Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Mother Load

Having two kids under four means living with a lot of baggage-- actual baggage, especially when one or both of them are still in diapers. Just to leave the house for any sustained period of time we need diapers, a change of clothes for the sometimes-accident-prone, a change of clothes for the puker, various snacks and sippy cups and don't forget a toy or two to distract them. If the trip is (lord help us) overnight, we rarely get out of the door without a small rolling suitcase for each of the hours we will be away.

It's a lot to haul. (Oh, my achin' back!)

And let's not forget that at any one moment, one or both of them might decide to revolt against gravity by having you carry their little heinies around. (And why exactly do I need a gym membership?)

But what makes the physical labor all the more arduous, and the thing that I think is hardest to quantify as a parent, is the emotional luggage we all carry around. (I'm going on a guilt trip, care to help me pack?)

In any given span of 5 minutes, I might feel alternately proud of my son for being polite, worried that my daughter is physically so small, angry that my once polite son is now pummelling my tiny daughter over a McDonald's toy, guilty that I ever take them to McDonalds, defiant because dammit, I work, and I can't do everything, remorseful because I am missing these days with them, relieved that I work out of the home when I look over and daughter is now pummelling son right back, guilty again because shouldn't I want to be with my kids every minute of the ever-loving day?, frustrated because the bickering. never. stops. and then right back to proud when I observe a moment of pure sibling love.

And then tired. A whole bucket of tired.

Tired from the physical work of raising these kids. From the emotional work of being engaged and involved with them, and worried about their well being.

And then there's the no sleeping because someone's sick/having nightmares/peed the bed/snoring in my left ear all. night. long.

It's no secret that being a parent is hard work. And this is where I am supposed to insert a diatribe about how it's all worth it, or how someday we'll look back and miss these days, or how some people are not so lucky as to have children... And I know that this is true.

But that's somewhat akin to making yourself feel better about your cold by comparing yourself to someone sicker, no? It is a cold comfort when the reality has not changed.

It is what it is, and what it is? Right now? Is exhausting. Dress it up however you might like, it's a long hard road peppered with hours of the night that you have not seen since you were a co-ed. So when she turns to me, now excited about her baby, and talks about the cuteness, and the outfits, and this is the sum of her expectations, I never know what to say.

It is a beautiful, terrible, joyous and painful journey she's preparing to take. And she has no idea. And if anyone had told me before I began my own journey? I would have never believed them. It had to become my own weight to carry.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Sound of Silence

I settle into the La-Z-Boy with a sigh. The kids are upstairs in M’s room, playing quietly together. After a moment, my body relaxes. It feels luxurious to sit and not have to referee a wrestling match for a few minutes.

Then it hits me. The kids are playing quietly.

This can’t be good.

Previous quiet playtime has resulted in such fiascoes as: the great hair-cutting incident; painting body, wall and miscellaneous other surfaces with Desitin (not easy to clean, by the way); the 4003-stuffed-animal jamboree and the feed-the-cat-12-days-worth-of-food-in-2-minutes-disaster. However, each of those little adventures occurred when my children were “playing” alone.

I shudder to think of the damage they could do putting TWO diabolically clever minds together.

As I approach the door I hear them.

How about then she went dancing?

(There is humming.)

Could it be that they are using their combined powers for good and not evil?

Instead of disturbing the peace, I returned to my recliner to contemplate the silence. The good silence. I’ve been a parent long enough to know that you don’t do anything to upset the delicate peace on the rare occasions that it happens.

In actuality, my kids are good friends. They’re good friends who happen to be brother and sister so they are forced to be together longer and more often than any two people should have to when they didn’t choose that life.

Born two years and seven days apart, they’ve somehow developed an interest in many of the same things. My son plays with Polly Pockets and Barbie as often as my daughter plays trucks and Rescue Heroes. Their imaginations, when let loose unencumbered by time restrictions, continually amaze me.

Naturally, they fight as often as they get along. It’s expected, but still frustrating for me as a parent.

Their relationship, if we’re lucky, will be the longest relationship with another person in their lives. It is my hope for them that their closeness; their support for one another; continues long after I’m done refereeing.

Casual Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesdays...

When I taught pre-K, I realized something very interesting. Even young children can identify who we are and what we do, if we wear a uniform. Every single 4-year-old kid in my class could point out firefighters, mail carriers, doctors, farmers, & chefs based on the clothes the person was wearing. (Granted: if those same kids saw my husband lounging on our couch in his ratty old Ohio State t-shirt, they probably wouldn't guess that he's a surgeon. They'd probably guess "bum." Or "couch potato." I'm just sayin'.)

I saw a blog a few weeks ago that's written by a stay-at-home mom who lives in California. (I've been searching like the dickens and can't find the link now, sorry!) She posts pictures of herself every day (or at least, every few days) in the stylish, attractive, (expensive) outfits she considers appropriate for SAHMs. I paged through her posts and found myself agape - there is NO way I would wear those things for my average, staying-at-home-with-a-toddler day.

Most of the moms I know seem to wear a motherhood uniform - a Momiform, if you will. It varies a little, based on the age range of your kids and the weather where you live. But for all intents and purposes, most of the moms I know are easily identifiable as moms. We aren't wearing Dior and Chanel on a daily basis; we're wearing jeans (not those!).

Personally, I had a little bit of a clothing crisis when I started this at-home gig. My closet was full of things that were great for teaching - but just a little too dressed-up for a day at home, breastfeeding and wiping my newborn's butt. Other than those work outfits, I had two options: jeans and various tops, or pajamas.

To be honest, there are lots of days that the PJs look like the best option. Recently, though, when I really started giving this Momiform concept some thought, I decided that getting up and getting dressed is important. It helps me feel like my day has officially started - and I'm a lot more productive on days I'm out of pajamas by 8:30 or 9:00 a.m.

I splurged a little bit on a pair of Hanna Andersson's sweats - they are undeniably the most expensive pair of sweatpants and matching jacket I've ever owned, but they are also the most comfortable, warm, and pulled-together pair I've ever seen. I choose these on days that I'm really just staying at home, maybe running outside to play or to get the mail, but that's it.

On days that we're running errands, attending playgroup, or going to appointments, I make slightly more effort. I searched for a long time to find nice-looking, affordable jeans. Now I have three pairs that I love beyond measure. A pair of Hanna "beach pants," some cords, & a few pairs of khakis round out my choices, and of course I have a whole assortment of sweaters and long-sleeved shirts.

This, my friends, is my uniform. I'm not wearing the latest, hottest runway looks. And the thing is, I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing. Does it mean that I'm no longer thinking of myself as primarily a woman (god forbid, a sexy woman!) since I'm dressing more for function, washability, ease of putting things together without clashing - and less for the drama, the impact, the stunning fashion? Or does it mean that I'm a reasonable, practical, grown-up who has faced the reality of life with young kids and doesn't have her head in the clouds about her clothing?

What do you think - are you pro or con? Do you wear a Momiform? Do you love it or hate it? I'd especially like to hear from the women who say they don't wear one and don't approve. What do you do instead? How do you find the time - and money - to dress the way you used to, in your pre-kid days?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


As parents, if we are lucky, we will be able to make many mistakes when it comes to raising our children.

Those mistakes will allow us to learn. Our children will learn and we will learn.

If we’re lucky, we make the little mistakes often enough that we never make the big mistakes. We never make the life-altering mistakes.

Although sometimes those little mistakes feel big.

When your child’s eyes are red-rimmed and overflowing with tears, his breath is coming in hiccups and his screams are in a tone that tells of his outrage at the injustice of it all… that’s when those mistakes feel larger than they are.

Lately I’ve been trying to make sure that I follow up on the promised consequences of misbehavior. Two nights this has resulted in each of my children being sent to bed slightly earlier than normal without reading books or snuggling.

I’ve been feeling that my children don’t take me seriously. I tell them to stop jumping on one another and they don’t stop. It’s as though I’ve remained silent. Have I mentioned that I’ve tried just telling them to stop?

It doesn’t do anything. They continue. I am a big joke.

So I decided that I needed a little less talk and more action.

At the same time, I’m refreshing my knowledge of Love and Logic parenting. The love and logic philosophy is counterintuitive to the less-talk more-action approach that I started this week.

So I’m sure that I’m thoroughly confusing my children.

Hell, I’m confused myself.

Sometimes I want to throw myself on the floor and have a tantrum. If you ask my kids, they will tell you that I’ve come pretty close to doing just that.

I’m making so many mistakes that I’m worried that I’m damaging my children’s self-esteem. What is wrong with me? Am I the parent or not? Because I’m acting like a sulky teenager who is not getting her way.

I have my little tantrum and then I feel like crying (which I sometimes also do). I feel guilty that I get so angry. I think things like “well if he just would listen I wouldn’t get so mad,” but the truth is that it is my problem, not his. My children are being children. They’re testing their boundaries. They have things they’d rather do than listen to their mommy blather on about the multitude of things she thinks they shouldn’t do.

How do I turn this around? How do I stop myself from traveling down this slippery slope of sloppy parenting?

I think that I need to learn to remove myself from the room. Maybe go to the bathroom if I find my anger increasing, or go to my bedroom and close the door. (I’m usually followed though.)

I need to learn to give in on some things. Maybe it’s not that important that the kids sit in time-out in silence. Maybe they can babble to themselves and still be in time-out. Maybe it’s more important for me to let it slide than to increase my blood pressure over this.

Of course these things are easier said than done. But it’s important that I try.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stuck in the Middle With You

It was a balmy 4 degrees this morning when I left the house. Wind chill was something like 18 below. My kids acted like they had placed outside naked into the snow, when in fact they had thirty layers on. They reminded me of those kids from the Christmas Story.

Sometimes, I wonder about our choice to be here, in the middle. While both Hubs and I were raised in the Midwest, I had the luxury of living near the ocean for two years. And both of us spent some time on the coasts as kids, visiting family. There's just something about the ocean that calls to us.

And our kids have never seen it.

We are 14 hours away from the nearest beach, and that's the Gulf-- not even the ocean, really.

While there are definite pluses to our lives here (low cost of living, extremely well-educated community, our jobs) I feel sort of sad at times for the oceanic life my kids will never know intimately. About tides and the moon, and the smell that's stuck in your nose for a week. (Usually this a good smell, unless a horseshoe crab has beached itself.) About a day in the sand that didn't take a month of planning to create.

What would it be like to just "drop by" the beach?

These thoughts are definitely prominent as we dig out the car (again,) salt the driveway (again,) shop for bigger coats (again.) What would it be like to stand in the sun, in shorts, with my kids, in January?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pssst. Wanna See My Caucus?

Four years ago, I was pregnant with my first child, and my husband was not yet a candidate. As the Vice-Chair of our county's Democratic Party, he was asked to assist with the caucus in our area. Actually, he was asked to chair it. At the time, in my new-to-Kansas naiveté, I was all twitterpated about him being chosen for this great honor. What I didn't know is that when you run the caucus, you can't caucus. So no one was particularly eager to have this job. But someone had to do it. So he did.

Lacking any eager volunteers or indebted friends, he strong-armed recruited me to help with the caucuses as the Rules and Regulations person. I was raised in Missouri, a state that votes for their primary. I had never caucused before. But I am definitely someone who is "rules oriented," having spent many of my years of employment working with student government, constitutions, and parli pro. So I was a good choice as a person who would enforce the rules fairly and consistently. Plus, no one wants to mess with a pregnant lady with a clipboard.

Maybe you've never caucused before. And, um? What I didn't know? That you should know?

It can get a little nuts.

Most of the Democratic caucuses in my state are…brief. Kansas is an interesting political landscape, what with our crazy-high number of Republicans and our Democratic governor. There aren't a lot of folks west of here caucusing for the Democrats. But Lawrence, where I live, is seen by most people in our state as the "liberal hippie" town. So Democrats actually caucus for their candidates here, and they do so hard core, sounding their barbaric (but unfortunately impotent) yawp over the roofs of our town.

The way a caucus works is that everyone starts out together. As the caucus is mediated, they split off in to different areas in the room that denote which candidate they are in support of. Candidates that do not garner 15% of those in attendance are deemed "non-viable."

Here's where it gets nuts.

If you've caucused for a non-viable candidate, you have three choices: leave the caucus, join another candidate's group, or, if you can garner a group of 15%, start an "uncommitted" group, which is beholden to no candidate. Groups who are already viable want those people to join them. Because caucusing is all about getting delegates, who will go on to the next level to caucus for their candidate, hypothetically resulting in the selection of a candidate for president. (Usually, Kansas caucuses so late that it is nearly irrelevant, because most candidates have dropped out by that time.)

The competition to grab those folks shopping for a candidate is fierce. Invariably, some of those who have caucused for the non-viable candidates are on the outer edges of the party. And some of them love being fought over—they're usually in the back of the room during Democratic functions, everyone else rolling their eyes at whatever rant they're rocking—but this is their moment in the big red-white-and-blue spotlight. They use this time as a mouthpiece for all kinds of issues—be it the importance of a living wage (great point but irrelevant to the caucus), buying local, organic produce (ditto), or why we should write-in Boog for president (our former mayor, a swell guy, but also not a viable presidential candidate.) Only time brings these soliloquies to a close, so that we can finish up and select the delegates that will go on to caucus at the next level.

The rules person enforces the time limits, so you can see what a popular girl I was when I so rudely yanked that spotlight from them in an effort to keep things moving. People got a little testy, but since I was a stickler for the rules, and I was pregnant and holding a clipboard, no one got too nasty. Especially since at that point the Democratic presidential candidate had been all but chosen nationally anyway.

Fast forward to now. The lack of sleep at our house must have finally rotted my brain all the way through. Because even though hubs is not chairing the caucus? And even though I didn't have to? And even though the issues are even bigger this time? And though this year the Kansas Caucus is actually early enough to matter, so much so that candidates are actually coming here? I volunteered to do it again.

It's going to be full on crazy this time. And I won't have my belly to protect me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ohio: In or Out?

So one day, a few weeks ago, I happen to be reading through my blogroll, when I come across Cool Zebras. Heather is starting a new blog, and she’s looking for writers! What a neat coincidence – I’m looking for more places to write!

But her blog is going to focus on Midwestern parents. And I live just outside of Cincinnati. So this begs the never-ending (in my house, at least) question: is Ohio part of the Midwest?

I emailed Heather to see what she thought – after all, it’s her new blog. Interestingly enough, she said that in her opinion, Ohio was part of the Midwest, but her husband disagreed. What do you know? That’s the same split decision we reached at my house!

My husband thinks that I could have been a reference librarian. At various points in our life together, he has affectionately referred to me as his Little Dictionary, his Little Thesaurus, and his Little Encyclopedia. However: never, not even once, has he ruffled my hair and called me his Little Atlas.

I will admit it: I am geographically stunted. My development in most other academic areas progressed without incident. I learned to read at an early age and I still adore reading. I don’t have a love affair with math, but I made decent grades and I remember enough to balance my checkbook and add fractions for seam allowances when I sew. I have a crazy memory for spelling and grammar and early childhood development. But hey, Michelle, what’s the capitol of Montana? Ummmm…..

For Father’s Day last year, I bought a neat set of magnets that form a map of the United States for Chris. It’s been a long-running joke that if I do, indeed, end up homeschooling our not-quite-two-year-old… well, Daddy will just handle the Geography lessons, alright? And I’m okay with that.

But getting back to my story. Here we were: Heather wanted other moms to write with her on MP, and I wanted a place to write. Two women believing that Ohio counted – and two men thinking that it didn’t. The time had come: I googled it. Guess what I found out?

Multiple resources that say Ohio is IN! (And, for the record, so are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Some sources added Kentucky to the list, and others left it out but included Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.)

You know what this means, don’t you? Yeah, okay, of course: it means that I get to write here at Midwest Parents! That’s all well and good. But the biggest lesson we learned? The wives were right, and the husbands were wrong. And no matter where you live, that’s a good thing to remember.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Whose Business is This?

As my son and I approached the entrance of the store I noticed a mini-van parked in the fire lane at the front of the store, driver absent, motor running. While things as simple as this (not parking in an actual parking spot but parking right outside the door) bother me, it was what I saw as I drew closer to the van that really sparked my anger.

Three children. No adult in the car. Two of the kids were strapped helplessly in their car seats. The third, the oldest of the three at perhaps five years old, was wildly launching himself over the seats with a gleeful grin on his face.

My mind raced to all the things that could happen to these children. Someone could steal the van full of kids in a heartbeat. If there was a lighter in the car, they could start the car on fire. At the very least, the oldest child could land on and injure one of the younger two.

Forget the fact that it is winter in Minnesota.

Let me clarify that this store was not a necessity-type store. There could be no emergency product that called a parent to this store. Not one.

I admit it. I was livid. But I did nothing. I should have called the police. At the very least, I should have informed someone in the store.

I didn’t want to get involved.

This parenting thing is tricky business. What I think is right another parent might shake their head in disgust thinking about.

Perhaps it is similar to seeing a parent in public with a screaming child. If you’ve been there yourself you tend to ignore the situation when it happens to others because when it’s been me I’ve wanted to disappear. The most I do in that situation is smile and say “I’ve been there.”

Because if you try to offer more than that, I think you risk alienating the parent. Chances are, she already feels like a horrible parent in that moment. A stranger’s “help” would perhaps underscore her perceived lack of parenting skills. When you’re already feeling badly about your skills, you don’t need someone else making you even more aware that others are witnessing this debacle.

But what is our societal role in raising children? Is it okay to correct someone else’s child even when the parent is obviously trying? What if the parent is growing violently frustrated with the child? When should someone else step in?

When should we get involved?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Welcome to the Midwest!

We do things in a slightly odd way here in the Midwest. I admit it. We're different.

But so are you.

With this blog I hope to explore our differences AND our similarities.

It will be a place to rant, dream, and celebrate. It will be a place for discussion, friendly disagreement and support.

At least that's what I want for this blog.

First "real" post coming soon.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Midwest parents collaborator and writing guidelines

All guidelines are subject to changes and additions without notice. We’re (meaning I am) winging it for now.

  1. Contributors must live in the Midwest and have children.
  2. Posts must be about some aspect of parenting. (Bonus if it also relates to the Midwest specifically.) Please no posts only about something cute your kids did.
  3. No swearing or other inappropriate language. If you wouldn’t say it to your friends’ kids when your friend is standing there, don’t say it to us.
  4. If your post is fiction it needs to be clearly stated. I believe creativity has a natural place in parenting and so creative writing also fits into this blog. But if you didn’t really take your kid bungee jumping I want to know it.

Want to join us (or, currently, me)?

If you are a blogger, send me the link to your blog.
Current non-bloggers are welcome and encouraged to contribute.
Send a sample of your writing (like you would contribute here) to me at midwestparents {at} gmail {dot} com. Please put “writing submission” and your name in the subject line.
Writing commitments will depend on how many contributors I get!