Brown Sign Vacations

I have a friend from college who once told me that someday she wanted to take a vacation where she just got on the highway and pulled over at every brown sign she saw. You know, the ones for national and state parks, and historic sites, things like that. I have always thought this was a BRILLIANT idea. When I was a kid and we’d take road trips and I’d see a brown sign for a random historical marker or whatever, I always wanted to pull over and see what it was. Those brown signs made me so curious! The idea of a vacation where you get to indulge that curiosity completely just sounded so appealing to me.

A few weekends ago, The Fam and I took a road trip to visit Mt. St. Helens. I was 3 1/2 when the mountain had its big eruption, and it’s always been a source of fascination for me. When I was a kid, we’d drive down to Vancouver (yes, there is a Vancouver in Washington, not just in BC) to visit my grandparents and I rememeber waking up in the morning and having to brush ash off our car from whatever mini-eruption the mountain had had overnight. The Boy is now at an age where he is fascinated by destruction and death and when I explained we had a volcano in our state, he HAD to learn more about it. So we watched some videos online and he asked a gazillion questions about Harry R. Truman. Or, I should say, he asked the same question over and over again–why didn’t he leave when they told him to? It’s fun trying to explain the complex relationship that the elderly have with death, to a 6-year-old.

Now that The Boy was so excited about Mt. St. Helens, of course it made sense to take a road trip down there. So, we piled into the car with a cooler full of snacky/lunchy stuff and an overnight bag, and hit the road. And when we saw the brown sign for Mt. St. Helens, we turned off the highway and headed to see it. Shout out to the Forest Service for having such awesome visitor centers that both educated and terrified my son. Seriously, that video at the Johnston Ridge Observatory scared the pajeebers out of my kid, but then he didn’t have any more questions about how the eruption happened either!

After eating our picnic lunch, we headed back down the mountain and to the freeway and visited Ft. Vancouver, which also has a brown sign on the highway, and is also awesome. They even had a blacksmith working in the blacksmith shop! and a tower with a gazillion stairs to climb, which The Girl loved.

We spent a night in a hotel in downtown Vancouver. The next morning, we had breakfast with my sister, and then our real Brown Sign Vacation began: we told The Boy to watch out for brown signs, and the first one we saw, we pulled over. Turns out it was for Battle Ground Lake State Park, which was 1o miles off the interstate and would be a great spot for camping, but it didn’t have a playground or a big run-around-crazy space for little kids. Besides, The Girl had fallen asleep in the car. So, we drove around the park and then headed back to the interstate.

The next brown sign was for the John R. Jackson House and Lewis and Clark State Park. By then, The Girl had woken up, and the kids ran around the outside of the Jackson House, and then had a BLAST at Lewis and Clark State Park. There were swings, and a creek with a wooden bridge you could walk across, and daisies to pick, and big trees to hug, and super cool cook shelters to wander around in. I am now trying to figure out when we can do a camping trip down there, it was that cool of a park. Shout out to all the Civilian Conservation Corps workers who built such awesome things during the Great Depression, including to buildings in this awesome park.

Our final brown sign stop? The State Capitol. And it happened to be open for visitors to walk around in, so The Boy learned about how the legislature works, and also about building materials and different types of Greek columns. And both the kids got to walk up and down the gazillions of stairs in that building (seriously SO MANY STAIRS) and rub George Washington’s nose.

What’s coolest about a Brown Sign Vacation is, it lets super-control-freak-Me slow down and try new things and be spontaneous. I am one of those people who usually plans my vacations 2 years in advance down to the minutest details of our itnerary–but this trip reminded me that it’s also fun NOT to plan and just let the wind take you where it may. And a Brown Sign Vacation also teaches the kids that sometimes the thing you go to see is super cool, and other times, it turns out it wasn’t THAT exciting of a place to visit, but that’s OK. Not everything in life is going to be OMG SO AWESOME, some things are going to be a disappointment, and we just move onto the next thing.

Get In That Ditch

A few weeks ago was The Hubs’ birthday, and we had a backyard BBQ. The Hubs loves to cook for people, so he smoked some ribs and grilled up some burgers and people brought their kids and we all hung out in our back yard. The weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny, as it had been for pretty much the entire month of July. Our grass is nicely toasted brown now, because the hell I’m going to pay to water something that will grow back just fine when the rain comes. And it WILL come, because this is the Pacific Northwest.

Behind our house is an alley–a private dirt road, really, along which runs a ditch. A drainage ditch, although it rarely fills with rain even in the winter, and at this time of year, with it being so dry, it was extremely dusty. You can see where I am going with this, right? The Boy and his friends (two other boys and a girl) asked if they could play in the ditch, and we said, “ABSOLUTELY. Get in that ditch.”

I think I just heard the Judgy McJudgersons of the world’s heads collectively exploding. I am sure this has caused a great disturbance in the judging force, as if a million judgers screamed out in pain and then were silenced. Even my friends at the party, who heartily agreed with each other that we should let the kids play in the ditch, felt a little uneasy about how the world might see their decision. Still, they all agreed I should blog about us sitting around the patio drinking alcohol while telling the kids to go get in the ditch. I think they felt that we were behaving the opposite of how parents are supposed to behave.

See, The Cult of Perfect Motherhood tells us we must remain ever vigilant and constantly protect our children from any potential danger. A ditch is rife with perceived dangers: a flash flood could suddenly wash our children away. There might be dangerous items in the ditch. The ditch is filthy; who knows what germs may lurk in the ditch! Someone who has not been deprogrammed from The Cult would definitely see ditch-playing as a bad idea.

But, the thing with perceived dangers is, many of the things we are so afraid of are such remote possibilities that I am more likely to win the lottery than to actually experience them. A flash flood in Seattle? When it hasn’t rained in a month? And when it does rain, it’s a drizzle? I’ll take my chances, thanks.

Other things we perceive as dangerous to our kids are only dangerous because we don’t teach our kids how to react when they come across them. If any of our kids HAD found a knife or whatever in the ditch, they have been taught what to do–leave it there and tell an adult–and what not to do–run around trying to stab each other with it. If you teach your kids what to do when they approach a dangerous situation, they are much less likely to come to harm. Because potential danger is everywhere, you can’t keep them from it forever. (Did you see Tangled? If that crazy lady couldn’t pull it off, I sure as hell can’t. She was way more focused and motivated than me.)

And as for drinking, do not get me started on people who judge others for having a beer at a BBQ. Alcoholism is a real serious problem. A beer at a BBQ is not. It’s like feminists who focus on spelling women with a Y, instead of real problems like pay equity and domestic violence and the billions of women in this world living in poverty with all that entails. The Y is not the problem. The beer at the BBQ is not the problem. You are wasting your energy on things that are trivial. Oy, see, you got me started.

Besides, there is a good reason to sit and have a beer at a BBQ with the other parents. Remember my tips about how to escape the Cult? Remember the one about connecting with other parents? A BBQ is a great place to do that, but only if you aren’t too busy chasing after your kids in case they find a knife in the ditch.

Great moms who have escaped The Cult of Perfect Motherhood let their kids play in ditches and get filthy and have fun. And they connect with other moms over a drink and some awesome ribs while their kids play in the ditch. So, if it’s dry where you are, tell your kids and their friends to get in that ditch, and have a drink. It’s what great moms do.

One of Those Days

Once in a while, I have one of those days. You know, where the kids won’t do a thing I ask them to, then throw colossal crying screaming meltdowns. I had one of those this week—actually, it was only one of the kids, The Boy. The Girl, bless her heart, was all sunshine and roses and “I love you mama” and honest to god she was petting me. Which is super sweet, but less than helpful when her brother is literally having a screaming crying fit at that exact moment and I’m trying to get him to calm down. Yes, attention-seeking girl, I see what you’re doing there. You’re showing how you’re so good and thus so much more deserving of attention than your brother, and though I’d like to reward your positive behavior, I’m gonna need you to step back and go hang with your dad right now.

It’s funny, The Boy has always been a really laid-back, mellow kid. We made it to age 4, when I was ginormously pregnant with The Girl, before we had our first “I am carrying you out of this store kicking and screaming” moment with him. Now, before anyone says I am bragging, let me remind you of Monday’s post about sleeping. It is not because I’m a good mom that The Boy slept through the night so quickly, and it is not because I’m a bad mom that The Girl didn’t. The Boy has always been pretty chill, and people try to tell me it’s because I’m a good mom, but it’s not. It’s because he just IS chill. Know how I know? Because his sister, raised in the same damn environment, is not chill. She’s a bossy drama queen. She has to go cry in the corner when she doesn’t get what she wants and then when she’s calmed down she rejoins the group. DRAMA. That morning was a strange role-reversal for them.

What’s hard for me on days like that one, is, I’m good at the “don’t say it’s because I’m a good mom” part but I’m much worse at the “his drama is not because I’m a bad mom” part. That is one of the biggest barriers to escaping the Cult of Perfect Motherhood. Know why? Because our society is very very very good at making women deferential, but it’s very very very bad at teaching women to toot our own horns. We’re quick to find fault with ourselves (and each other—who hasn’t gotten a nasty stare from another woman at the mall when your kid is misbehaving?) when our kids are driving us nuts. It’s easy to say “If only I was more patient with him, he wouldn’t be having this tantrum” or “If only I was more firm with him, he wouldn’t be having this tantrum” or “If only I read the right book on parenting, he wouldn’t be having this tantrum.” When in reality, HE is having the tantrum, not me. He is his own human being, separate and independent from me. His behavior is not my behavior, it’s his. His choices are not my choices, they’re his.

It may sound like I feel like I’m not doing anything to parent my child, that anything I do is futile because he is going to be how he is going to be. I don’t feel that way at all, actually. Parents CAN influence their children in a variety of ways—we can teach them values and skills and all kinds of things. But we can’t make them have a certain temperament, and we can’t change how their bodies work, and we can’t prevent them from ever being sad. Having a kid who is upset does not make me a bad mother. And sometimes, I have to write it so that I will feel it, to help shut up that voice in my head that says “Maybe you aren’t cut out for this after all.”

Which brings me back to that morning. The Hubs, who is a genius, said that he thinks what’s going on with The Boy is that he’s super nervous about going back to school—he starts first grade in September—and that because he was at a party yesterday with school friends, it brought all his worries to the surface. And sure enough, that very afternoon after picking him up from daycare, The Boy asked if he and I could go have a “grown up talk” and during our talk, he told me he was scared about going back to school and worrying his friends wouldn’t like him anymore and that he would have trouble making new friends.

I can’t make The Boy not worry about school starting back up. But I can do my best to help him process his fears and move forward, and maybe we’ll have fewer tantrums in the mornings. But even if he’s still upset after that, and even if The Girl is a bossy drama queen, I’m a good mom. And I need to keep reminding myself of that.

Sleeping Through the Night

When you are deciding to start a family, there is a lot of stuff you know, but you don’t KNOW it and you can’t KNOW it until you actually have that baby. One of those things is sleep deprivation. You know you’re going to be feeding the baby at 2AM, but you don’t KNOW what that is like until you’re living it. Like, people say “You’re going to be so exhausted” and you believe them, but you don’t UNDERSTAND what they’re saying until you’ve experienced extreme sleep deprivation. It is a hell of a thing that I can’t even put into words really, probably because when you’re that tired, that entire period of your life becomes a blur that you can’t really remember properly because you were too tired to know what the hell was happening around you. This would be the #1 reason why I think we need paid maternity leave in this country, because ain’t nobody doing their best work when they’re that tired. Seriously, when you’ve been running on 4 hours of sleep a night for 3 months, is it even safe for you to be behind the wheel of a car to drive yourself to work? Do you want to be on the road with that person? I didn’t think so.

When we had The Boy, he came home from the NICU on August 1, and on the night of my birthday in early October, he began sleeping through the night. And when I say sleeping through the night, I mean 12 hours straight, every night. People used to congratulate me on it, and ask me what I’d done to get him sleeping through the night so quickly. I was like, “Damned if I know.” Really, I had no idea why he was such a good sleeper. But people would press me for my secret, as if I had learned some special wisdom somehow, like I was the Baby Whisperer or whatever. I actually had people say to me, “It’s because you’re such a good mom and you’re so laid back, that’s why he is able to sleep so well.”

Then I had The Girl. She’s now almost 2 and there are still nights she’s up at 2AM, just AWAKE and wanting to play or talk or whatever. She also screams in her sleep a lot, for no apparent reason. I’m guessing nightmares maybe? Perhaps she farted and it scared her? She is just a really really bad sleeper, always has been, maybe always will be. At first I sought out advice about how to get her sleeping better, thinking maybe there WAS some trick I could learn that would help her sleep through the night and if I just learned the right trick, I’d finally be able to get a good night’s sleep. But you know what? People have all kinds of ideas about what they think worked with their kids, but none of it may work for your kid. None of it worked for my kid.

One of the tenets of the Cult of Perfect Motherhood is that there is some body of knowledge out there that you need to acquire in order to raise your kids the right way, and in fact, that there IS a right way to raise your kids. And if you just find the RIGHT book, it’s going to teach you how to get your kid to sleep through the night, because there is a perfect motherhood out there, and you must try to live it. But, kids are all different. Some of them sleep through the night for no reason, and some of them don’t sleep through the night for no reason. Some of them walk early and some of them walk late, some of them have disabilities and some of them don’t. Some are great eaters and some are not. There is no one right way to parent your kid. Every kid is different and every parent is different. People can share ideas and advice, and it may be completely useless to you, or even destructive. And it doesn’t mean they’re bad parents, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It just means, every kid is different and there is no such thing as the one right version of motherhood.

Blogging Kicks Ass

When I started this blog, it was mostly so I could write stuff down and get it out of my head. I didn’t know if anybody would bother reading it, or if they did, if they would find it interesting. What’s been coolest about this is, people HAVE found it interesting, and have shared it with each other and had conversations about it on Facebook. Even famous people (whose book you should go buy right now. No seriously, I’ll wait. And no, she’s not giving me any kickbacks, I just like her book that much) have shared stuff I’ve written. And what my readers think about what I write, what they say about what I write, is often not what I thought people would think when I wrote it. Which is just WAY WAY WAY cool.

Let me give an example: the Judgy McJudgerson post. I wrote it not thinking about this one friend of mine at all–she’s never Judgy McJudgerson’d me and I think of her as super supportive of the moms in our circle. But when she read it, she thought, “Oh wow, that is so me. Beth just called me out on my BS and she is right.” What? Really? Turns out she’s what a mutual friend of ours calls a “car seat nazi.” I had no idea, perhaps because I don’t post photos of my kids in their car seats that often, or when I do, they are properly buckled? Anyway, she read what I wrote and took away the lesson I intended (take a deep breath and remember your friend isn’t an idiot before you comment), even though, I didn’t intend that message to be directed at her.

Meanwhile, some other friends had a discussion about it in the context of feeling like you are a crappy mom who doesn’t have it together and being bitter about the moms who DO seem have it together. So, they are not judging someone for being a bad mom, they are judging them for being too good of a mom. Which also comes from a place of fear of our own inadequacies as parents, right? And THEN they talked about Judgy McJudgersoning themselves. Because we are all Judgy McJudgerson. Deeeeeeeep.

All of this reminds me of good times in college, living in the dorms and staying up waaaaay too late talking about deep thoughts. It felt cool, like our brains were going to change the world with their amazing ideas that got better and better as they bounced around the room off each other’s brains. That’s what blogging feels like to me–I launch an idea, and the people who read it take it and add to it and make it richer and more powerful.

So, thank you to all of you for reading, and then thinking and talking about what I write. This blogging thing kicks ass!

The Girl

I’ve written a bit about The Boy’s entry into the world, but I’ve hardly written at all about The Girl. She’s turning two in October and I’m pretty sure I’m not just bragging when I say she’s crazy smart. She’s talking in 6-word sentences, has been for a few months now. When we took her to her 9-month check-up and the doctor asked if she was crawling, we said, “She’s actually walking now” and his mouth dropped open. She was 9 pounds when she was born 4 days after my due date. Yes, after having one kid 3 months early, I had the second one a little bit late, and man, was that last month looooooooong.

Having a pregnancy after having had a preemie is kind of a trip. Despite having a great team of doctors who I trusted and who assured me everything was looking fine for me to go full term, I spent the first 36 weeks of the pregnancy terrified that I was going to have another preemie. The most “fun” moment came when, at the exact point in the pregnancy with The Boy when things had gone all wrong (26 weeks 6 days), I got a voice mail from my doctor’s office saying they had test results they needed to discuss with me. I had just had my gestational diabetes test (which I never had with The Boy because I gave birth before I got to the point where they were going to test me), and I was sure they were calling to tell me I had GD, and I knew that people who have GD are more likely to have a preemie than people who don’t have it, and what if I had it last time around and didn’t know it…it took a bit to get ahold of the nurse to get my test results and I spent that time laying on the couch crying while The Hubs tried to soothe me. And when she called with the results, the GD test was negative and she was just calling to tell me I was anemic still/again/as always and needed to take more iron, that’s all. Trauma is a hell of a thing.

When I hit 37 weeks, full term, then I was ready to be done. I mean, READY. I have heard a lot of preemie moms say that it makes them crazy to hear people complain about the end of a full-term pregnancy, about swollen ankles and aches and insomnia and whatever, because they would have killed to have that experience instead of the NICU. But as someone who’s done both, I mean yeah, it’s better to stay pregnant than have a kid in the NICU, duh. But that doesn’t mean that last month of a full-term pregnancy doesn’t suck. For me, it did suck, less than the NICU of course, but I was miserable. I just wanted that baby OUT. My PTSD got pretty bad, and the frequent phone calls from everyone and their uncle asking if I had the baby yet didn’t help. It was another moment when I had zero control over what was happening with my body, and that scared me. When I went to my 40-week appointment and they were like, “Yup, no sign she’s coming out right now, see you next week” I wanted to scream “GET THIS GODDAMN BABY OUT OF ME RIGHT NOW OR I WILL CUT YOU.” But I didn’t, because although I think inappropriate things all the time, I don’t usually say them unless I’m drunk. Or writing a blog.

Eventually she did come out, and I got to experience all the tearing and pooping that comes with pushing a 9 pound baby out your hoo-hah. I think a lot of people thought that having a full-term baby would make my trauma from having a preemie go away, or be less, or something, and probably deep down I was hoping this too, but I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t. That’s just not how trauma works, you can’t magically make it go away. But it was nice to now know what full-term labor is like—turns out, it’s a LOT of tearing and pooping. Seriously, y’all, I think my husband is still scarred from seeing that much poop come out of me. He still talks about it almost 2 years later. But I think we both agree that all that tearing and pooping was totally worth it.

Seriously? What year is this?!?!

I say this all the time. No, really, every time I read something like this. Or like this. Or like this, this, and this. It’s like we’re living in an episode of Mad Men, except nobody I know looks like Don Draper and it’s not socially acceptable for me to have a bottle of vodka on my desk at work anymore. All the sexual harassment of 1960, none of the fun.

I’ve written before about the Cult of True Womanhood, and students of 20th century history may have read what I wrote and said, “Hey! That sounds just like the 1950’s.” YES. Women made all that fantastic progress during World War II and then, holy crap, the post-war era happened. Was this a great time for women’s liberation? Not so much. But, remember what I said about progress? And how it’s steps in the right direction, and you don’t give up trying or declare victory just because you made a few steps forward or took a few steps back. No, you keep trying and fighting and dragging society kicking and screaming towards justice. And it takes time, and it’s hard and slow, but we keep our eyes on the prize, right?

So here we are again, in yet another nadir of progress for women’s rights. Sure, things are great for gay folks and their rights right now, and I cried with joy when I read the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA. (I was on a bus on the way to work, reading it on my smart phone. The people on the bus all looked at me like I was crazy. It was awesome.) There are good days sometimes for those of us who lean left, and that was definitely one of them. But then it becomes the summer of anti-choice legislation and women not being allowed to bring tampons into the Texas Capitol building because, watch out, those Tampax are dangerous. You might put someone’s eye out with that thing. Also, eew, keep away from me with your lady products. You’re grossing me out just thinking about something every woman does every month for decades and decades of their lives. Women’s bodies are gross, mmmkay? This is why we have to pass laws telling you what to do with them. OY. Seriously, what year is this?!?!

It gets really hard to keep fighting these fights. I get it, I am tired too. But part of being a woman, especially one who is a mom, is knowing that we have to keep fighting for equality. Because I don’t want my daughter living in some Handmaid’s Tale dystopian future. Hell, at this rate, if we don’t fight for it, she won’t even have access to birth control when she is a stupid teenager and she thinks that guy in her class is SO CUTE and it turns out he’s got the clap AND she’s pregnant and OMG, this is why we have to keep fighting. Because as exhausting as it is, it’s easier than living with a teen mom with the clap.

On Fatherhood

When I launched this blog and shared it on Facebook for the first time, one of my friends asked where’s the stuff on dads. And you know what? From what I can see, dads have to deal with a lot of this crap too. The Hubs will definitely tell you that he feels a lot of pressure as a dad, especially as a working dad, and he gets exhausted and worries and feels like a failure sometimes, just like I do.

When I was pregnant with The Boy, The Hubs and I talked a bit about whether he should be circumcised. Circumcision is one of those Cult of Perfect Motherhood hot topics. People argue passionately about it on both sides of the issue and there is a lot of Judgy McJudgersoning around whatever choice you make. And I gotta be honest, I really didn’t care whether The Boy got circumcised or not. I know as a mom you’re supposed to be deeply engrossed in every decision about your child’s health and future and whatever, and you’d think I’d be all worked up about such an intimate decision, but I just wasn’t. Because, I don’t have a penis, and I have no frame of reference for what having a circumcised vs. non-circumcised penis is like. I just don’t, and so I couldn’t get all worked up over what was the right choice to make. So, I told The Hubs, “You’ve got a penis, you’re the expert in this area. I’m leaving it up to you to decide.” And he did.

And that’s how I feel about me writing about dads. I’m not a dad, and I can’t write a dad’s experience because I’m not having a dad’s experience. I’m having a mom’s experience. I wouldn’t presume to know what being a dad is like, and if I wrote about it, I think I’d come off sounding like I had no idea what I was talking about. Because I don’t. It’d be like when dudes mansplain–it’d be momsplaining, I guess. And any kind of ‘splaining is the opposite of cool. So, I told my friend (who is as sarcastic as I am) to write his own damn blog. And I hope he will, because he’s funny and smart.

Why You Should Never Let Your Husband Touch Your Breast Pump

When I was pregnant with The Boy, my plan for feeding him was at I would nurse until he grew teeth, and then I figured I would be too freaked out at the possibility of my nipple being bitten off to want to stick it in his mouth anymore. I also planned to pump when I went back to work, and I wasn’t really sure if I would keep pumping after I stopped nursing.

Then, I have written before, The Boy ended up being born 13 weeks early. Babies that premature can’t eat right away. They just don’t know how to suck, swallow, and breathe the way a newborn does, because their brains aren’t ready for something that complex. So, instead, The Boy got his first nutrition through an IV, and after that it came through a feeding tube. And what they put in that feeding tube was my breast milk, mixed with a calorie fortifying formula, to help him bulk up.

I started pumping on the day he was born, using a loaner pump from the hospital. It was a ginormous thing and it took me a while to get the hang of getting the flanges arranged on my breasts and working the controls on the pump at the same time. So, my first pumping session home from the hospital, I asked The Hubs to adjust the suction while I held the flanges on. I kept telling him “A little more, a little more” and that’s when he decided it would be easier to start at the maximum suction and dial down instead. (Exhaustion makes even smart people do stupid things.) The string of swear words that came out of my mouth at that moment would have made Ava Gardner blush. He was not allowed to touch my breast pump ever again.

Once he was big enough to try feeding by mouth, he both bottles of his breast milk-formula cocktail, and we also tried nursing. Now, most preemies tend to do better nursing instead of bottle feeding–it tends to make their heart rates and breathing stabilize. The Boy, however, was the opposite, and he would desat horribly when I tried to nurse him. After a couple of attempts that didn’t go all that well, I decided maybe it was best just to feed him bottles until he got home from the hospital, and then make an attempt at nursing in the comfort of our own home, where we no longer needed to worry about him desatting. So I kept on pumping.

But at home, the few times I tried to nurse him, he screamed bloody murder. The Boy wanted nothing to do with my boobs, period. Holding a screaming, unhappy baby who was rejecting me felt pretty damn shitty. It felt like the opposite of bonding with him. It felt like torture. We both cried. And I quickly decided that I would just keep on pumping. And I did, until he was a year old, when I decided I had had enough of the pump and I stopped.

I didn’t choose to exclusively pump, if you really think about it. My son’s prematurity made that choice for me. It was one of the many times that I had little control over how I could parent my child during the first year of his life. His prematurity was driving the train pretty often.

What I took away from the experience of feeding The Boy is that feeding your baby is a super emotional thing for moms. It was one of the biggest surprises about becoming a parent for me, just how emotional a thing feeding is. How much it hurt my heart when The Boy refused to nurse. How powerful it felt to be able to provide him with breast milk even though my body couldn’t carry him to term. Feeding you child is just a very emotional thing.

And this is why it is so important to be extremely careful when you talk to other moms about how they feed their child. Because it is so emotional, it is very easy to come off as a Judgy McJudgerson when you talk to other moms about how they feed their baby. It’s easy for well-meaning comments to be received as judgment. Especially because, for many moms, what they planned for feeding didn’t work out for reasons beyond their control, and so the judgment they feel about their feeding method feels especially unfair.

And because it is so emotional, that is also why I think it is so important to help women feel supported in whatever feeding method they use. I honestly believe that most American women are aware of the benefits of nursing. They know breast milk’s benefits, or if they don’t, someone will tell them about it at some point in their pregnancy. Most women are not stupid. They gather information and then make a decision about how they will parent based on that information…or, the realities of their situation dictate their decision.

So, I think the best approach to discussing this topic with other moms is to ask open ended questions, and then to LISTEN to them. Listen to them talk about why the feed the way they do. And then tell them “I support you.”

The Cult of True Womanhood

Where did I come up with this phrase, “Cult of Perfect Motherhood”? Well, that is a story that takes me back to my college days. I was a history major in college and I minored in women’s studies. Had there been a major in women’s studies at my university at the time (there is now), I almost certainly would have double-majored in history and women’s studies. I know, you’re SHOCKED! SHOCKED! to learn that there is a feminist writing this blog. And not only a feminist, but a university-trained one, which means I know my shit. I learned my women’s history from the best, including Bonnie Morris (whose books are amazing because she is brilliant) and some other amazing professors. Because of what they taught me, now when I look at how the women around me are living their lives, I see all sorts of parallels between the shit that happened to women in the past, and the shit that happens to them now.

And one of those parallels that jumps out to me all the time is between how mothers experience parenthood now, and what feminist historians call the Cult of True Womanhood, AKA the Cult of Domesticity. Shout out right here to Barbara Welter’s classic text on the subject. What feminist historians mean by that phrase is this: during the Victorian era, middle and upper class women were expected by society to meet an ideal of womanhood that included being docile to one’s husband, being pure and chaste, being super pious (Christian was preferable), and of course, being the ultimate homemaker. I’m really abbreviating the historical discussion here, but just think of poor long-suffering Melanie Hamilton from Gone with the Wind, and there’s your example of the ideal woman during the Cult of True Womanhood era. (You haven’t read the book OR seen the movie?!?! Stop reading right now and go fix that. No, seriously, go right now. I’ll wait.)

How was that ideal enforced? Well, women who didn’t live up to the ideals of the Cult of True Womanhood got shit on. God forbid a woman did something untoward or worse, unchaste. Throw that woman out of “decent” society, shunning is the solution! Poverty in 19th century America was even shittier than it is today. Nobody wanted to be disowned by their parents and end up living in a tenement in 1870. Seriously.

Now, you may be saying at this point, “Gee, that sounds shitty, but hello, it’s 2013.” Yes, in the words of Ani DiFranco (see, feminist!), “Chicks got it good now–they can almost be president.” See, the thing is, progress doesn’t mean the end of the need for change. You don’t stop potty training your kid after the first time they pee on the potty and say “That’s progress, no need to actually get you to stop using diapers entirely.” Nor do you say, “We tried teaching you to use the potty, but you had an accident, so we give up, you’re wearing diapers for the rest of your life.” No, you keep at it until you no longer have to keep cleaning their shit off their asses for them. And, feminism doesn’t stop just because women are going to college and playing sports, because women are still living with crazy unrealistic expectations placed on them. The expectations have a slightly different flavor than they did in the 19th century, but we have to keep pushing back against those expectations. Because they are crazy and nobody can meet them. Hell, even Melanie Hamilton took that money from Belle Watling.

So, I started calling the flavor of today’s idealized womanhood The Cult of Perfect Motherhood. Start with the Cult of True Womanhood, and replace being docile with being constantly vigilant about your child’s safety, and replace being pious with being completely dedicated to following the teachings of the latest parenting “experts.” Being the perfect homemaker remains part of the picture (Martha Stewart, Pinterest). Chastity is no longer the standard exactly, but it’s been replaced by an extremely complicated relationship with our sexuality–must be attractive, can’t be slutty. See? Same cult, different flavor.

What’s so fantastic about studying women’s history is that we can learn from the women who fought the last cult, and maybe they can teach us how to fight back against the cult. There were some seriously badass women who took a big bite out of the patriarchy back then. Did they eat it all and poop it out and now we live in some utopian paradise? Of course not, but they made progress, and maybe if we learn from them, SO CAN WE.