On Assholery

I am kinda pissed off right now. And when I say kinda, I mean I AM FUCKING PISSED OFF RIGHT NOW. I am pissed off enough that I am going to move beyond cursing and into the realm of blaspheming. Which, if you know me, you know that means that my frustration level is now at 11. And after you read this, you’re gonna be like “Damn, that Beth sure has a temper…but she also has a point.” Get the popcorn, because here I go.

Here’s the scenario, and you’ve probably seen this happen too: the Facebook page of a major retailer announced coupons on formula. Which is a good thing because formula is so ridiculously expensive. I mean seriously, is it made of Jesus poop or something? Why the hell is it so expensive? Anyway, of course because it has to do with feeding your child, a bunch of pompous windbags start commenting on the post that breast is best and formula is poison and anyone who feeds their kids formula is a horrible mother because they just didn’t try hard enough to nurse.

I CAN’T EVEN WITH THESE PEOPLE. Who the fuck do you think you are, Jesus Joseph and Mary? Seriously, what gives you the right to tell other parents how to care for their children? Do you honestly believe that calling someone a bad mother is going to make them change their ways? No really, I want to know if someone called you a bad mother for feeding your child a particular way, would that asshole’s behavior be the thing that made you say “I am going to give up breast feeding and buy some expensive formula?” Really?

I am not even going to go into the whole part about how there are lots of reasons that are completely beyond the control of a mother that would make her avoid breast feeding. Oh wait, yes I am. How about cancer treatment? Taking medications that are unsafe for baby? Milk production problems? Nipple trauma? HIV? A traumatic birth experience that made nursing impossible? Tuberculosis? Hepatitis C? Or, how about the kid is adopted? Shall I go on? Oh, you say, but that’s only a handful of people, you say, everyone else should be nursing, you say. A handful, really? How about one in 9 babies are born premature in the US every year, for a starter? Holy Mary mother of God, are you kidding me?

But that isn’t really the point. Because, this isn’t actually about breast vs. bottle, is it? The point isn’t whether a mom has a good reason to feed their baby a certain way. The point is, YOU have no good reason to be judging someone else for making choices about how to raise their own children. And this is the part where I go all libertarian liberal on you: how you choose to raise you kids is NONE OF MY BUSINESS. If you’re not abusing or neglecting them, or raising them in a way that harms my children, then who the hell I am to tell you how to be a parent? I am nobody, that’s who. AND SO ARE YOU. Speaking of blaspheming, how about a little judge not lest ye be judged? You think Jesus, or Buddha for that matter, would get on a message board and say “That is a bad mother right there, she feeds her kid formula”? REALLY?

Here is the thing, I’m gonna take a deep breath because clearly I am pissed, and screaming at you isn’t helping things. Iiiiiiiiinnnnnnhale, and exhaaaaaaaaalllle. OK. When you shit on another parent, what you are doing is keeping all of us, all moms, from moving forward. Your comments keep us from advocating for each other. Because of you, another mom will hide the truth of her life, out of fear that someone will tell her she is a bad mom. In short, it is your fault we don’t have universal preschool for our children and paid maternity leave. Because unless we stop shitting on each other and come together to fight for the things we need, we’re gonna keep right on working to pay for preschool for our kids when we should be on maternity leave with their younger sibling, which makes it much harder to breast feed, WHICH WAS THE THING YOU WERE TRYING TO PRMOTE WITH YOUR ASSHOLERY IN THE FIRST PLACE. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

Christ on a cracker, I can’t even with these people. Just, everyone stop it. Stop trying to convince the world that they should live YOUR way, and parent YOUR way, and just handle your OWN business. Just, STOP.

I’m OK, You’re OK

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about people who don’t have kids who go on and on about how they don’t want to have kids and how awful kids are. And she said I should write a blog post about it, and I said, “You’re right, I should.” Except, I also want to write about people who have kids and who say “What a shame they don’t have kids, they’re wasting their life” about people who don’t have kids. Or married people who say “You need to find a life partner, it’s not good to be alone” to single people. Or single people who say “How dumb are you to give up your freedom” to married people.

In short, I am writing today about people who think everyone should live like they do, who think their choices are the ONLY right ones. That anyone who chooses differently must be stupid. These people are assholes.

My dad has a saying, “Everyone ELSE’s hobby is crazy.” What he means is, we all have our own thing that makes us happy, and to other people that thing is completely unappealing. My local BFF loves running. My dad likes to write computer programs that calculate all the prime numbers up to one million. My mom makes cross stitch Christmas ornaments by the dozens. The Hubs has Dungeons and Dragons play dates with his work buddies. None of those things sounds like fun to me. Their hobbies are crazy…to me. But so what? So what if I find my joy in a different way than someone else? Wouldn’t the world be boring if we all liked the same things?

It’s easy to shrug off the “wow, that is crazy” talk when we’re talking about hobbies. But when we’re talking about more major life choices, it’s a lot harder. It feels like a very personal attack when it’s about your choice to have kids, or your choice to get married, or not.

I think where this all comes from is that a lot of people who make the asshole comments feel they have to justify their choices because some Judgy McJudgerson is gonna shit on them for that choice. So the childless person talks about how kids are such a burden all the time, because they feel like the couple with kids is going to think less of them for choosing not to have kids. Or the married and divorced and remarried person feels like they have to justify choosing marriage over singlehood, so they go on and on to the single person about how bad it is to be alone. Like, just own your choices, asshole–they work for you, and that’s OK. We are not all sitting around judging you for them, so stop trying to make yourself feel more secure about your choices by shitting on ours.

I also think people just too often don’t stop and think about how their words are going to be received. I mean, think of how the couple who is secretly struggling with infertility are gonna feel when that mom goes on and on about how kids complete your life. Or think how a person who wants to find love but hasn’t is going to feel when you tell them to hurry up because they’re not getting any younger. It’s not really helpful, is it? Sometimes we don’t actually have the ability to make the choices we want in our lives. Sometimes that choice to have a kid, or not, isn’t really a choice.

What I am trying to say to these assholes is, you’re being an asshole. Your choices are great for you, and mine are great for me, so stop trying to convince me that everyone should do what you do. I’m OK, you’re OK.

I am Judgy McJudgerson

Recently I had a conversation with a friend whose kids are grown. By that, I mean they are out of college, and working. But like many people of their generation, they are still financially dependent on their parents.

There’s been a lot written and said about the Millennial generation and how they just can’t seem to “grow up” and act like adults. Why are they living at home? Why aren’t they working harder? What is wrong with them?

I am going to confess something right now: I have been Judgy McJudgersoning the parents of Millennials. I have been “blaming” them for what is “wrong” with their children. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I am an asshole for that.

The story I had bought into about Millennials is this: their parents were a generation of helicopter parents, indulging them in everything they could possibly want, protecting them from the world, never giving them an opportunity to take risks, never making them work hard, helping them with everything along the way. So, now they are a bunch of entitled assholes who mooch off their parents instead of taking responsibility for their own lives. That is to say, Mommy fucked them up.

Just writing that out, I mean, what kind of a judgmental asshole am I for thinking that about someone? Let alone a whole generation?

Let’s start over. First off, as usual, when we talk about Millennials finishing college and not becoming self-supporting, let’s remember we’re talking about the ones who came from families who could afford to send them to college and then support them financially after they graduated. Is that what’s happening in poor communities? I think not. Poor Millennials are living a VERY different life than the ones we read about in the paper.

Then there’s the part where we don’t talk about the Great Recession killing off middle class jobs. It is not easy to work at Walmart (the job you can get these days when you have little work experience beyond whatever part time work you did to help pay for college) and pay off your student loans. Also, let’s remember that tuition costs have EXPLODED. When I graduated from a private college in 1998, tuition was around $20,000 a year. It’s more than twice that now, only 15 years later. Tuition at the public law school I graduated from in 2001 has TRIPLED, in just 12 years. It makes sense that middle class parents, who are much more likely to have good paying jobs than their children, are helping their adult children financially.

Also, is it so bad that the Millennial generation values things other than financial success? Like their relationships with others? And a sense of doing something good in the world? Why is any of that a bad thing?

See, The Cult of Perfect Motherhood tells you that you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Be completely dedicated to your children, read every study, apply every parenting tip, because if you don’t, you are going to ruin their lives. But if you DO apply every parenting tip, give them all your attention and meet all their needs, you are smothering them to death and they will never learn to stand on their own two feet.

Fuck that noise.

My friend is doing what she thinks is best for her kids. I am doing what I think is best for mine. We might make different choices, but we are living in different circumstances. And most importantly, we both love our children. She is not a bad parent and neither am I.

So, I am going to stop Judgy McJudgersoning the “helicopter parent” generation. I will keep talking about why I parent the way I do, and why I think parenting from a place of fear and guilt is not a good idea. But I will not put down other moms who made different choices than me, because just like me, they are doing what they think is best for their children.

And I will hope that the economy is less insane when it comes time for my kids to take flight.

School Aged Parenting

I am suuuuper lucky to live next door to an awesome licensed daycare, run by a woman who has an enormous heart. We moved into our house almost a year before The Boy was born, so we had some time living next door to the daycare before The Boy started there, which meant we had time to observe how awesome our neighbor is with kids. She’s like the Toddler Whisperer. If I had to deal with 8 kids ages 18 months to 5 years old, I would shoot myself. This woman says it’s her calling, she’s amazing. If you live in Seattle and you need childcare, drop me an email and I’ll send you her info.

An awesome daycare means you don’t have to worry about your kids’ safety. It also means you don’t have to worry about making them a healthy breakfast or lunch. And if you need a babysitter on a Friday night, you know someone awesome. Your life as a parent is made immeasurably better by a quality child care provider.

The only problem with finding an awesome daycare is, when your kid starts elementary school, it’s like being thrown into a tornado. Holy cow, there is so much crap we have to deal with for The Boy from his school. There are events all the damn time. There’s picture day, there’s show and tell, there’s projects, there’s fundraisers…it’s just a lot. Last year, the last week of school, we as parents were invited to attend 4 different events on four different days during working hours. FOUR. I mean, I love The Boy’s school and the staff are amazing and he is happy and learning…but really, four events that working parents would need to skip work to attend? In one week?

Not to mention, now you’re making breakfast and lunch again (because, that school lunch is terrifying, have you seen it? Yikes). And because our daycare was next door, transportation to elementary school is way more complicated than it was for daycare. We also don’t get to check in with his teacher every day about how things are going, like we did with daycare. And, it’s not like we’re saving that much money, because we have to pay for before and after care, since school days are shorter than work days. Plus, there’s the whole summer thing, and winter break, and spring break, and the zillions of teacher in-service days and early dismissal days.

I feel like elementary school is still set up to work for families that have a stay at home parent who has time to come to school on a Wednesday at 3PM for some event, and volunteer in the classroom, and watch the kids during mid-winter break (why do we need one of these? The semester JUST started two weeks ago and we need a week off already?). And, 3/4 of families in America don’t have a stay at home parent now. I have a super flexible job, but I can’t always come to events that happen during the work day. Imagine if you’ve got a job that doesn’t offer the flexibility to take time off like mine does–like you’re a single low-income parent who doesn’t get vacation and sick days. It’s not really a feasible choice for that parent to miss work for a school event, is it? I wish schools would do a better job of thinking about what works for all families, and making it easier on us. Because, kids learn better when their families aren’t over-stressed.

I’m coping with being a parent of a school-aged kid by remembering that what makes me a good mom isn’t how much I volunteer at The Boy’s school. It’s that I love my kids and I am helping them grow up strong and smart and kind. And that I have also found them wonderful adults who love them and want the best for them and are willing to help out. Because, there is no way in hell I could do this alone.

They’re Lying

My favorite weekend of the year is the one after Mother’s Day, because that’s when MamaCon happens. What is MamaCon, you ask? It’s only the most awesome event ever. Imagine a Star Trek convention, but replace the Trekkies with moms, and instead of sessions with William Shatner, you get sessions on getting your kids to eat their vegetables, organizing your home, and keeping your sex life vibrant. Oh, and did I mention you get spa treatments too? Mark your calendars for May 17, 2014.

Let me be clear: I am not getting a kickback from the organizers, Kim and Amy, who by the way are FABULOUS people, to talk up their event. I buy my tickets, just like anybody else. I just love their event so much that I want to do everything I can to keep it going, so I tell everyone I know about it. And people I don’t know. If MamaCon stopped happening, I might show up at one of their houses, drunk and sobbing, begging them to make it happen again, desperate for a fix of that sweet sweet mama me time.

I discovered MamaCon because I am kind of a Nikki Knepper groupie (you probably already figured that out from my gushing about her book, which you should buy–no, she isn’t giving me a kickback either) and in 2012, I heard she was going to be at this event called MamaCon. I didn’t care what MamaCon was, I just knew if Nikki was going to be there, I had to go so I could meet her. And I did, and she was just as awesome in person as I imagined, AND I got to discover how awesome an event MamaCon is, so, win-win. The following year, Nikki came back to town for MamaCon 2013, and by this time I had convinced half my friends to come too. A few of us made a weekend out of it, staying at the conference hotel and drinking a lot of wine and talking about our vaginas and poopy diapers and kindergarten tantrums, and just generally having a fantastic time.

Nikki was the Friday night speaker for the event, and after she spoke, she took questions from the audience. There was a newer mom in the audience who started talking about how hard it is to meet other moms like her. She said she feels like the moms she comes across are either not at all interested in their kids–they just want to go out and party and ignore their kids all the time, and she feels uncomfortable around them–or they’re all uber perfect moms whose kids always look happy and they have all these perfect little crafts they do together and they put photos of them on Facebook and she feels inadequate around them, because sometimes her kids drive her batty and she feels like her kids are a mess compared to her friends. She said, “How come their lives seem so perfect in their Facebook pictures?”

And my friend Katie, who was in the audience with us, shouted “BECAUSE THEY’RE LYING!!!” And Nikki came down from the stage and hugged Katie and said “Thank you! Finally someone says it.”

See, here’s the thing. Most people don’t put a photo of the horrible tantrum on Pinterest. They don’t take a video of their 18 month old crying for an hour at 2AM, and even if they did, they wouldn’t put it on Facebook. Instead, they share the positive times. The smiling kid who just lost his first tooth. The adorable toddler with pigtails and a party dress. The teenager hugging his mom. But these are not the majority of the moments we spend with our kids. That’s the highlight reel. The day in, day out slog of parenting that makes those special moments so precious and so shareable? That part doesn’t usually get to the Internet.

Which is why an event like MamaCon is so important. Because, it gives us a chance to get together with other moms in person, without the shield of Facebook to protect us from showing what is really happening with us. It’s not just the speakers, which are awesome, but the sisterhood, and the feeling that you are not alone, and that it’s OK not to be perfect and happy all the time. It’s OK to be struggling and weird and unique, just like all the other moms. It’s some powerful stuff.

I hope to see you, with all your flaws that make you special, at MamaCon 2014 on May 17!

You’re Not Helping

This is going to be a complaining post, and related to the one about “enjoying every minute because they grow up so fast.” My apologies in advance to people who don’t like complainers, because, you will not like this post. Nor will people who try to make complainers feel better by telling them how much worse things could be. Because, YOU’RE NOT HELPING.

Here’s the thing. When someone complains to you about their job or the traffic or their kids behaving badly or whatever, and you say to them, “Well, at least you have a job” or “Well, at least you can afford the gas to drive in that traffic” or “Well, at least you HAVE kids, some people can’t even get pregnant”…yeah, that isn’t helping. You are not making the person feel better by telling them how much worse it could be. All you have done is add a layer of guilt to whatever it was they were frustrated about. Is this person someone you like? If so, you have just made them feel worse instead of better. Congratulations. If you don’t like them? Then super congrats, because you have just been an asshole to them in a way that is somehow socially acceptable. But either way? You’re not helping.

Here’s another one: “That happens to lots of people, it’s just part of life.” Sure, car accidents and cancer and frustrating child behavior ARE part of life and they DO happen to lots of people. Does that make them not upsetting? You’re not helping.

And as much as I love the phrase for its snappy snarkiness, saying “first world problems” to someone complaining about their job or whatever is not helping either. See, here’s the thing: if I am an entitled asshole who is complaining about how the crew running my yacht were late and now I have missed happy hour in Monaco, you think it’s gonna make me a less entitled asshole to hear that that is a “first world problem”? Of course not, I am an entitled asshole. You’re not helping. If I am NOT an entitled asshole, then I am not complaining about something that is piddly to me. I am complaining about something that really is upsetting me. That children are starving in Africa does not mean I don’t get frustrated about my life sometimes. Reminding me that children are starving in Africa is not helping.

So, what do I want you to do instead? Well, if I were a magician and could wave a magic wand, I would make everyone just listen politely while the person complains and then say “Gee that’s too bad.” Consider “Gee that’s too bad” like hearing someone from the south say “Bless her heart.” It’s a polite way to say you don’t really care and change the subject. Is that helping either? No, but you know what? You’re not making it worse either.

Or, you know, you could say something that MIGHT help, like, “Are you looking for a new job? Because I know someone who is hiring” or “I know this sweet back road with no traffic, let me give you the directions” or “My kid did that too, you are not alone. You can survive this age by finding other moms going through it too.”

My belly looks like a butt and I don’t care

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff lately about that woman from California with the rock hard abs and the “what’s your excuse” photo. Angry stuff, “you go girl” stuff, and everything in between. None of it really spoke to me, though. No offense, awesome bloggers who I follow, it just didn’t speak to me. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I felt about the photo, and I have rewritten this post a lot, because I feel like talking about the issue of body image is one of those things where it’s easy to stick your foot in your mouth. Or at least, it’s easy for me to stick my foot in my mouth. But whatever, if you’ve hung in with this log this long, through an link to an Al Jazeera article, a martini without gin, and the love affair between Handy Manny and Kelly from the hardware store then this probably won’t drive you off. Here goes…

When I was pregnant with The Girl, I gained over 50 pounds. While nursing her, I lost all that weight, so I am now a little lighter than I was when I got pregnant, and in a healthy range for my height. All that weight gain/loss has left my belly looking like a butt. There’s all kinds of loose saggy stretch-mark-covered skin on there. At first, I looked at my belly in the mirror and said “What the fuck is that?” It was like seeing someone else in the mirror.

But now, I look at my belly and don’t really think anything of it. Like, it’s just how my belly is, and I don’t feel proud or ashamed or whatever. There are two big reasons for that: first, nobody sees me naked really except my husband, and he says he likes seeing me naked, so if he’s happy, there’s no one Judgy McJudgersoning my butt-stomach. The second reason is, I don’t define my value as a person around my body, especially parts of it I can’t control. Like the elasticity of my skin. I mean, we get older (or we die–getting older seems like the better of those two options) and our bodies change. Things sag and wrinkle. We get scars. That broken toe sets a little off and now it looks different. We start growing hair places we didn’t used to to have it, or stop growing it where it used to grow. All that is perfectly normal and natural and completely out of my control. I can’t stop my body from aging, so, I just don’t worry about it. I notice changes, sure, but then I get used to them, and that’s pretty much the end of me thinking about it.

I feel like in all the conversations around body image, there’s still this underlying assumption that what people look like under their clothes is important, or, that it’s even relevant to anyone who isn’t seeing them naked. I mean, I have no idea what most of my friends’ bellies look like. Maybe they all have butt-bellies, maybe they have fabulous rock hard abs, I don’t know. And even if I did, why should I care? Why should I care that that lady from California has rock hard abs? Why should she care that I don’t?

I mean, look, that woman clearly worked hard to look like that and she’s proud of that hard work, so, good on her for being happy. BEING HAPPY. Because, being happy is a good thing. It’s not the abs that are the good thing, it’s that she’s happy. Having rock-hard abs wouldn’t make me happy. It’s just not the relationship I have with my body. How my body looks doesn’t make me happy, or sad. I think the reason why that photo set off so many emotions for people is because it suggested that our abs are what all of us should care about. I would like to suggest that it’s OK to have a different perspective–to just not care how your body looks.

One of the things the Cult of Perfect Motherhood tries to tell us is that in addition to being completely dedicated to our kids, we also have to try to have a perfect-looking body too. Which is crap. Looking perfect does not make you a better mother. Feeling good so you can be there for your kids is what makes you a better mother. So, if working out on your abs makes you feel good, then great! Do it! If it doesn’t, and you’re happy and you feel good, then don’t let what other people might be thinking about your butt-stomach worry you. Because, unless they’re Judgy McJudgersons, they don’t care about your how your belly looks.

Cocktails with the Cult: Beth’s Dirty Martini

I’ve decided to start a new recurring series on booze. So, here’s how drinking works for me now that I am in my late 30’s: if I drink during the work week and then have to get up in time to get the kids ready and then commute to work? Yeah, that’s not happening. Also, if I drink more than 2 drinks on a weekend? I am going to be hung over, in fact, 2 is pushing it most times. There is no amount of water-drinking that will prevent that hangover. A couple times a year, I let loose and get completely sloshed, and the next day is always a disaster, which is why I rarely do it.

What this means is, because I don’t drink much or often, I am a lot more choosy about my booze. Since my only drinking is one cocktail on a Saturday, I don’t want to waste that drink on crap like I did when I was a college student. So, my days of Popov vodka and OJ are gone, and replaced with higher quality cocktails.

Of course, I am too tired to be going out for cocktails. I haven’t had more than a couple of nights of decent sleep in a row since before The Girl was born, and today is her second birthday. Once in a while, The Hubs and I will get a babysitter and go out, but honestly, my cocktails are mostly made at home. It costs less money that way too. So, we have a pretty good selection of quality booze in our pantry, and I am always on the lookout for new cocktail recipes. Recipes that I will share with you in this new recurring series.

Oh hi Judgy McJudgerson, are you worried about my kids becoming alcoholics because they have seen me drink? Or that they’ll raid my liquor cabinet? I’m not. I firmly believe the dumbest thing you can do is shelter your kids from the world. I think teaching them about safe non-binging ways to drink, like a single cocktail, and explaining to them about how booze affects people, especially kids, especially teenagers who are driving cars, is the right way to raise my kids. You disagree? Great, then you do it differently. I will be over here with my cocktail.

Alright, onto today’s recipe: my version of a dirty martini. You may have figured out by now that I am a vodka drinker, not a gin drinker. If you are a gin snob, I will understand if you never read my blog again after this post. You can go hang out with the Glenn Beck fans who stopped reading after I shared that article from Al Jazeera.

My dirty martini is a simple drink, with not a lot of ingredients, so you want those ingredients to be of good quality. I have my own favorite brands of vodka–Crater Lake is my new favorite, but may not be available in your part of the world. I used to drink Stoli because it’s not bad and it’s readily available, before the whole Russia-hates-gay-people thing happened. Just buy a vodka that tastes smooth to you, not like rubbing alcohol. What I mean is, don’t buy cheap vodka. Buy a middle-level or top shelf vodka. And for the love of god, store your vodka in the freezer. Room temperature vodka is just wrong.

Next, you need some dry vermouth. I use Boissiere. There may be better brands out there, I don’t know that much about vermouth. I cannot express how disappointed you will be if you try to make this drink with sweet vermouth.

And then there are the olives. You want green olives, and you want them to come in a jar with some brine, and you want them to look yummy, not all shriveled and sad. If you want to be really fancy, get some stuffed with blue cheese (OMG SO DELICIOUS) or hit the olive bar at Whole Foods. I personally get a fancy looking jar from my regular grocery store.

So here’s how I put this drink together, and my apologies to the bartenders of the world who will certainly tell me I am doing it wrong. You can go read some other blog with the gin snobs and the Glenn Beck lovers–or better yet, perhaps you could come over and mix me one? Because, that would be awesome too. What I do is, I take my martini glass (don’t have one? Pretty sure this would work out OK in a kid’s plastic cup from Ikea–I can hear bartender brains exploding even more) and I put in a splash of the dry vermouth. Just a splash, not a shot. Then I put in a splash of the brine from the olive jar–this is what makes it “dirty.” If you like it very dirty (snicker, I said dirty), put more brine in there. Then I pour in some vodka to fill the glass–not up to the rim, because there’s gonna be some olives in there.

Next, I take a martini pick (or a toothpick if you don’t have martini picks) and I put 3 or 4 olives or 5 on it. And I use that martini pick to stir the martini. I do not shake my martini with ice because that just waters down your martini. Also, because almost all of this drink is vodka that has been in the freezer, you don’t need ice. It’s already cold. This would be part of the genius of vodka over gin.

And that’s it! You now have a little taste of heaven to help you unwind on Friday night. Cheers!

“Enjoy every moment because they grow up so fast”

There are so many awesome mom bloggers out there who have written on the subject of people telling moms “enjoy every moment because they grow up so fast.” But since the word apparently hasn’t gotten out to the people who keep saying this bullshit, and they keep saying it, and since I keep talking to moms who feel guilty when they hear this, apparently there’s room in the world for another post on it. So here we go.

When a mom of younger kids hears the phrase “enjoy every moment, they grow up so fast,” it’s usually in the context of that mom expressing frustration with the challenges of raising a young child. Like, sleep deprivation, poopsplosions, tantrums, chapped nipples from nursing…the list goes on. So, the mom complains about these things, because are they fun things? No, they are crappy things. They are complain-worthy things.

So then someone else, usually someone with older kids, says, “enjoy every moment, they grow up so fast.” What?!?! Enjoy the poopsplosion? Enjoy the chapped nipples? Are you insane?

I think what the “enjoy every moment” person is trying to say is, “You think it’s bad now, wait until they’re teenagers and they talk back and try drugs and get the clap.” Yep, teenagers are hard to parent. I worked with teenagers when I worked at summer camp, and it wasn’t even remotely easy. It was HARD, and I wasn’t even their parent. Having a child who is actively rebelling against you and trying to push you out of their lives so they can be an adult? That has got to be painful, and I am not looking forward to those days.

But please stop comparing your crap to someone else’s and trying to make them feel bad because you think you have it worse. Because, the phrase “enjoy every minute because they grow up so fast” is experienced by the mom who hears it as a guilt trip. What that mom of younger kids hears is, “You are a bad person who doesn’t love her children, otherwise you’d be enjoying every moment and not complaining.” The reason she hears that is because that younger mom is living in The Cult of Perfect Motherhood, where you’re supposed to be completely dedicated to your kids. The Cult tells us that admitting motherhood is hard, and that not every moment of it makes us happy, makes us bad parents. That if we aren’t positive and happy all the time, we don’t love our children. See, this whole “enjoy every moment because they grow up so fast” thing is making The Cult stronger. Which is why the rest of us have to keep writing blogs like this, to help deprogram our readers.

Here’s another reason why it’s not helpful to say “enjoy every moment because they grow up so fast”: because telling someone how to feel is stupid and pointless. If I am feeling frustrated, and someone says to me, “Don’t be frustrated, be happy,” do I say, “Oh, be HAPPY! Yes of course, I will just stop being frustrated now that you have told me to. Thank you! All I needed was for someone to tell me how to feel, and now I feel exactly the way you told me to.” I mean, maybe I would if I was being a smart ass, but I sure as shit wouldn’t actually feel happy just because you told me to. Feelings are not rational. You can’t reason them away. And you certainly can’t order them away with a simple “enjoy every moment because they grow up so fast.”

If everything I’ve said already isn’t enough, let me put this out there: imagine a mom struggling with raising a child with special needs. Maybe, like me, their baby came early and they have to spend the first winter of their child’s life terrified of a simple cold killing their child. Or maybe they’ve learned their child has a chronic medical condition that is going to seriously impact them for the rest of their life. That mom may not look like it on the outside, but she’s probably not in the best state emotionally at that exact moment. Telling her that her enjoyment levels aren’t as high as you think they should be isn’t going to make that mom feel better. Trust me on this one.

Look, I know this is coming off as harsh. And I get that people who say “enjoy every minute because they grow up so fast” are not trying to guilt other moms. I get that. Honestly, I think it’s coming from a place of nostalgia, because we often remember the good times and the cuddles and burbly smiles, instead of the projectile vomit and the sleep deprivation. But The Cult is a powerful thing, and I wish that people who say “enjoy every minute because they grow up so fast” would look at how their words might be received. And then think some more. And then maybe say something else instead.

Who’s That Lady?

A few folks have asked me who that dour looking woman is here on this blog. She’s one of my personal heroes, Julia Ward Howe. The Indigo Girls (who I discovered at Girl Scout camp as a teenager) have a song called Virginia Woolf about becoming a friend of Woolf’s through the pages of her books. I feel that way about Julia Ward Howe. I think if she was alive today, she and I would have a laugh and a cry together about motherhood and writing and balancing family and work. That is to say, I think she’s one of us, and I’d like to introduce you all to her, Drunk History style, except I happen to be sober right now (alas).

Julia (we’re old friends, so I am allowed to call her by her first name) was born in 1819 into an affluent family in New York. Her mom died when she was very young, and so she was raised by her extremely overbearing dad who didn’t let her go to parties or meet people. She was a total brainiac, and read EVERYTHING, and was super serious about learning and writing, even as a child. Eventually her dad died, which meant she was free to go out and meet people and find herself a husband. And she did: Samuel Gridley Howe, a social reformer who ran a school for the blind outside of Boston. Everyone called him The Chevalier, or Chev for short, even Julia.

Now, the problem with fairy tales is that they end with the happy couple getting married, and they don’t show what happens AFTER the honeymoon. In real life, a lot of people don’t live happily ever after, and in Julia’s case, man, was there a lot of drama in that marriage. It turned out she had married a guy as overbearing as her father, who didn’t want her to have any kind of public life or be a writer–he wanted her to only run the household, and be completely dedicated to their children, and that’s it, nothing else. This was Cult of True Womanhood time, and Chev wanted his wife to be a True Woman all the way. Living so far outside Boston, she rarely got to hang out with friends or go out to dinner or the opera or do much of anything, other than run her household and watch her children. It didn’t take long for her to get really sick of having no outlet for that giant brain of hers.

So she started writing poetry about how shitty it was being stuck out in the country with a bunch of little kids and no adults to talk to but her overbearing husband. And THEN she got the poetry published, anonymously but EVERYONE knew it was her. Chev was super embarrassed, AND pissed, and he told her to stop writing. And she told him she’d be more domestic and compliant, but she was like, “Whatever, I am going to keep on writing, good luck trying to stop me.” And she wrote more angsty poetry that she had published that pissed Chev off and he yelled at her some more. And she cried a lot and felt hurt and frustrated, because it’s not easy being a writer in 1850 when your husband, who you love, wants you to have no life beyond raising your kids and running your household.

And then she wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and got suuuuuuuper famous, and she published more and made a lot of speeches and tried to change the world and get women the vote and stop war from happening. And Chev got more pissed, and sometimes her kids took Chev’s side and yelled at her too, and she still said, “Whatever, this is who I am, I can’t change who I am.” And she kept on writing and making speeches and just doing Julia as best she could. Then Chev died, and she didn’t have to balance pleasing her husband and being domestic, with writing and speaking and trying to change the world.

Julia is also famous for kind-of inventing Mother’s Day. But not like Mother’s Day that we celebrate today. She wanted moms to take a day away from their regular domestic chores to come together to talk about how to make the world a better place for their children. She was an idealist, and believed in the power of motherhood to work as a positive force in the world, that moms working together could make the world a better place. I believe that too.

Reading Julia’s letters and poems, what strikes me is how honest she was about how she felt and what was happening in her life, AND how relevant her writings still are 150 years later. I know so many women who struggle with being their own person and also being a good mom. They feel guilty for taking time away from their children to have a career or even hobbies or other activities that aren’t directly related to their children. Being a parent DOES mean making choices and doing stuff you’d rather not. But if they give up those outside activities, then they feel bored, or worse, like they have lost who they are. As Julia said, “In giving life to others, do we lose our own vitality and sink into dimness, nothingness, a living death?”

Julia didn’t find escaping the Cult of True Womanhood any easier than it is for us to escape the Cult of Perfect Motherhood today. It came with tears and arguments and feeling like everyone around her was judging her for not being what the world told her she should be. But she fought against the cult anyway, and she found satisfaction in being both a mother AND a fully realized human being. She’s an inspiration to me and I wish I could have met her in person instead of through her writings. I like to think that wherever she is now, she’s reading this blog and saying “Rock on sister!”