Picky Eating

When I was a kid, I was a very picky eater. I became less so when I went off to college and wanted to impress my friends, who didn’t think it was cool to be a picky eater, but I’m still not a fan of certain foods, like pot pie. I feel like pot pie is where you take perfectly lovely meat and/or vegetables and you coat them in goo made of who knows what and then top the whole thing with a pie crust, which also isn’t my favorite food to eat. (Although, it’s one of my favorite foods to make–rolling out a pie crust is so soothing to me. I know, I’m odd.) One time when I was little, my mom made pot pie, and as usual I refused to eat it, so my parents told me I had to sit in front of that pot pie until I ate it. I sat there for probably 2 hours, until it was bedtime, at which point they sent me to bed without offering any other food. I didn’t care if I was hungry, that didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was that I was not going to eat that pot pie. And I didn’t.

After that, my mom didn’t serve pot pie very often, because she knew I wasn’t going to eat it. She’d try to get me to eat foods I didn’t like, but if I refused, she’d just make sure there was something on the plate I’d eat. In short, she adapted her meal choices in part to suit her picky eater.┬áNowadays, that’s frowned upon by the Parent Education Industrial Complex. They say to just keep offering that food over and over again because eventually that kid will eat it. Apparently the Parent Education Industrial Complex doesn’t know what stubborn looks like. If my mom had offered me pot pie 1000 times I still would have said no to it. In hindsight, I think my mom made the wise choice to feed me things I would eat, so that I could grow, rather than watching me not eat every night. I was literally that stubborn. I needed to come to the idea of eating outside my comfort zone in my own time and in my own way. And, I’ve never struggled with obesity or eating disorders, so, I’m pretty sure she made the right choice for me.

The Boy is a picky eater too. I think he may even be pickier than I was, because he won’t eat chicken nuggets anymore. He wasn’t always a picky eater–when he was 2, he’d eat Indian food and jambalaya and all kinds of stuff. Now, it’s easier to tell people what he will eat instead of what he won’t because it’s a shorter list. I tend to do what my mom did and offer foods not on his “I will eat that” list, but when he refuses, I provide something we know he’ll eat. Especially now that he’s on ADHD meds that can affect his appetite and slow his growth.

I feel like I’m going to be judged for that, because it’s not what the experts recommend, and I’m sure people will say “He’s never going to learn to like other foods if you only feed him stuff he likes.” In fact, I have friends who brag about the foods their kids will eat that I know The Boy would adamantly refuse to try. But then I remember, parenting isn’t a competition. And I also remember what it felt like to be that kid who didn’t want to eat the pot pie with the weird goo in it (Mom, I’m sorry I keep calling it goo as though you’re a bad chef–I’m sure it was a lovely gravy to anyone who isn’t so picky!), and wishing I could just have food that didn’t weird me out, and being excited to eat when my mom made foods I did like. I guess I just feel like maybe there isn’t one right way to approach the complex relationship that kids have with food in our society. Because every kid is different, and some kids, like me, are never going to eat pot pie, and that’s OK.

The Parenting Industrial Complex

When I was pregnant with The Boy, we received a lot of parenting books. We got one on raising little scientists, and one on raising an emotionally intelligent child, and…I don’t even know, because I didn’t read a damn one of them. I just don’t put a lot of stock in what books say about how to raise a kid, because, every kid is different. My two kids are nothing like each other, so if I followed what a book said about how to raise them, I’d be doing it right for one and not the other, because they just ┬áneed really different parenting techniques.

The only parenting book I’ve actually read is one about getting your kid to sleep, because The Girl is 2 and she still will not fucking sleep through the night. I mean, some nights she does, and then other nights she’s up crying every couple of hours for no fucking reason. I am so fucking tired that I got desperate and read this book, and you know what? She’s still not fucking sleeping through the night. I’m so fucking tired…where was I? Oh yes, parenting books. Reading that book about sleep taught me one thing: even a good parenting book (and this one wasn’t bad) can’t always solve your parenting problems. At best it can give you some ideas to try, one of which might help you.

And at worst, it will make you feel like shit. It will make you feel guilty for doing things differently than the author suggested. And it will make you feel like you must be a bad parent, because its “scientifically proven” parenting methods didn’t work on your child. It’s especially shitty for parents of kids with disabilities–way to make parents who already feel “not normal” feel even more so, you jerk!

I call the parenting book industry the Parenting Industrial Complex. Because, it’s actually not just books, it’s also products. They make you think that if you buy this book, or that baby carrier, or that high chair, or those diapers, or that crib bedding, or this stroller, or those toys, that your child’s life will be better, and that your job as a parent will be easier, and that everyone in your family will magically be happy. And if you don’t, your child’s life will be ruined, you’ll struggle at parenting, and everyone in your family will be miserable.

And it’s not just books and products either–the internet is filled with parenting advice articles. And they have awesome titles like “7 Ways You’re Making Your Child’s Tantrums Worse” or “The Top 10 Ways Moms Sabotage Their Child’s Potty Training” or “What This Mom Wished She Knew Before Her Teen Attempted Suicide.” What the fuck, internet? Like I don’t already have enough mom guilt to navigate, you gotta go with the “click here or your child could die” headlines? Seriously? And you know what? Those articles are so full of shit. I read a tantrum one the other day that said “Hug your child when they’re having a tantrum.” ORLY??? When The Girl is having a tantrum, she screams “DON’T TALK TO ME.” I’m pretty sure a hug is gonna make things worse. That’s some pretty fucking awful advice for my kid.

But crazy headlines like that are how the internet makes its money. Like, if I were trying to get this blog to get page hits, so I can sell advertising revenue, I have to turn the headline into something that’s going to draw people in. And as local TV news learned decades ago, scary headlines reel people in. Emotional manipulation sells, man. It sells better than an article that says “Who the hell knows what’s the best way to calm your toddler down? Every kid is different. Here’s 10 ideas, none of which may work for you, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.”

What we, you and I, have to do is to NOT click on those headlines, and instead click on the blogs and read the books and buy the products that aren’t sold to us based on our fears. We need to seek out the writers who say “I know you can do it if you just trust yourself. It won’t always be perfect, there will be pee on the floor, but you will get there.” There are plenty of them out there–we just have to cut through the click-bait and the guilt-books that the Parenting Industrial Complex are trying to sell us, and find the good stuff instead.

We both love our kids

You guys, I’m super excited. Today is a big day for the momming community because it’s Moms for Moms Day! CT Working Moms and their awesome Campaign for Judgment Free Motherhood have teamed up with TheBump.com to organize moms around the net to show their support for moms to stop judging and being judged, and to come together to support one another. Which, you guys know that’s TOTALLY what this blog is about, so I’m super excited to be participating, with the post below. If you guys dig the message, jump in the mix today on Facebook or Twitter, with the hash tag #moms4moms.

I have a cousin in Wisconsin who I haven’t seen since we were kids, but we’re Facebook friends, so we keep up with each other’s lives. She’s got two kids, and she loves NASCAR and professional wrestling. Like, she posts on FB about how she loves or hates some NASCAR driver or how happy she is that some wrestler brought in the pain or whatever it is you say about wrestlers, is that what you say about wrestlers? I know nothing about NASCAR or wrestling. I watched WWF back when it was still called WWF back in law school when I was dating The Hubs, because The Hubs and his roommates watched it, but I never really got it. And NASCAR? I know even less about it. Is there a driver named Jeff Gordon? that sounds familiar? something something Junior? It’s just not my thing. But you know what? She’s my cousin, and we do have one thing in common: we both love our kids. (And the Seahawks.)

My college BFF is a Republican. She’s also a church-every-Sunday Catholic and her oldest son is an alter boy. We all know I am a heathen, and I am most definitely not a Republican. She also doesn’t drink and doesn’t eat dessert. Have you read my Girl Scout cookie cocktail recipe? But you know what? She’s my BFF, and we both love our kids. (And Star Trek. And very bad puns.)

Our neighbor who runs the daycare where we send The Girl (and where we send The Boy during school breaks) is a vegan Mormon. That means she doesn’t drink coffee (GASP) and she doesn’t eat bacon. I love bacon so much. Pig really is the most delicious animal, isn’t it? And we’ve already discussed my heathenism. But you know what? She is an awesome neighbor and an awesome child care provider, and we both love our kids. (And going on cruises.)

Everyone in this world is different. Every kid is different, and every mom is different. But the longer I live and the more moms I meet, the more I realize that our differences are interesting and worth acknowledging, but what’s really powerful is that no matter how different we are, we all love our kids. I feel like if we can all remember that every mom loves her children, maybe we can stop judging each other for our differences, and focus on what we have in common: our love for our children. Because when moms love more and judge less, we can make the world a better place, for all of us, and for all of our children.

I was going to finish with a photo of me and my local BFF because she loves to run, and I hate running. But you know what? I love her new baby and I don’t want to share my nasty cold with him. So instead, I’ll just share a link to her blog here so you guys can go over there and share some love with a new mom!

Buck Up, Little Camper

I feel like I have been hearing a lot lately from my mom friends about the mistakes they make as parents, and how bad they feel about those mistakes. I feel like they are trying to own their mistakes and learn from them, and that’s good. We SHOULD learn from our mistakes. That’s one of the things I am always reminding The Boy–that it’s OK to make mistakes, because mistakes teach us something. But a lot of the things I have heard lately haven’t left me saying “Way to learn from your mistake!” Instead, they left me wanted to give the blogger a hug and tell her “You’re a better mom than you think you are.” Because they felt filled with a self-judgment with which I am all too familiar.

Wow, do I totally know that feeling. When The Boy was born early, I blamed myself for my water spontaneously breaking in the middle of an otherwise normal, healthy pregnancy. I felt like I should have known something was going wrong, somehow, like, I should have been more in touch with my body, or something? I mean, who else’s fault could it be? Not my doctor, who was monitoring my pregnancy exactly as thoroughly as she should have been. Not my husband, who was not carrying The Boy in his body. Not The Boy, who was the most innocent of all. Who did that leave for me to blame? Only myself, even though the reality was that I didn’t cause my water to break anymore than my doctor, The Hubs, or The Boy did. It took some therapy and some crying and a lot of time to get to the point where I didn’t judge myself for that, that I could accept that despite my best intentions, my body just couldn’t do what it needed to do.

Honestly? I think a lot of parenting guilt is like that. Nobody I know goes into this parenting thing saying “I want to be the shittiest parent ever. I really hope I fuck this kid up, but good.” We are all trying our best, and some days our best is better than other days, and sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes, despite our best intentions, bad things happen.

Let me put it another way. Think of the thing you are saying about yourself as a mom, the thing that makes you feel like a bad parent. And I want you to imagine that instead of you saying it, it’s your best friend saying it about herself. What would your reaction be? Would it be “Yeah, she’s a horrible mom, and she should feel awful”? If not, then sweetheart, you’re Judgy McJudersoning yourself. And Judgy McJudgersoning yourself is just the same as Judgy McJudgersoning someone else. You’re not helping.

Look, I get it, this is hard. It’s easy for me to say “Buck up, little camper” because what’s happening to you is not happening to me. Just remember while you beat yourself up that the rest of us out here believe in you, and we know you’re an awesome mom, no matter how much you aren’t feeling like you are right now. We’re here to lift you up when you feel like a failure, and help you get back on your feet again.

And I am sending you a giant hug!

Time Away

You guys, I am gonna call out yet another Judgy McJudgerson behavior in this post. And I am sure, like the post I wrote about people who judge formula feeding moms, there will be readers who will think I am shitting on them and their life choices, when in reality I am doing nothing of the kind. But whatever, I can’t control whether people hear my message, or the message they want to hear. So here we go.

Lately I have heard a few moms I know talk with…is it disdain? Feigned pity? Sadness? I’m not sure exactly how to describe the sentiment, but it appears in sentences like “I feel so sad that my mom friend was so excited for winter break to end. Doesn’t she enjoy spending time with her kids? I mean, how sad she just wants them to be away from her.” It also comes in different flavors–sometimes it’s “I can’t believe she works when she could afford to stay home. I can’t imagine missing all my kids’ special moments, they’re only small once.” They stop short of accusing their mom friends of being heartless bitches who don’t love their children, but it’s definitely implied that something is wrong with the mom who chooses to be away from her children.

I work outside the home. I do it for the money primarily, but also because if I spent every day with my children, if child rearing was my job, I would be miserable. I would burn out spectacularly. I would be frazzled and stressed and probably do a pretty shitty job of parenting. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my children. It means I have a temperament that doesn’t fit with 24/7 child rearing. And luckily for me, I live in an era when it’s possible for women to work outside the home. In addition, I take non-work time away from my kids–for example, a weekend away with my girlfriends, a night out with my husband, or quiet time away from my ridiculously messy house so I can write more effectively. I benefit from relaxation and recharging my batteries, because when I get over stressed, I am not my best self.

Am I missing some magic moments with them? Sure. But I also appreciate the time I do spend with them, which I would not be able to do if I was with them all the time. I would be too frazzled and stressed to think it was funny when The Boy told a penis joke instead of putting on his shoes like I asked him to, let alone have the bandwidth to take that opportunity to explain to him that although Mom thinks penis jokes are funny, the nice woman who runs his sister’s daycare might be offended by them, so we need to think of a different joke to tell her when we see her. If I was Stressed Out Mom, I’d be snapping at The Boy for not following directions and missing the opportunity to explain to him about his penis jokes potentially being offensive. I am a better mom when I don’t feel overwhelmed by stress, and being with the kids all the time would make me very stressed out. That is to say, I wouldn’t have any magic moments at all with them if I tried to hold onto every one of their magic moments.

So, think of it this way: when you say stuff like “How can she not want to be with her kids every minute of everyday” you’re talking about me. You’re talking about every mom who is actually in a financial position to choose a career, and does so. You’re talking about moms whose personalities are different than yours. And you’re phrasing it in a way that sounds like you believe people who need a break from their kids are not loving parents. In short, you’re judging me for not being like you.

The thing is, what frustrates me about the “you like time away from your kids, you are a bad mom” meme is not just that I am personally insulted by it. It’s that it reflects a mindset that says that anyone parenting different, feeling different, or having different values must be a bad parent. That’s The Cult of Perfect Motherhood talking right there. That’s the part that says we have to be constantly vigilant in our parenting choices, because the slightest slip up will ruin our child’s life. So, we say “That parent doing it differently than me? They’re the one who is wrong. They’re the bad parent, not me.” We say that because the Cult tells us that the only other possibility is that they’re right and we’re ruining our children’s lives. And that is too terrifying of an idea to face.

We have to take that chip off our shoulders. We have to remember that every child is different, and every parent is different, and that’s OK, and other people’s choices have nothing to do with the validity of our choices. And we have to believe that our friends are good parents who love their children, not horrible people who are parenting wrong just because they are parenting differently. It’s the only way we can move forward as a community of mothers together–to respect each other enough to trust that other moms are making the right choices for them. Even if they would be the wrong choices for us.

Control

I have been watching some friends of mine go through their first pregnancies recently, and it’s brought back a lot of memories of when I was pregnant with my kids. And the lessons that pregnancy taught me, the most important of which was that we don’t really have control over our lives as much as we think we do.

We get to make a lot of choices in our lives, every day. Which shirt am I going to put on? What kind of coffee will I order at Starbucks today? What route will I take home from work? What will I cook for dinner, or will I just order a pizza? What TV show will I watch? We make so many choices that we think we have control over everything in our lives.

But we don’t. And pregnancy, and parenthood, remind us of that every day. Our bodies change when there is a fetus in them. We get morning sickness, and we pee ourselves. We become anemic and our thyroids go wonky and we develop diabetes. Our feet swell and our hips ache. None of these are things we have any control over. They just happen, because we don’t have control over our bodies.

I, like a lot of women, had a lot of plans for how the birth of my first child would go. In no version of any plan I had was there a NICU team present. My body made that happen when it decided it couldn’t carry The Boy to term. I didn’t choose for him to be born the way he was, or to spend the first 9 weeks of his life in a hospital. It was a harsh lesson for me that I didn’t have control over everything that happens to me, and I certainly didn’t have control over what my body did.

When I was pregnant with The Girl, I didn’t make plans about her birth, because I knew that in the end, I wouldn’t have control over what my body did. The best I could muster were wishes, and even those didn’t all come true. There was a NICU team at her birth too, because there was meconium in my amniotic fluid. And although her birth was a much happier experience than The Boy’s was–complete with Frank Sinatra playing, and surrounded by wonderful, supportive people–having the NICU team in the room was not one of my wishes.

When I hear my friends talk about what they want for the birth of their children, about their plans for the birth, my heart drops a little. I hope they will get what they want, but I also know that in the end, it isn’t going to be their choice to make. That c-section may have to happen, no matter how much they want a home birth. They may want an epidural, but labor may move too quickly for it to happen. There may be a NICU team in the room. They might not get to hold their baby right away, or for days. None of these things will be their choice, because they don’t have control over what their bodies do, or what the baby needs. And that’s just the start of the lack of control we have over our lives when we become parents. Nobody chooses to clean up baby puke at 2 AM, it just happens. That’s life.

This is one of the main reasons I believe so strongly that it’s really stupid to judge each other for how things go when we parent, and why mommy wars over the best way to give birth seem particularly absurd to me. Because, in the end, having the birth we want, or having the child we imagined, is not something we have much control over. The best we can do is play the hand we are dealt and hope for the best.

Success

Over the summer, my favorite college professor was passing through Seattle and so I got to have a visit with her. She is a women’s studies professor, which means she is ridiculously underpaid and will never have tenure. It’s not that she’s not brilliant and extremely well respected in her field–she is one of the smartest people I know and gets flown to conferences around the world and invited to the White House because of her expertise. She doesn’t get tenure because she’s in a field that academia does not reward with tenure and high pay. Women’s Studies is often one of the first programs cut when a college has to make cutbacks–it’s seen as expendible in a way that, say, biology is not. So, unless they are also teaching in another department as well, women’s studies professors don’t tend to be eligible for tenure, which means they don’t tend to make much money. And so my favorite professor, who has published books that were literally best sellers, crashes on futons at her former students’ houses when she takes the few vacations she can afford.

We had a lovely brunch while she was here, during which we had a great conversation about careers. And she said that she has noticed that her east coast friends tend to say things like “What a pity you never got tenure” as if her life is not complete and her career is not a success because she didn’t get that label. But that her west coast friends don’t seem to care much about titles like that, so they tend not to think much of her non-tenured status.

That cultural difference between easterners and westerners resonated with me too. Professionally, I am doing work that I find interesting that I think is important, but I will never be rich or famous doing this work. And honestly, I am OK with that. I am proud of the work I do, even if I do it quietly and without big monetary rewards. Living on the west coast, it feels easy to stay in a job that I am comfortable with, and that gives me the flexibility I need as a parent of small children, without feeling pressure to climb a ladder. I think if I lived back east, I might feel more pressure to move up than I do living in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve had parents of my east coast friends ask me how much money I make and say point blank that they think I should take a more high-pressure, prestigious job. As in “You want to do public interest work? No no no, you should get a job at a big firm and just donate your money to legal clinics or do a little pro bono work on the side.” (That one actually came from my ex-boyfriend’s dad. Thank god he dumped me, because that would have been one awful father-in-law.) I have never had that experience on the West Coast.

So, I was thinking of that conversation the other day as I was thinking about people who see momming as a competition. Like, they brag about how much better their kids are turning out than their friends’ kids, or they look down their nose at other moms who aren’t putting their kids in piano lessons and all that at an early age, or whatever. And I realized that one of the reasons I find people who talk that way so grating is that there aren’t as many of them out here as in, say, Manhattan. We worry about our kids and we want the best for them, but we just don’t seem to put the same value on external measures of success that Easterners do. I joke about The Girl curing cancer and The Boy founding the next Microsoft and taking care of me financially in my old age, but it’s a joke, and it’s funny because I don’t really care if my kids are big shots someday. What I care about is that they are happy. If curing cancer and being a billionaire entrepreneur make them happy, then great, but if they find their joy in a quieter field, and if they aren’t rock stars, that’s great too.

I think if I lived back east, I would find more parents who do see prestigious careers and status labels as the pathway to happiness, and I would probably feel a lot of pressure to pour all my resources into producing the next Bill Gates and Marie Curie. I would worry about choosing the right daycare that will get them into the right school that will get them into the right college that will get them access to the right people, so they can climb into a prestigious career that I believe will bring them happiness. When I talk to many of my east coast friends, the accepted wisdom among most of them is that this is how you create a good life for your kids.

In the end, I don’t necessarily think either parenting style is right or better. I think it’s just a cultural difference. The Cult of Perfect Motherhood tries to tell us that if we’re not parenting perfectly, then we are horrible people and our children’s futures are doomed. But, if different cultures place different value on things like financial success and status and prestige, then clearly there isn’t one perfect way to parent, and we are not failures for parenting differently. And that’s why competing with each other to see who’s the best parent because of how their kids turned out is futile. Because, some of us aren’t trying to produce rock stars. Our goals are different.

On Assholery: Part 2

A few weeks ago, my angry blaspheme-filled blog post On Assholery blew up. By blew up, I mean I had 200 times the usual hits on my blog, and zillions of comments. You’d think that would be a good thing, but it turns out that when your blog gets a lot of visitors, it doesn’t mean people actually read the blog and understood what you were saying. And the comments got extremely nasty. One woman posted about her post-partum depression and another commenter called her weak (in less nice terms) for having a mental illness. On a post about NOT BEING AN ASSHOLE. I deleted that one. My first deleted comment, pretty sure that means I am a real blogger now, right? Sigh. The little troll-free corner of the internet I had was fun while it lasted.

There were also a zillion “yeah, fuck breast feeders, they’re assholes” comments on that post. In fact, yesterday (which you may recall was CHRISTMAS), someone posted that breast feeding is child molestation and that women who breast feed are mentally ill. No, I am not making that up. I deleted that one too.

Guess what? I breast fed and pumped for The Girl, and I exclusively pumped for The Boy, for a year with each of them. The Boy got formula added to his breast milk in the NICU to help fatten him up faster, and we fed our kids the free can of formula you get in the mail unsolicited when you get pregnant, but otherwise, I fed them from my boobs. In fact, with both kids, I produced so much breast milk, we gave it away to other families to feed their kids with. I had boobs of steel, I was a poster child for the model breast feeding working mom. And you know what? I STILL think people who shit on formula-feeding moms are assholes. AND, I also think people who shit on breast feeding moms are assholes. Breast feeding is a perfectly healthy normal way to feed your child. It is not child molestation. It is not a mental illness. If you call someone a mentally ill child molester for feeding their child from their breast, you are an asshole. You are the reason we can’t have nice things. You are ruining our world.

Like, do I not make it clear, in every fucking post on this blog, that I think people who shit on other moms for doing it differently are being assholes? How could I be more clear about it? What would I need to do to make it more clear that this blog is, and always has been, about accepting that there are lots of different ways to parent, and there is no one right answer? DO I NEED TO WRITE IN ALL CAPS TO GET THAT THROUGH TO PEOPLE?!?! Christ on a cracker.

And what makes me the most frustrated is that I am probably feeding some trolls with this post. I wanted to share a post today about The Boy and his adorableness, because it’s the fucking holidays, and instead here I am, asking people yet again to stop being assholes. Just, seriously, stop it. I don’t want to have to write any more posts like this.

The Holidays

I have a theory that many of us are our shittiest selves at the holidays. Our mental illnesses seem to be inflamed. We stick our feet in our mouths more. We lose patience in lines and behave badly to strangers. We drink too much. We fall into the same tired, ugly arguments with our loved ones that have made our family gatherings shitty for eons. Maybe it’s just me, but talking to others, I think I am not alone. It’s like, all that joy and love and togetherness is just too much stimulation. There’s too many holiday events to go to, too many presents to wrap, too many people wanting a piece of our time–it’s too much pressure. TOO MUCH.

Last year, I finally said I had had enough and put my foot down. I realized it had been years since I had actually enjoyed Christmas. I was trying to help everyone around me have a great holiday, not wanting to let anyone down. Almost all our family lives in town, so everyone wants us to come over for a family event, which means multiple family events at Christmas time. And the kids seemed happy, and our parents seemed happy. But I was finding that every year I dreaded Christmas more and more. I was letting myself down, I guess. And I was getting angrier and more stressed out and more overwhelmed every year. Which made me my shittiest self to the people around me.

So, I called my parents and I said, “We’re not doing Christmas with you. It’s not that we don’t love you, it’s that I hate Christmas now and I hope by dialing it waaaaaaay down, I will learn to like it again.” My parents were understanding, and sounded genuinely concerned about me when I told them this, so they didn’t give me grief about our choice. My big sister was even more understanding, I think her response was “good for you for taking care of yourself and your family.” (She kinda kicks ass. What do I mean, kinda.)

And that’s why we had a very quiet Christmas last year. We didn’t drive all over town to 100 different holiday parties in December for all the different wings of our family. And on Christmas Day, it was just the four of us in our PJ’s, enjoying each other and the gifts we had received and watching A Christmas Story over and over. It was pretty damn awesome and when people asked me how it was, I told them, “It was FANTASTIC. BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how many of our friends expressed jealousy at our lovely quiet Christmas. Like, honestly, I was surprised how many people, of all ages, are doing the Christmas rounds out of a sense of obligation instead of because it brings them joy. Actually, it seemed to me that the world was made up of a mix of people who really DO get joy from all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and they are always happy to squeeze one more sleigh ride into their holiday schedule–those folks were shocked that I would want to be alone with the Hubs and the Kids on Christmas–and people like me, who were pretending to be the first people and wondering why they found no joy at the holidays.

I guess what I am saying is, if you feel like you aren’t your best self at the holidays, and you aren’t finding your joy in celebrating them, you aren’t alone. And this Christmas, my wish for you is a family as understanding as mine about my need to de-stress my life, and the courage to tell the people in your life that you love them, but you are going to dial it down for the holidays from now on.

Happy Holidays, you guys!

West Cracktown

The Hubs and I call our neighborhood West Cracktown. We live on a nice quiet residential street and our neighbors are a nice mix of 30-40-something professionals, older blue collar folks, and a group home for people with disabilities. Every year we have a block party that is really fun (although, it was more fun before the musicians on the block moved away–those were some cool jam sessions) and considering how strong the Seattle Freeze is, we have a pretty good community.

But, our block is very close to a major arterial known for its prostitution and drug activity. There are a lot of no-tell motels nearby where you can rent by the week. Rent by the week is code for “You can stay here when no apartment would rent to you because you look like a bad credit risk/you are a drug addict/you don’t have first and last month’s rent/etc.” When we first bought our house, the closest motel was mostly inhabited by construction workers, immigrant families with kids–folks trying to get themselves sorted so they could move into more stable housing. Perfectly lovely people to wait with at the bus stop on my commute to work. Good neighbors.

Then that motel went downhill and most of the occupants were pimps and hookers and drug dealers. The immigrant families and construction workers were gone. Crime started to be a problem in the neighborhood. Our car was broken into. Condoms started to appear on the street in front of our house–brightly colored ones, like orange or neon yellow. We started hearing news stories about the nearest motel–hookers stabbing their johns, or someone shooting someone else over drugs. Waiting at the bus stop became scarier, so I started riding a different route that was farther away and less nerve-wracking.

Then the nearest motel closed. Suddenly the pimps were gone, and we saw less condoms, and the bus stop wasn’t so scary anymore. That lasted a couple years before the crime settled into another nearby motel. Then our car was broken into again and we began chasing off johns and hookers. Basically, the neighborhood improves, and then falls back into sketchiness, over and over.

Raising kids here has thus required some thoughtful choices, but so far hasn’t been a real problem. In daytime, the neighborhood actually feels 100% safe, because hookers and pimps work the night shift, so you don’t see much of them in the daytime. The folks at the bus stop during daylight hours are usually commuters, or extremely polite homeless people who are kind to the kids and say how cute they are. So, we take the kids to the park to play with the other neighborhood kids, and we let them get in the ditch and all that good stuff. At night, well, our kids are pretty young, it’s not like they’re out roaming the neighborhood at 10PM. And therein lies the rub, because our kids won’t be small forever, and we want them to be able to be out at night without worrying about them. I want them to be able to ride the bus home from a concert without worrying about them getting jumped by a junkie.

And so, in a few years when The Girl starts kindergarten and isn’t going to the awesome perfect daycare by us any more, it will be time for us to move out of West Cracktown. We’ll miss our kind neighbors and our quiet street, but parenting kids of different ages sometimes means you make different choices. And the things that work for a family with young kids may not work for a family with older kids. Yet another reason not to judge other parents for doing it differently than you.