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i was a mommy group dropout

Howe To…Teach an Old Dog (Part 1)

H-E-L-L
H-E-L-L

When I was about 26 I met a friend for brunch near the Santa Monica pier, an area heavily trafficked by tourists and locals alike. The two of us were frustrated by not being able to navigate through the throngs of Sunday brunchers pushing strollers, or the “stroller patrol,” as smug single people often referred to them, and I said to my friend, “People with strollers shouldn’t be allowed in crowded places.” I was only half kidding at the time. Back then, I suppose like most childless people in their 20s, I had little tolerance for crying babies in restaurants, strollers impeding my path as I hurried on my way and parents who talked incessantly of their children. Flash forward a decade, and I became a member of the stroller patrol, tripping up the fast moving youngsters with my oversized child travel system, no doubt while standing there with a confused look on my face and/or talking incessantly about my child. Hell, I even have a website devoted to talking about my child. A switch flips when we reproduce. It happened to me, and someday it will happen to many of you uninhibited single people brunching at the pier this weekend. Perhaps the most marked change as you go from nonparent to parent is that you’ll do things you once truly hated all in the name of the profound affection you feel for the tiny being you created. Love for your child can make you do some messed up things. Below are some things I’m not proud of doing, but I did them for my kid. (This list is likely to offend. Continue reading with caution.)

1. Joining a group for stay at home moms. I am not a joiner. Like most introverts, I prefer small gatherings of people I know well and I spend a lot of time with my nose buried in a book. And Hailey is quite shy. It takes a giant push out of my comfort zone for me to sign up for a group of any kind, especially a group made up of strangers. But a year ago, when we simultaneously moved to a new area and I left my job and became a full-time mom, I thought I should do something different to make some new friends for both Hailey and me. So I joined a mommy group. It was terrible. The moms were clique-ish, and at the first playdate we attended I felt judged for having had a c-section (which they asked; I did not volunteer this information), not having breast fed (they also asked this) and having been a working mom for the first three years of Hailey’s life. We attended two more playdates after that (although I had to give myself a pep talk to get myself out the door) but I found that Hailey and I only hung out with each other at these events. On the third playdate Hailey asked, “Mommy, can we take a walk?” and led me away from the group. I read this to mean, “Mommy, can we get the hell out of here?” We never went back, and have since met mommy/Hailey friends in a more organic way.

2. Going to the playground. There are many, many activities that I love doing with my child — playing Barbies? I’m in. Make believe? I do a mean witch’s voice or Irish brogue. Building a fort, going to the beach, hiking, swimming? Yes, yes, yes and yes! But as soon as Hailey asks to go to the playground, my response is, “Daddy, you’re up.” When Daddy’s at work, though, I have no choice but to suck it up and head to the awful urban oasis known as the park. Hailey prefers a participating parent, so any delusions I have of sitting on a bench in the shade and waving to her while she happily swings on the monkey bars are quickly dashed. So I go down the slide with her a few times, push her on the swing, play hide and seek, pretend to be a Jedi, scoop sand into a bucket…but I am 10 times her age and have a tenth of her energy. So it isn’t long before I’m complaining, “Hot….” “Tired….” “Smartphone….” “No more fun….”

3. Attending the Hello Kitty Friendship Festival. “Guess what!” Josh exclaims as he walks in the door one day. “I got us tickets to the Hello Kitty Friendship Festival this weekend!” Hailey promptly bounces off the wall in glee at this announcement. “All of us?” I ask through the clenched teeth of a forced smile. “Yep!” The event turns out to be everything I imagined: 10 musical numbers sung by giant dancing Hello Kitties (who don’t even have mouths by the way, but I digress), thousands of children dressed as Hello Kitty and running in every direction and glitter everywhere — my God, the glitter! There was a movie screen behind the dancing kitties where they would slowly spell out Hello Kitty. At one point the letters H-E-L-L flashed up on the screen. That pretty much summed up the experience.

4. Buying and Assembling Legos. When Hailey wants to build something, I do my best to steer her towards Mega Bloks, easy to use, easy to assemble and easy to clean up. But thanks to “The Lego Movie” and savvy Lego marketers Hailey is showing more interest in Legos, which bear little resemblance to the Legos of my childhood. No, the Legos of today are teeny tiny, come with a 40-page instruction manual and require an engineering degree to build anything interesting. After Daddy spends an evening toiling to assemble “Unikitty’s Palace” or some such grand structure, it usually lives in its assembled state for a total of 10 hours. From there it slowly disassembles of its own volition and the pieces become lodged in the couch cushions, get stuck in the vacuum or (my favorite) get chewed on by our dogs until they resemble a prison shank and then lie on the ground waiting for me to step on them in the middle of the night.

5. Anything Having to do with Lightning McQueen. I enjoy most of the movies Hailey likes with a few exceptions, the biggest being “Cars.” That movie is the worst. And Hailey was obsessed with it, and anything having to do with Lightning McQueen, for about a year. Whenever she got movie time, we’d try to nudge her in the direction of “Winnie the Pooh,” only to hang our heads in defeat when she’d resolutely say, “Cars!” But being involved parents, we tried to find something, at least one thing, we could like about that movie. And we found it in the Rascal Flatts theme song, “Life is a Highway.” It was catchy, and we’d play it on our morning drives to get coffee or weekend treks along the coast, singing along. The problem was, Hailey liked it as much, if not more, than she liked the movie. And after hearing it 489 times, we started to hate it as much as we hated the movie. “Well, maybe we like Rascal Flatts now,” I suggested to Josh. We weren’t country fans, but maybe if we liked this song, we would like other Rascal Flatts songs, and maybe the discovery of some new music was the positive that would arise from our Lightning McQueen phase. So we listened to a bunch of Rascal Flatts songs, hoping. “We just like one Rascal Flatts’ song,” we agreed.

*Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post: Five Things I Loved Doing but Gave Up for My Kid.

Howe To…Earn a Rep as the Mom Who Doesn’t Give a Shit

20150605blogWhen I was 30, my mom, my sister and I took one of those whirlwind trips through Western Europe, the kind that’s much like the speed dating of travel. You see eight countries in two weeks, and you travel around on a bus with 4o strangers whose names you never learn but with whom you become surprisingly familiar. To keep our nameless bus-mates straight, and to entertain ourselves on the long rides through picturesque European countryside, my sister and I assigned them nicknames. I recall The Smiling South Africans, Gene Wilder and The Bad Hair Family and Aunt Edna and Her Drunk Husband. One night when we were giggling about something Aunt Edna and Her Drunk Husband did at dinner in Switzerland, my sister pondered, “I wonder what they call us?” We both flashed to our daily dress code of ripped jeans, hoodies and big sunglasses; our habit of rolling out of bed for the early morning wake-up call and tossing our frizzy hair in a bun; slinking onto the bus barefaced and baggy eyed and nodding off with our cheeks pressed against the window. “I wonder if they call us ‘The Girls Who Don’t Give a Shit?'” she asked.

I hadn’t thought about that particular memory in a long time, but yesterday, when I got the up-and-down stare from a mom at the park, who then turned to her husband and said something about me in Italian, I asked myself, “I wonder if I’m perceived as ‘The Mom Who Doesn’t Give a Shit?” I don’t think anyone would dispute that I love my daughter immensely, that I’m a good mother and that I take good care of her…no, I’m not talking about that. But when it comes to the small details of mommy-ing, sometimes I feel like I missed a memo, as some of the unwritten “rules” elude me. Sometimes I feel judged, sometimes I perceive judgment that isn’t there, often I judge myself. “Should I care more about that?” I ask myself. No. Life is short and I truly do not care about that, I typically say. And if that makes me the mom who doesn’t give a shit, so be it. Below are the top 7 mom-related things I don’t give a shit about.

1. Bringing snacks to a one-hour or less activity. I admire mommies who are so together they carry several BPA-free containers of nutritious snacks to every activity their child is involved in, be it a 20-minute car ride or a 30-minute play date. I’m not that mommy. My kid just had breakfast. She’ll have lunch or a snack when we get home. I have a water bottle in my purse. She’ll be okay. Playgroup mommy, you don’t have to hand her a fruit pouch with a look of pity in your eyes; she’s clearly not starving. And if you feel weird because my daughter is eyeballing your kid’s fishy crackers, I’m sorry. Kids want what other kids have. Even if I did bring my own fishy crackers, my kid would still want your kid’s. You don’t have to give her any. She’ll be okay.

2. Socializing at the park. No thank you. This is the introvert in me talking. I’m happy to schedule a play date with an existing friend, but I’m not going to the park to make mommy friends. The park is where my child makes friends and where I spend time with my child. I’m not unpleasant; I will exchange pleasantries. But do I want to exchange phone numbers and go to your yoga class? Just, no thank you.

3. I’m okay with being a human napkin. My daughter fears the hand dryer in public restrooms. If that’s the only option, she freaks out about what to do about her wet hands. “Just wipe them on my jeans!” Phew, crisis averted. Similarly, I can never seem to find my travel pack of tissues or the stack of Starbucks napkins I’ve been collecting for 10 years every time snot starts running down my child’s face and she screams, “I need a tissue!” This almost always happens when we’re in the car in rush hour. “Here, just use my sleeve!” I say, testing my arm’s flexibility as I try to reach her in the car seat. All is better now, but I have wet pants and snot on my shirt. Eh.

4. No shoes. No pants. No problem. My kid hates shoes, and I can’t really fault her because her parents do too. If we’re in the house, in other people’s houses, in our yard, at the park or otherwise outdoors and on safe terrain, we’re usually barefoot. I take a lot of heat for this in my extended family, which is odd because my whole childhood was spent barefoot. Apparently, my relatives have renewed their devotion to shoes.  My brother even requires us to wear shoes in his house. Yep. Requires. The kid does keep her pants on outside of the house, but in the house — she has a strict no pants policy. This year I plan to freak my brother out and bring our child pants-less to his home on Christmas Eve.

5. Messes can be cleaned up, not always in a timely manner. My house is usually messy. If it is important that you visit a clean house, I’ll need at least 3-day’s notice. We live in our house with a 4-year-old and two dogs. When you sit down on our couch, you will emerge with dog fur on your pants and a Doc McStuffins sticker stuck to your butt. There is Play Doh stuck in the crevices of my dining room table that I have been trying to get out for two years. Sometimes our daughter walks around with a milk mustache for an hour before I clean it off. I know it’s there. She knows it’s there. But I’m doing something and she’s doing something, and a little milk on the lip never hurt anyone. I briefly belonged to a mommy group and on the first play date we attended, the kids could finger paint on sheets of paper that were placed on top of flattened cardboard boxes on top of grass. My daughter asked, “Mommy, can I paint on the box?” “Sure,” I said. Clearly, the boxes were there to catch the paint mess anyway. So she painted a sun and flowers on the box. Another child followed suit and his mom yelled at him. “You only paint on paper! Painting on boxes makes a mess!” she yelled. Had it not been my first day in the group I might have said what I was thinking, “What the hell is your problem?” Childhood is for messes.

6. My child’s birthday parties are not Pinterest worthy. At my daughter’s third birthday party I hand drew a banner, made centerpieces and had a dessert table. Nevertheless, she was pissed that day because no one would play soccer with her. This year, my husband and I had a long talk about our birthday philosophy and reminisced about the simplicity of our own childhood birthday parties. We decided that we were going to scale things back and keep things simple for birthdays, hopefully for good. This year, we had pizza and cake and went swimming. No decorations, no swag, not a single balloon. She woke up the day after and said, “That was the best birthday party ever!”

7. Taking a side in the mommy wars. This is actually something I do very much care about in the sense that I really want it to stop. Working moms, stay at home moms and work from home moms? I’ve been on all sides and they’re all really tough and really thankless. And on all sides you work your ass off and you never feel like you’re doing a good enough job at anything. Breast feeders and bottle feeders? Each mom makes a choice that is right for her family at the time. Please leave the other side alone and feel confident in your choice without the need to preach it all over the place. Women gaining too much weight or too little weight during pregnancy? Body shaming is so damaging, but body shaming when women are pregnant and at their most vulnerable is unforgivable. A woman’s pregnancy weight is between her and her doctor. Women, and mothers in particular, have so much talent, strength and wisdom. How much more powerful would we be as a collective if we stopped tearing each other down and instead chose to support each other and lift each other up? Or at the very least, could we just live and let live?

But, that’s just my two cents. And I’m the mom who doesn’t give a shit.

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