Grown Up Movies for Kids: Field of Dreams

Ray: “You gonna write about it?”
Terry: “It’s what I do.”

It’s time again for another Grown Up Movie for Kids! And yes, it’s another sports-related movie. The Boy likes sports and so do I. But have you noticed how many of these sports movies aren’t really about sports? Of all the ones I’ve talked about so far, this might be the sports movie that is the least about sports, actually: it’s Field of Dreams. If you have been living under a rock since 1989, well, I’m sorry, I’m not gonna explain the plot to you. Instead, let’s jump into why this is a great movie to watch with a kid.

First off, are you worried about violence or nudity? There is none in this film. (In fact, there’s very little swearing in this one either.) The closest we get is when James Earl Jones’s character threatens to beat up Kevin Coster’s character with a tire iron before being reminded he’s a pacifist. Compare that to Harry Potter, Tangled, and Puss In Boots. The closest we get to nudity is a husband and wife settling down to bed and talking, and then they kiss. The Boy actually asked me what they were going to do next because he’s curious, and I said, “Hug and kiss, maybe have sex. That’s what married people do.” He was like “OK.” What a nice way to show how a healthy loving relationship is supposed to work!

In fact, I really liked the way that the couple in this movie really seem to have a partnership. There’s no “I am the husband, I do what I want.” He convinces his wife it’s the right thing to do before he takes any actions. They discuss their financial problems together. They both parent their daughter. In so many movies, especially sports movies, the spouse or girlfriend is mostly irrelevant to the plot, or resistant to the main character’s goals–Secretariat has that problem and so does Rudy. Here, the wife isn’t just an afterthought. She’s a partner.

What I really loved about watching this with The Boy was how it made him think. At the start of the movie, he asked, “Why do they call it Field of Dreams?” And I said, “That’s a good question, I want you to watch and then tell me what you think the answer is at the end.” And sure enough, at the end he said “It’s because people’s dreams come true there.” He also wanted to understand why Moonlight Graham wasn’t sad about giving up baseball. We had a long talk about that, how being a doctor brought him even more joy than baseball, because he got to help people.

I feel like if I’m gonna watch a movie with my kid, I want it to depict people living in a way that reflects positive values. Values like loving and respecting your life partner, and being helpful to others. Making up for it when you hurt someone’s feelings. Field of Dreams has all of that, and an entertaining plot, and good acting. What more could you ask for in a movie for your kid?

Trauma Rocks

I feel like people think I am exaggerating when I say I have post traumatic stress disorder from our NICU experience. Who me, exaggerate? OK, yeah, I do sometimes. But when I say PTSD, that is what I mean. You may recall a few years back that a study came out about parents of kids who had been in the NICU, and a decent number of those parents showed signs of PTSD months after their kid had come home from the hospital. When I read an article about the study that described their symptoms, I thought, “Yep, that’s me. And The Hubs.” It felt good, and awful, to know we weren’t alone in feeling the way we did, and it felt good to read doctors saying “This is a real thing.”

I have had waaaaaay too many people say uneducated things to me about my PTSD that sound soothing but actually aren’t. These are good-hearted people who just want to be supportive, but don’t know what they’re talking about, so they are actually being the opposite of supportive. Things like “It’ll get easier, someday this will all be behind you” and “Just try to forget it and get over it.” No offense, kind hearted people, but that’s just totally not helpful. Let me explain why.

See, PTSD is a mental illness. Mental illnesses don’t respond to logic. You can’t reason away a mental illness. It’s an illness. Like, you can’t just say to a person with cancer, “Hey, stop having that cancer, cancer is a stupid thing to have, get rid of it.” And then the cancer patient is like “Golly, is cancer bad? I had no idea! I will stop having the cancer now.” And boom they’re cured. Wouldn’t that be an awesome world to live in? Yes, it would. Alas, that is not the world we live in. We live in a world where there are a LOT of illnesses without cures. And PTSD is one of them, and telling people to just stop having it and get over it? Yeah, that’s pointless, and frankly, hurtful. Because it presumes mental illness is a choice, and that mentally ill people are stupid enough to choose to have one. When you tell me to just get over my trauma and forget it, you are calling me stupid. I know you don’t mean to call me stupid, so please, stop it.

The Hubs and I went to a therapist together for a year to help us cope with our PTSD. She described trauma, which is what the NICU experience is, basically thusly: a trauma is like a sharp, pointy, scratchy rock that you carry around with you, and no matter how much you want to get rid of the rock, you can’t. It’s superglued onto your soul, and it’s not coming off. You’re stuck with the rock. The best you can do is polish down the sharp pointy edges to make the rock stop cutting you up all the damn time. That’s what therapy does.

I like to think of trauma rocks like this: we all have a box in our brain that contains our stress. It is only so big, and when too much stress builds up in there, it overflows, and then bad shit happens, like panic attacks and yelling at your kids and midlife crises involving Porsches and sexting. For most people, their box is big enough to hold their stresses most of the time, but for people with a trauma, that trauma rock is sitting right in their stress box taking up a ton of room. So there just isn’t as much room in there anymore for regular stresses like the dishes piling up in the sink and your boss being a dick and would you kids please stop hitting each other and the next thing you know, bad shit is happening, like you are sobbing uncontrollably in a corner. And remember, as much as you want to throw that rock out and make more room for regular stress, you can’t, it’s superglued in there.

So, you have to learn to let some of the regular life stresses go instead. You have to learn to pick and choose what regular stresses you will hold onto and which you just can’t anymore. Because you never know when you’re going to hit a trigger that makes your stress rock rattle around and slosh the other stresses out of the box and make a big sloppy emotional mess. Therapy helps with this too, because it helps you to let go of some of the other stresses. Our therapy sessions were like a storage locker for those stresses that weren’t superglued in like the trauma rock is. We could take stresses out of the box, look them over, and then leave them in the storage locker at therapy, and not carry them around in our stress boxes anymore.

I have a few triggers that set my rock in motion. The Girl throwing up. Someone making me feel like I don’t have a say over what happens to my kids, or making me feel like they think I am a bad parent. Hearing about someone else’s birth trauma. That Star Trek movie where Captain Kirk is born in a traumatic situation? Downtown Abbey when Sybil gives birth? These are things that can turn me into a sobbing panicked mess. I am literally feeling all the awful feelings from the NICU time, and it’s really more than my brain can handle. They seem like minor things and not big enough to cause a panic attack, unless you have a sharp rock superglued on your soul that is cutting you up and sloshing around all your other stresses.

Dealing with the world when you have NICU PTSD can be hard. It’s hard to explain to friends why you can’t be at their party that you’ve been planning to go to for weeks, because you are recovering from a panic attack. Or to explain to your boss why you really aren’t up for that meeting right now. It’s hard to talk to your kids about why you are crying. And it can be really, really frustrating to feel like you’re constantly having to explain yourself to people. I think that’s partly why connecting with other NICU families has been so great for us. We don’t have to explain the trauma to each other.

Still, in the end, I have found it easiest to just tell my non-preemie friends what is going on. When you explain that your mental illness is acting up and you need a break, your friends are surprisingly sympathetic. At least, mine are. It’s trickier with a boss, but if you have a good one, they can be very understanding too. Most people are good people, and they want to be helpful. And they are, if you tell them how to be. Which is why I am writing this post. Because, I know people WANT to be helpful to their preemie parent friends, but they just don’t always know how, and it’s really easy to put your foot in it…unless you know how trauma works. And now you do!

The Boy has ADHD

So, I pondered a lot about writing this post–what to write, how to write it, when to write it, and if I should even write it at all. But on Friday, when The Boy was formally diagnosed with ADHD, and I shared that on my personal Facebook page, and I had so many people comment and ask questions and say supportive things, I just knew. I knew I had to write this post, and write it right now.

Let me give a little background about me, because otherwise, what I write isn’t going to make any sense and you’re gonna think “Wow, she’s really not processing this very well, I think she’s in denial.” Oh man, do I do denial well! Seriously, that’s how I survived the NICU. But in this case, I know exactly what an ADHD diagnosis means for The Boy. You see, I’ve been a disability rights advocate for a long time. In law school, I worked for a disability rights agency that represented people with all kinds of disabilities, including people in institutions (like mental hospitals, and institutions for people with developmental disabilities). I started a student group that focused on disability law. I know exactly how our systems work, or don’t work, for people with disabilities, including kids. Especially kids.

So, when The Boy started to struggle in school, and the word “distractible” came up about 100 times during his teacher conference this fall, and when she said how much he continued to struggle with reading and writing despite her best efforts, I knew what probably came next. I knew his teacher would probably do a referral for him to our school’s Student Intervention Team (SIT) to discuss his struggles. I knew we’d need to take him to his pediatrician for an ADHD evaluation, and that we might be looking at a learning disability too, which would require testing by the school psychologist. I knew that then we’d reconvene, this time as an IEP team, to make a decision about whether The Boy qualified for special education or any other services or classroom interventions. I could see it all unfolding.

I was a little sad, because nobody wants to hear their child is struggling, but I knew the process, and I knew that The Boy’s school is outstanding at this stuff (I’ve seen enough bad teams to know an outstanding one when I see one), and that in the end, outcomes for kids identified as young as The Boy are pretty darn good. It’s when a kid doesn’t get identified until they’re much older that the train tends to come off the tracks, or when they’re at a school that sees kids with disabilities as problems instead of as little people. Our school kicks butt, and we’d caught it early. I knew he’d be fine.

So, sure enough, when the SIT referral did happen a couple months later, I called the pediatrician’s office to set up the ADHD evaluation, and figured out what testing I hoped the school would do for learning disabilities. We brought donuts and coffee to the SIT meeting, because the first rule of parenting that NICU families learn is “Be good to the people taking care of your child,” and we sat down as a team to talk about The Boy. I watched the team work as beautifully as I hope every school team works (though I know they don’t)–they brainstormed ideas for interventions, they asked questions, they listened to each other, and then they easily came to consensus on a plan to figure out what The Boy’s needs are. Without me even having to ask, they proposed doing all the testing I would have asked for on the learning disability front, while we pursued the ADHD testing with our pediatrician. I left the meeting feeling elated.

I know that’s not normal. I know most parents, including The Hubs, leave a meeting where their child is referred for special education evaluation feeling guilty, frustrated, scared, overwhelmed…but not elated. I’m not your average parent, though. My perspective is definitely unique, especially for a parent at the beginning of this process. To me, a learning disability and ADHD are just not a huge deal. Do you want your kid to have them? Of course not. But they’re not life-ending disabilities–The Boy is not going die from this. I’ve literally watched him stop breathing and his heart rate dropping…so, I can’t get worked up over his brain working differently than other kids’ brains. And if you approach a condition like ADHD or a learning disability properly, as our school’s team is, they’re not even life-limiting.

Back to the process…so, to diagnose ADHD, the pediatrician’s office gave us and his teachers surveys to fill out about The Boy’s behavior. And then we met to discuss the results, which were not shocking. He scored extremely highly inattentive, and moderately hyperactive, and it’s much worse in an academic setting than at home, since we don’t expect him to sit still and focus at home the way he needs to at school. It took about two weeks from our initial consult to the diagnosis, which happened on Friday.

We’re putting him on meds now and seeing how it goes. I hope they’ll work and he won’t have side effects, and so far (a very short so far!), so good. I know some people have strong feelings about medications. I don’t. I think if I can give The Boy a pill that makes it possible for him to succeed at school AND doesn’t make him sick or a zombie, then fuck yeah, I’m giving him the pill. And if the pill makes him sick or a zombie or just doesn’t work? Then fuck no, I’m not giving it to him. I also think people who judge other parents for doing it differently are assholes, which is why I wouldn’t ever say someone is a bad parent for making a different choice than me. Consider this a warning for those of you thinking about being an asshole in the comments.

And now we wait to see how the meds work and what the results are for the learning disability evaluation, which we’ll meet as a team to discuss in about a month. The Hubs has dyslexia, and it tends to run in families, so it’s entirely possible he has both going on. I’m looking forward to having answers, because not having answers means the best we can do is a shot in the dark at what’s best for him. After we have answers, that awesome team at school can come up with a plan that makes sense.

I know there are a lot of you out there who are struggling with a diagnosis like ADHD or a learning disability or ASD or all sorts of other disabilities. When you had hopes and dreams for what your child would be like, and they don’t turn out to be the people you imagined they’d be, it can be hard to come to terms with that. It’s a loss, a loss of the future you imagined. It’s OK to grieve that loss. And while you’re grieving, I hope it helps you to know that you’re not alone, and that you don’t have to feel shame about your child’s condition.

Because, I feel very strongly that we shouldn’t treat disabilities as something to be ashamed of. They don’t make people less-than. They just make them different. Just like being black doesn’t make you less-than, or being gay doesn’t make you less-than. It just makes you YOU. I know the rest of the world doesn’t act that way…and that’s partly why I am writing this blog. I don’t feel sad about The Boy’s diagnosis, and I don’t want anyone else to either. Especially The Boy. I don’t want him to think there’s something wrong with him, because there isn’t. He is perfect just as he is.

Cocktails with the Cult: Cheers to Almond Joy

YOU GUYS. I’m so excited because today’s post is by a celebrity guest blogger! In fact, she was the runner-up in Blogger Idol 2013! That’s right, it’s Jennifer Hicks from Real Life Parenting! Jennnifer was one of the first bloggers to reach out to me when I first started my blog, because she’s one of those awesome women who’s not just about doing her thing, she’s also about forming a community to lift up other bloggers. AND, her husband makes a mean cocktail, so I asked if she’d be willing to share one of his awesome recipes, and she graciously accepted! Without further ado, here’s Jen!

Cheers to Almond Joy sometimes you feel like a nut.

Exciting news calls for a celebration and a celebration calls for a toast and a toast calls for a drink.

There are so many reasons to celebrate. In my house we like to shine a light on the good things in life–you know, important stuff like a job promotion, good grades, positive results from a medical test, booking a vacation, starting a vacation, starting dinner, finishing the laundry (just kidding, that’s a myth), catching up on the DVR, cleaning the bathroom, getting the mail, taking out the recycling, feeding the cat, seeing that someone else changed the toilet paper (still kidding, a girl can dream), getting the kids out the door for the bus, remembering to pick up said kids from after school practice All excuses to have a drink important things to celebrate.

Hubbinator is an engineer by day, but a bartender extraordinaire by night. His margaritas are world-class. I almost can’t drink one when we’re out anymore because they don’t come close to his masterful concoction. His recipe for Long Island Iced Tea will knock your socks off. It’s become our traditional celebration drink with his family for every holiday. His simple but addictive Stoli Doli will have you knocking on our patio door all summer asking if he’s got any ready. (It’s a pineapple-marinated-in-vodka-delicious-drink so the prep time is a two-week wait.) He will fool you with his Bellini Martinis–they’re smooth and delicious so they go down easily–too easily if you’re not counting and you could find yourself sleeping in our extra bed! They’re one of my favorite summer drinks. Almost as good as his mojitos. Mmmmmm. Mojitos.

He can create and whip up nearly anything you want based on what you like. Did you have a fruity something-or-other when you were out one night and you want it again? Describe it to him. He’ll make it. You don’t have any idea what went into that drink? No worries. He’ll figure it out. Do you have only a few supplies on hand but want a satisfying drink? Hubbinator will put together something you’ll like. He’s really good.

Meet the Holy Grail!!So, in December we had a reason to celebrate–a real one, not just the I Remembered To Breathe All Day kind of cause for celebration. (We may or may not have used that as an actual reason to mix up a martini in the past. Don’t judge.) When I found out I made it into the Finale for Blogger Idol, Hubbinator declared it a legitimate Cause for Cocktails and asked what I wanted. I said I was in the mood for a Mudslide-ish drink but not quite as sweet because I was pretty sure I wanted the holy grail to myself more than one.

Off he went to conjure up that night’s beverage. After listening to bottles clinking, all kinds of pouring, several taste testings followed by various sounds of approval or not, more pouring, more shaking and a final pour into glasses, Hubbinator presented the Almond Joy. He had even taken the time to notch out some almonds to put on the rim of the martini glass–thus the Almond part of the Joy. We held up our glasses and said “Cheers!” His streak of excellent bartending continued! It was chocolatey with a hint of coconut and something nutty, not too sweet, but just right. The second time he made these (because they had been on my mind since the first time!), he made a little rimmer out of cocoa and sugar–It was good, but I preferred the original with just the almonds on the rim.


Almond JoyIf you’re in the mood for something perfectly decadent, you should try Hubbinator’s Almond Joy.

• 1 part Chocolate liqueur (he used Godiva)

• 2 parts Coconut Rum (he used Malibu)
• 1 part Rum Cream Liqueur (ours was something we brought back from Jamaica a few years ago)

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and Shake Whatcha Mama Gave Ya! Swirl some chocolate syrup in a martini glass and add some crushed ice. Shake again, pour, toast, and enjoy.

*To make a single drink, 1 part = 1 shot (about 1.5 ounces)

Here’s hoping you have something to celebrate in the near future!! Remember: breathing can be tricky, so if all else fails, you can celebrate that mostly involuntary body function with a yummy Almond Joy!

Jennifer is a mom of two teens, wife of one grown-up, and food bowl filler of the family cat. She has spent some years as a stay-at-home-mom and others as a high school teacher. She writes about the good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes the very funny at her blog, 
Real Life Parenting. She was the Blogger Idol 2013 runner-up, has been featured on BonBon Break and Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and is a contributing author in the book The HerStories Project: Women Share the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship.

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!

Beth’s Classic Film Club: An American In Paris

You guys! Get your popcorn and box wine because it’s movie club time! And this month, I’m telling you about my favorite movie EVER: An American In Paris. Oh my gosh, I can’t even talk about this movie without getting all verklempt. Where do I even start…

OK, so Gene Kelly. GENE KELLY. Gene Kelly…so dreamy. I know Fred Astaire is like this dancing god or whatever, but fuck him, I’d rather watch Gene Kelly on film any day of the week and twice on Sunday. First off, he just completely embodies romance and sensuality. You know how people talk about Marilyn Monroe as this sex goddess? Well, Gene was a sex god. You just can’t help but be wooed by him. And where Marilyn had those amazing breasts, Gene’s got that butt. JESUS THAT BUTT. And he’s in tight pants half the time, it’s FANTASTIC. When he dances, he doesn’t have to speak, because his body says everything. And not only is he amazing to watch, I mean, the guy was one hell of a choreographer and he won a special Oscar for his choreography in this film.

The rest of the cast is great too. Leslie Caron is everything her character is supposed to be–vivacious and modern, simple, reads incessantly, full of life, sweet and shy. How someone so new to acting pulled off this part, well, let’s just say she must be a genius. Oscar Levant is perfect as the master of snark. Georges Guetary is more wise than he seems, and Nina Foch is less wise than she seems.

The story is about love, and loyalty. And it’s poignant and funny and beautiful, and you should watch it with a box of tissues and just let the milieu of post-war Paris, where everyone is still a little traumatized but struggling towards happiness, wash over you. Remember as you watch it that Gene’s character was in the shit 6 years earlier. Remember that Leslie’s character had her childhood destroyed by the war. And oh my gosh, the music! Gershwin. It’s so perfect for Gene to dance to.

My favorite scene is one in which Oscar, Gene and Georges are sitting in the cafe, and Georges gives Gene some advice about love. It’s a perfect scene on so many levels. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but in the comments, I want to hear what you think of it.

This film is semi-regularly on TCM, including THIS SUNDAY! Check your local listings for show times. It’s also readily available for purchase online on DVD for not very much money.

I can’t wait to hear what you think about An American In Paris. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!

Hospital Parents

The Hubs owns a 1966 Mustang. It’s the first car he ever bought, and he got it from the original owner, a little old lady who still had the original owner’s manual when her kids helped her sell it. If you’re not a car person, let me explain why this is worth writing about: Mustangs are classic cars, and people who love them REALLY love them, and having an old one is super cool to other car people. We rarely go out and about in the Mustang, especially since having kids (dude, it only has lap belts, it’s that old), but when we do, if we see someone else in a classic car, they usually do a little nod to say “Nice car, man” and we do the nod back. It’s like we’re part of a secret club of people who own awesome cars.

Being a parent of a kid who’s spent extended time in the hospital is kind of like that. Only, it’s a club nobody wants to join. And instead of recognizing each other by our sweet rides, we recognize each other by this look that’s there in our eyes. I’d describe it as a mix of pain and barely suppressed panic that you can see flickering out of them when they talk about their kids, particularly their kids’ health.

It’s sometimes a jarring experience for me when I meet another hospital parent, if I’m not expecting it. One time I was talking to a friend whose son had been hit by a bicyclist while in a crosswalk and hit his head on a curb. When I asked how he was doing, BAM, there was that look in her eyes. That’s when I realized how serious the accident had been (naïve me had figured a bike couldn’t do that much damage, but, duh, it can). I went home and said to The Hubs, “She had that Hospital Parent look.” And he knew just what I was talking about.

Recently, one of The Hubs’s friends had a kid wind up hospitalized for a serious medical issue, the kind where there are tense moments with respiratory specialists and doctors working frantically. He took the parents some food at the hospital, and then he texted me to say “They have that look.” And of course, I knew just what he was talking about. And I knew The Hubs was probably reliving all the trauma we had experienced with the NICU. It’s hard for me to describe what it’s like to see your kid in a hospital bed, even now, 6 years later and a long time since we’ve had any hospital visits. Panic, and pain, and guilt, and helplessness…it’s a horrible cocktail that leaves a horrible scar. And although we moved forward, and we have a healthy kid and not a fragile preemie anymore, we still have the Hospital Parent look when we talk about The Boy’s birth.

That’s partly why I don’t talk much about this stuff anymore. I used to, when it was still really raw and I needed to process my feelings. Back then, I felt a need to educate the world about prematurity and what the NICU is like. Now, I tend not to, unless I meet someone with Hospital Parent eyes, because honestly? It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting trying to help the world understand that type of pain, because I end up reliving it in order to explain it. And reliving it is extremely unpleasant. But Hospital Parents don’t need it explained to them. Hospital Parents lived it themselves. You don’t have to explain why you have PTSD to them. You can just say “Downton Abbey set me off last night” and they say “Fucking PTSD. You OK?”

But, I also feel like we’re all better parents when we understand each other’s truths. And sometimes that means reaching out to people who don’t have that look behind their eyes, and saying, “This is the truth of my life” and listening to the truth of their life. So, that’s why I’m writing about this today–telling you the secret “handshake” of the secret club that none of us ever wanted to join, that I sincerely hope no one will ever have to join again. I hope you’ll share your truth in the comments, and I’m going to start writing more about the truth of my experiences with prematurity and the NICU. Stay tuned!

Children’s Television Survival Guide: Charlie and Lola

I’m gonna be honest for a moment: there is very little on the Disney Junior channel that I enjoy. Jake is just as bad as Dora, and don’t even get me started on Sophia the Whiner and her horrible snob of a stepsister who fakes like she’s learned a lesson about friendships after being a bitch for the entire episode. VOMIT. Still, we all know I adore Days of Handy Manny’s Lives, and then there’s my favorite show on that channel, which is the subject of today’s edition of my Children’s Television Survival Guide series: Charlie and Lola.

First off, this show is fucking ADORABLE. Not in a “My Little Pony” or “Care Bears” too-cute-by-half way. I mean it’s adorable the way Mr. Rogers was adorable. The way watching your kids cuddling on the couch while watching this show is adorable. It’s sweet without being cloying. It’s dark chocolate ice cream with unsweetened raspberry purée. It is, in a word, perfectly adorable. If you are so cynical as to find Charlie and Lola to be anything but adorable, then you, my friend, are a grinch and may need a heart transplant.

Charlie is Lola’s older brother, and they are drawn in a scribbly fashion. I’d guess Charlie is about 9 or 10, and Lola appears to be about 5. They speak with English accents, and they share a room and attend the same school, so I would guess Lola is in kindergarten, since she can’t read yet. Charlie is kind to Lola, and Lola is loving to Charlie, but like real siblings, sometimes they disagree and get frustrated with each other. Unlike Sophia and her bitch of a stepsister, however, their relationship is clearly built on mutual respect, and they often do extremely kind things for each other.

For example, in one episode Charlie organized a pretend camping adventure in their back yard, and although Lola wasn’t enjoying herself that much due to the extremely poor weather, she played along because it was making her brother happy, until she really couldn’t take the rain anymore and expressed her unhappiness to her brother, and then Charlie came up with a way to play camping adventure indoors instead. Did you get that? The older brother actually wanted to include his little sister in his activity, AND she participated even though she wasn’t having fun because she wanted to be with her brother, AND he thought about her feelings and found a way for them both to be happy. And you know what? Neither of them once went tattling to their parents. They worked out their problems themselves based on mutual respect and love. See? Mr. Rogers-Style Adorable.

The other thing I like about the show is, it really is a show about two regular kids. They don’t need some kind of hook, like princesses, or pirates, or monsters who like to hug and have annoying voices, to sell the show. Charlie and Lola are enough, just as they are, to draw us in. No fancy animation, no obvious product tie-ins, just good quality television.

Final selling point, and I know this isn’t a huge deal, but I also love the opening theme song for this show because although it’s a bit catchy, it has no words to get stuck in my head. (Come to think of it, neither does Handy Manny really.) It’s the little things.

The downside of Charlie and Lola is that when it ends, you have to change the channel as quickly as possible or you’ll wind up in the hell that is most of the rest of the lineup on that channel. (Chuggington’s theme song is horrible. I’m just saying.) Perhaps consider watching this one On Demand?

And there you have it, Charlie and Lola: another to add to the list of survivable children’s television. Do you have a show that you think I could make survivable for you? Post in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!

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.