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Parenting Advice from the Unqualified

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The Art of Living Simply and Taking Your Time

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“Move it! Move it! Move it!”

These are the words I chant most mornings as my lovely, 5-year-old dawdler goes under her bed to look for her shoes, or decides to make homemade dog treats at 7 am on school day, or literally stops to smell the roses as we race to get out the door and get to school on time. And as I nudge her toward the car, her response is always the same, “But, Mom, you have to take your time.”

My daughter has been trying to teach me this lesson for almost six years now, but there’s been a steep learning curve for me. We’re all wired the way we’re wired, and I’m wired to do things frenetically. So when my little one warns me to take my time and to let her take her time, I realize that in my efforts to rush her, I’m forcing her to approach the world in a way in which she is not wired, and I’m potentially missing out on all the little treasures that come with a slower pace.

Continue reading “The Art of Living Simply and Taking Your Time”

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How to Survive a Day at the Beach with Kids

Snack food inequity. Things are about to go south with a quickness.
Snack food inequity. Things are about to go south with a quickness.

My family recently planned and pulled off (ish) a massive outing to our local beach — cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents all put on their sportiest swimwear and their SPF 50 and packed their coolers for a long, hot day by the sea. Based on the crowds at the beach, it looked as if everyone was trying to squeeze in a last trip or two to the beach before school starts. The beach is my happy place. In fact, sometimes when I’m trying hard to relax and I can’t quite get there, I visualize waves crashing on a sandy beach and I feel my tension ease. But you know what I don’t picture on that peaceful, sandy beach? Children. Because a day at the beach with kids is about as far from relaxing as you can get.

We live a few miles from several beaches and have made every kind of beach trip there is – day trips, night trips, short visits, all-day visits, bike treks, hikes, swims, you name it – and we’ve done them all with our kid in tow. Along the way we’ve learned a lot about what makes the difference between a crappy day at the beach with kids and a successful one. Often, we haven’t taken our own advice and the results have been hellish. To save you from that agony, I’ve come up with a list of tips for going to the beach with kids:

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Worry: The Parenting Common Denominator

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I started this post intending to write “Five Things Parents of Only Children Know,” but got stuck about two paragraphs in. I looked at my title and looked at what I had written and realized everything on the page applied, more or less, to all parents. I could have crossed out the “Only” in the title and written the same post as “Five Things Parents of Children Know.” Whether we have one child or four children, our kids are the centers of our worlds, and as such, most of what we feel as parents is universal. The hardships and struggles, the joys, the fears, the guilt, the pride — these are the feelings that permeate the parenting experience. Perhaps parents of only children worry about the development of their child’s social skills more than a parent of three, and perhaps that parent of three worries about giving equal attention to all of his or her children, but at the heart of it, we all worry about our kids. Worry. Yes, worry is the proverbial sidekick to parenting. When I was discharged from the hospital after having my little one, I was given an infant CPR DVD, a rented breast pump and a book about newborn care. But nowhere in my newly acquired arsenal of parenting information and supplies was a manual on how to manage the worry that comes with raising a child. Now that would have been useful.

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Dear Parents: We’re Awesome

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This morning after I dropped my daughter off at preschool, I stopped at the local Starbucks for something warm as Los Angeles has finally decided it is winter. I was waiting for my order when I overheard a mother of a child from my daughter’s class talking to two of her friends. She didn’t recognize me, and I wouldn’t have recognized her had I not seen her drop her daughter off in my kid’s class just ten minutes before, so I was able to nonchalantly eavesdrop.

The three women were talking about their children in that quick, hyperactive manner of moms trying to catch up with their friends while they were thinking about the next 20 things they had to do. They were also quite competitive. Mom one had a kid who was excelling at violin. Mom two had a budding artist and academic. Mom three was trying to decide if dual immersion was the way to go for her soon-to-be Kindergartener. I listened, recognizing the one-upsmanship for what it was – good moms, proud moms, insecure moms boasting a little to assuage any doubts they had about their parenting. Haven’t we all done this at some point?

Continue reading “Dear Parents: We’re Awesome”

A Lesson on Friendship

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“Are you excited to see your friends today?” I asked my daughter on the way to school the other day.

“Well, some of the kids in my class are my friends and some of them aren’t my friends,” she replied. “Do you get it, mom?”

She wasn’t being a smart ass about it. She really wanted to know if I got it. Do you understand the finer nuances of preschool social hierarchies, mom? she seemed to be asking.

Continue reading “A Lesson on Friendship”

Confessions of a Mad Mommy

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“Mommy, did God make Daddy funny because he wanted Daddy to be funny?” my daughter asked one day.

“I suppose so.”

Then, fishing for a compliment, I pressed further: “What did God make Mommy?”

“Mad.”

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The Day a Stranger’s Face Came Within Inches of My Privates (and How I Explained That One to My 4-Year-Old)

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Okay, okay…the title might be a little misleading. Let me start from the beginning. One lovely summer day, my sister and her 20-month-old joined my daughter and I for a swim in the pool in our condo complex, when a man of about 45, shirtless and holding a cat (I repeat: holding a cat), walked into the pool area having quite a lively conversation with…. no one. Well, maybe

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The Perks of Being a Senior Mom

Motherhood-unwanted-adice-MEMEPick up an issue of US Weekly, and you’d think all women these days are having babies in their late thirties and into their forties. While there definitely are more of us “senior” moms out there, in real, non-tabloid life, we’re still in the minority. Society often likes to point this out, especially people from previous generations, who can treat us as though we’re reproductive anomalies. Once, an older woman I didn’t know but was casually chatting with, learning of my age (41) and my daughter’s age (4), exclaimed in shock, “When I was your age all my children were in their 20s!”

And sometimes the insults come from where you least expect them. Recently, my dad texted me to say, “Today was my grandmother’s birthday, and I just was thinking she was your age when I was born.”

“That’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to me,” I gasped. “So you’re saying I’m old enough to be your grandma?”

“Yes!”

“I’m going to die now.”

One of my daughter’s classmates last year had a 20-year old mom. In theory, she could have been my daughter, which means that her son, my daughter’s friend and peer, could have been my grandchild. Every time I think of that I die a little on the inside.

I don’t feel particularly old or different than any other mom. It’s not like I stash arthritis medication and crossword puzzles in the diaper bag. Aside from perhaps having arguably less energy and more financial stability 35 and over moms are just like their younger counterparts — we have the same worries, insecurities and hopes and concerns for our children. We just have to field indignities from insensitive schmucks every now and then (sorry dad). Actually, I’d say there are more advantages to being a mature mom than there are drawbacks. Here they are:

  1. Perspective. In my twenties and thirties I tended toward catastrophic thinking. Every perceived career failure or personal setback was the end of the world and left me anxious and doubting myself. I’m not going to say I’m completely cured of this, but my advanced age has helped me quiet this tendency. Now, my husband and I employ a silly but effective method for putting things into perspective that we call “The Three Hs,” which represent health, happiness and (our daughter) Hailey. If we feel pissed off or stressed out about something, we quickly check ourselves: “Does it affect The Three Hs?” Most of the time, the answer is, “No.” Yes, the mommies in the mommy group are clique-ish buttholes, but does it impact my health, happiness or Hailey? No. So let that shit go. On the other hand, when I had a job that was stressing me out to the point that I was doubled over with stomach aches every day, we realized it was time to make some changes for the sake of our family.
  2. I got this, people. I got this. Every new mom knows that as soon as you have a visible baby bump the unsolicited child-rearing advice begins. Strangers will stop you on the street to tell you that their best friend’s daughter had a child who choked on a pacifier, so you are an irresponsible asshole for letting your child walk around with a binky. One time, my dog sitter (my dog sitter!) chastised me for not breastfeeding my daughter. It wasn’t any of her business that I had tried and failed, because it’s pretty damn hard to produce enough milk when you’re separated from your child who’s in the NICU. People thought it was their business to weigh in on where my child slept, how and when she slept, when she gave up her beloved binky, her footwear and that she looked chilly even though it was 70 degrees outside and we live in LA. In my younger years I would have gone one of two ways in response to the unsolicited advice: I would have either felt the need to explain and justify my parenting decisions to anyone who dared challenge them in some unwinnable attempt to make everyone see what a capable parent I was. Or, alternately, I would have just gone full on bitch and told them to shut the hell up. As an experienced liver of life though, I know these people, while pushy and often out of line, are mostly well meaning, so I never bothered to engage in these discussions, never made excuses for my parenting choices, never told them it was none of their damn business. I would just smile and say, “Thanks. I got this.” No one ever had a comeback for that.
  3. Freely question authority. I was raised to respect authority without question, and this stuck with me into adulthood. If someone had a badge or a couple of degrees and a white coat, I’d nod and smile, do what they said and never question them as if, you know, they were normal, fallible human beings. Then I had my daughter, and I had a disaster of a c-section and a doctor who started to show the signs of hubris and inexperience as the situation unraveled. A week after my daughter was born, my c-section incision split and I had to go in for a second surgery, but that time they couldn’t sew me back up. The football sized wound would have to be packed twice a day and heal on its own. My doctor wanted to speed the healing up with something called a wound vac. I won’t go into the gory details, but I will say that I had the wound vac for one week and every time it was put in or removed I screamed and nearly passed out from the pain. After seven days of this, I looked my doctor in the eyes and said, “No fucking wound vac! Do not come near me with that thing! Think of an alternative!” On that day, at my worst and most desperate, I learned that I alone make the decisions for my body. I am my own advocate. Doctors should be questioned. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think science should be questioned. But doctors, police officers, the courts, teachers get things wrong. They deserve our unwavering respect for the jobs they do. But no one should have absolute authority. You might guess that my child’s pediatrician does not love me. But that’s okay. I got this.

Howe To…Be One and Done

howe3And just like that, after months of discussing and second-guessing, it was decided. We were one and done. I had never even heard the term “one and done” until eight months ago, when I Googled “pro/cons of having an only child.” At the time, I was in the throes of anxiety, biological clock pressure and some arbitrary deadline I had put upon myself, and I thought Google would help my husband Josh and I tilt our pro/con list for growing our family to one side or another. Looking back, letting a search engine decide our family’s future probably wouldn’t have been our best move. But I was terrified that either choice we made would be the wrong one, and, being indecisive in general, the finality of the decision had me spinning. Turns out, Google was quite egalitarian on the issue, so it didn’t help anyway. Many online forums extolled the virtues of being one and done, and just as many were devoted to the joys of sibling relationships. Seriously. No. Help. At. All.

Josh had been about 80 percent certain he didn’t want to have another child for some time. Both of us had always envisioned a family of four, but, given our daughter Hailey’s difficult birth, and, you know, us almost dying and our resulting PTSD, well, needless to say, he wasn’t anxious to go down that road again. Also, given that Hailey’s birth could have turned out much different, Josh felt strongly that we dodged a bullet and wondered if trying for a second child would be pushing our luck. Rather, he chose to be grateful for the blessings we had than to ask for more. I shared his concerns and added to them the worry that my body and my psyche couldn’t handle another difficult pregnancy and birth, this time at 41.

For several months, Josh and I asked ourselves the tough questions (and some superficial ones): The three of us have a pretty cool family dynamic going on. Did we really want to change it? Did we have the time and energy to devote to another child? And we’re finally getting sleep! Do we want to go back to sleepless nights and diapers? And Hailey is such a good traveler! We can go anywhere! (We don’t. But we could.) Are we too old and tired? On the flip side, we worried about Hailey being lonely without a brother or sister, missing out on some of the quintessential sibling moments that most of us grow up with. My brother, sister and I are pains in each other’s asses much of the time, but we are also a support system for each other, shoulders to cry on, listeners, friends, cohorts in the stories of our lives, reality check, our children’s godparents. 

Our pro/con list had 10 items in each column, a clear sign that decisions like this can’t be whittled down to a list. In the end, it came down to Josh and I realizing on a gut level what was right for our family. After months of intellectualizing the decision, it clicked for us in an unusual way. The three of us were waiting in a line to see Mickey Mouse at Disneyland and a family of three was in line ahead of us — parents and a teenage daughter. They were talking, playing a game of some sort together and enjoying each other’s company. Perhaps the daughter was all teen angst at home, but on that day, not only was she a teenager alone at Disneyland with her parents, but she was having fun with them. Josh and I watched them for a while, then we turned to each other, smiling, and Josh said what we both were thinking: “I want that.”

We’re a couple of months past making our choice to join the ranks of the one and dones, and we’re still adjusting to this new plan for our family. I had always expected to have a second child and give birth again, thus being able to experience some of the early bonding moments Hailey and I missed out on due to her rough entry into the world. I’m still letting go of some sadness over the fact that I won’t ever know what it’s like to hold my crying baby after its born and feel its skin against my skin. And Josh and I always envisioned ourselves with two little girls, so we’ve had to adjust that vision for our family. But these are just longings for experiences we never knew, ghosts of a life that never existed. The reality of our family is beautiful, and our “one” is pretty damn incredible. Maybe the ghosts of a life never lived always remain for everyone, everywhere on some level, for one reason or another. But I think as gratitude for the present and for your real life builds, those ghosts dissipate, eventually settling into nothing more than a fine mist of a memory of something that never was.

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