect. Team Cervantes.
  • Also, side note: The gross lover storyline at the end of part one? Where the girl who marries the man who raped her? This is why I don’t want Dulcinea to show up. Because, lord love him, when ladies do show up in this book, despite Cervantes best efforts, he still screws them over in the name of “dignity.”
  • But that development of Sancho, right? I love how he corrects his wife’s speech, but still finds himself being corrected constantly.
  • The delusions here. They are frightening. DQ is so entrenched in his beliefs that everything, even the things that prove him wrong, prove him right. And oh, the manifold applications to modern life. I actually feel worried. Like, omg, is everyone around me a Sancho? Am I delusional? Is everything I do a lie? But then, I remembered that you all constantly correct my grammar (AS YOU SHOULD) and only two people are reading this with me, so if I have delusions, they aren’t very grand. But are we all deluded? And what is so wrong with delusions? Why is the truth preferable? Is it better to life a cruel truth than a beautiful lie?
  • And I say that line about who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him in reference to my marriage constantly. So, I better stop thinking about that too deeply.
  • I am going to come back to that idea of playing in a narrative that you can’t win at. Don’t play, Dulcinea and Marcela. Don’t play. Walk away. Make your own.
  • I read somewhere that the artist Honore Daumier believed that Sancho and DQ, merge into one. And I see that happening, in a way. DQ is merging toward sanity and Sancho toward insanity. Their folie a deux of grandiosity is so much the addict/enabler prototype. In this way, I wonder if this book isn’t really just about marriage. But you know, gay marriage. Cervantes was so progressive.
  • Before I started this book, I read that DQ was the beginning of the modern novel, because it’s a book where the main character is aware that he is in a book. Meta. Right? But isn’t that just a natural progression of being the main character in your own life? Of doing things just to be remembered. (Also, dear lord, did you not love that digression about people doing terrible things just to be remembered. The guy who wanted to throw himself down on top of the stained glass? Very Kardashian in it’s sentiment, no?) Couldn’t you argue that Chaucer’s character’s are just as “aware” because they are all arranging their lives into a form of meaning through their pilgrimage? Kundera, that same writer who convinced me to read this book in the first place, talks about how we all organize our lives according to the laws of beauty…we all seek a narrative. It’s why we look for meaning in things that have no right to be meaningful. We insist that pain will work for good, when pain is just pain. We demand that everything fit a narrative arc. We ignore those facets of life that don’t. It’s not just Cervantes or the shepherds that push the women into a mold. We do that to ourselves.

Okay, links. Who wants them?

No. Fine.

Take them.

Here. HERE! Eat all of your links before you can leave.

I wrote about why I let my kid sleep in our bed. I wrote about why kidless people know a lot about kids. So, STFU people who say, “Well, because I’m a mom…” A thing is on HuffPost Parents. My marriage is well, a marriage with two kids. I read this wonderful essay about writing. Stassa Edwards on abortifacients. 

 

The Trouble With Dinner

kidseating

Based on the look my 3 year old is giving me, which is a mixture between a sneer and revulsion, you would think that the food on her plate was made up of partially cooked fecal matter. It’s not. It is macaroni and cheese. “Dis will make me so sick!” She declares holding her head in her hands.

She starts sobbing. “I fink I will be too sick.” Then, she starts making gagging sounds.

I’m okay with protests and outraged accusations that I’m trying to poison her with my homemade macaroni and cheese. But I draw the line at gagging noises. So, into time out she goes. All I have to do is point and she goes without a fuss. Lately, my daughter spends the majority of meal time oscillating between her dinner and the little stool in the corner of the dining room. I think Stockholm syndrome is setting in.
When she comes back she asks for a cheese stick and a cracker. She asks for a banana or gummy snacks, anything it seems, rather than to eat the cheddar cheese and whole wheat pasta that lies before her. I don’t negotiate with three-year-olds or terrorist. And some days, they are one in the same. Tonight, with ice cream as a motivator, she chokes down half of her food in between huge swallows of milk.

But other nights we aren’t so lucky. Other nights, she declares everything will make her sick and “garbly garbly” and that she’d rather go without a cookie than choke down a bite of lasagna. I admire her strong moral convictions over the evils of lasagna, if nothing else.

My mom tells me to make her special food. Advice on the internet says if I speak to her kindly and let her help me make dinner, she will suddenly eat everything put before her and ask for seconds. I read a book that said I brought all of this on myself by giving her rice cereal as an infant instead of steel-cut oats or letting her baby-led wean, which is just crazy talk for giving kids normal food. My neighbor suggests a gluten allergy. Someone who reads my newspaper column emailed me once to tell me my daughter might be on the “Autism spectrum.” Another internet search reveals that perhaps my delicate flower turning her nose up at macaroni (which she devoured last week) has a problem with texture. I would kindly like to say this is complete and utter partially cooked fecal matter.

Sure, some kids have problems. But not every kid who acts like a jerk at dinnertime is some sort of special snowflake. Sometimes, they are just jerks. And the overwhelming dearth of information that parents have at their fingertips gives them the illusion of control. And that somehow, if your child becomes a demanding little fiend, it’s all the fault of GMOs or the fact that you didn’t breastfeed past nine months old.

But the reality is, toddlers are little wackos. You know what else makes my daughter feel sick and “garbly garbly”? Putting away her princess dolls and wearing pants. So, gluten be damned. That macaroni is all she gets. And after she goes to bed, I’m eating all the ice cream.

Last night, as my 3 year old watched me make enchiladas, she frowned. “Your children don’t like dat food. Your children only want macaroni.”

I glared at her. “My children can starve then.”

She ran from the room sobbing. Later, as we ate she turned up her nose at dinner. Declaring it too yucky, to “terwibble.” Finally, after she choked down a bite, she smiled. “Oh wait, mom, I do like this. I’m like Sam I Am!”

And me? I poured some whiskey in my tea and smiled a serene smile that masked all the cursing I was doing under my breath.

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