Beautiful Chaos

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Land of Make Believe

Recently, a friend of mine in Cincinnati posted on Facebook that she was feeling out of place at a park. She went in typical mommy attire: comfortable and sporty. She was shocked to discover that many of the other mothers there were wearing dresses.

Dresses.

I instantly had negative feelings toward these women. Thanks, ladies, for violating the unspoken mothers’ pact that dictates that unless you are going to date night/girls’ night/a formal occasion, you do not put on makeup/wear nice clothing/brush your hair. We aren’t supposed to care how we look on a playdate.

Someone asked my friend at which park she encountered the dressy women, and she responded (truthfully) that it is called, “The Land of Make Believe.”

Oh, the irony.

As mothers, how often do we say that we just don’t care about how we look because there are too many other things to focus on? Additionally, how quick are we to incite mommy-on-mommy hate when we encounter someone who looks, by our own standards, “better”?

I have two nagging thoughts that I can’t shake:

Do we live in the land of make believe when we tell ourselves that we don’t or shouldn’t care about our looks? Are we doing ourselves a disservice by devaluing the desire to look nice?

We do care. I care. The woman at the playground who wasn’t dressed to be at a royal ball probably cares.

I’m not even talking about the pressures we may feel to reach a certain societal standard of beauty; I’m talking about being comfortable in our own skin, which can be a big struggle when our skin has been chewed on, stretched out, cut open or wrinkled with the worries of parenting.

Being a parent is no fairy tale. It is hard work. The easy part is putting our looks way down at the bottom of the to-do list.

And because of that, it’s easy to think that making time for the way we look is a superficial thing. We start assigning guilt to the feelings that urge us to buy the nice under-eye cream instead of the generic, or splurge on a manicure instead of getting the toddler the toy he has been wanting.

So we compromise; we go to the gym to exercise and feel good but spend all day a hot, sweaty mess because taking the time to shower and dress would interrupt the kids’ schedules (heaven forbid). We go to play dates straight from the gym and then feel a little put off by the parents who do look nice.

Long gone are the little girl days of wanting to be a princess; we have come to terms that we are more like Cinderella, and there are no glass slippers in our futures.

As much as I would love to tell you that I don’t care, there is a little part of me that does.

I oscillate between the reassuring thoughts that I’m beautiful because of who I am, not how I look, and nagging reminders that I haven’t washed, dried and fixed my hair in weeks because I have been prioritizing parenting over something that makes me feel good about myself.

I hold my head high and claim that as a feminist, I believe my value comes from somewhere other than my appearance. But admittedly, I still feel “less than” when I encounter women who look like they stepped out of the fairy tale. They ate poisonous fruit and lost weight faster than I did. They climbed the beanstalk carrying their 6-month-old and got a freaking six-pack.

Maybe they made it a higher priority. Maybe projecting on them is a reflection of my own insecurities. Maybe, just maybe, I caught them on the one and only day they washed their hair and felt beautiful, and I should celebrate them instead of admonishing them.

Does it only happen in the land of make believe that we remember that it’s OK to take the time to do something for ourselves?


It does feel good to know you look good, however you choose to define it. Maybe the mothers who were dressed so nicely at The Land of Make Believe did the right thing by bringing a bit of the fairy tale into the real world. I may never achieve it, but it’s a good reminder that I can take a little time for myself and still be a good mom.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The (other) truth about breastfeeding

Sometimes, breastfeeding sucks. (Get it?)

I’m a huge advocate of nursing. In addition to the nutrition benefits, there really is an amazing bond that develops. I already know how much I’m going to miss it, as my 15-month-old is slowly (like, really slowly) weaning herself.

Sometime in early August was Breastfeeding Is Better Than Jesus Week (or something like that). I am thrilled that there are blogs, articles and bare-chested celebrities dedicated to normalizing breastfeeding, portraying it as the beautiful, nurturing activity that it nearly always is. And heaven forbid anyone ever call into question if "breast is best" - you will have an army peaceful protesting of hippies sending you a million links and telling you a million stories about the miraculous healing power of breast milk.

We get it - breastfeeding is friggin awesome. But can we also agree that nursing is not always sunshine, rainbows and fluttering butterflies? Yes, the gigantic pros outweigh the teeny tiny cons, and I never second-guess my decision to nurse my children.

Yet I willingly confess that I have had a few moments – even just a split second from time to time – in which I sort of look forward to the day my daughter recoils and asks for a cup instead. If breastfeeding mothers unite to encourage the practice, can we also come together to commiserate over a few things?

Sometimes, it hurts.

Anyone who has ever tried to nurse knows that the first few weeks, even months can be incredibly painful. “Oh, it’s just the baby’s latch,” I was told as my 2-week-old Monster nursed, my toes curling and mouth agape with the silent scream that only a nursing mother knows.

It took us six weeks to get it right. There were many creams, devices and prayers employed during that time.

Also: Teeth.

Sometimes, it can be annoying.

Yes, there is the rare occasion in which I lament my daughter’s desire to nurse nonstop for hours on end. When she doesn’t feel well, she wants to attach herself to me for at least two episodes of Dora, which thankfully occupies the toddler. 

It’s worse when she embarks on her marathon at night. Look, baby, it’s 11 p.m. and I should have been in bed hours ago so I can get up in a few hours to nurse you again so that I can maybe get four or five hours of sleep so I can nurse you all day tomorrow.

Sometimes, it can be inconvenient.

There have been moments in which I would have loved to hand the baby a bottle. Imagine: I could have used both my hands to eat my meal, do the dishes, clean, feed the dog or any of the other million things I have done while nursing because my daughter refuses to take a bottle.

Sometimes, you miss your old breasts.

I don’t always want to champion my sagging bosom as the proud marks of a nursing mother. I don’t always like the fact that bras are no longer cute undergarments but are instead highly technical devices in which I have to stuff, arrange and manipulate skin that now has stretch marks.

I know that I am going to miss nursing. Those sweet chubby cheeks nestled into me, little hands playing with my necklace, tiny toes curling and uncurling with delight. She is my last baby, so when she weans, I will never get to nurse again. That notion kicks me in the gut in a way very few things can.

But it can be relieving to think that one day, it will all be over. When I have those frustrating all-night nursing marathons or she starts playing the “let’s bite mommy” game, I have to remind myself that she will not be 10 years old and still lifting my shirt (dear God, she better not be).

I’m not saying these pitfalls should keep anyone from nursing, but I do think that mothers should feel they can admit that it’s hard without fear of criticism. If we are going to normalize breastfeeding, let’s be honest about all of its ups and downs.


Monday, July 21, 2014

You know you’re on vacation with young kids when …

… You are in bed by 9 p.m. because you are just that exhausted.
… Every trip to the pool or beach involves an unintentional underwater experience that strikes fear into your heart and shakes the child to his or her core.
… Bedtime is somehow harder.
… Sand. Everywhere.
… Seriously. Sand gets in everything and every body area and every item of clothing.
… You drink your wine at 2 p.m. because it’s the only time the kids are having down time and your eyes are still open.
… The thought of cooking dinner is awful. But so is the thought of going to a restaurant you don’t know. So you order take out almost every night and hope for the best.
… Vacation? What vacation?
… You get dirty looks for being THAT PARENT still using the spray sunscreen instead of the lotion because OF COURSE you left the lotion at home.
… It seems impossible, but you do even more laundry than you would at home.
… A run on the beach by yourself is exactly 1 million times sweeter than it was before you had children.
… You will go for said run barefoot because the old running shoes you brought gave you blisters but the searing pain is still worth the hour of alone time.
… And you will volunteer to run with the baby in the jogger later that afternoon because you know she will fall asleep and you will again get a little bit of quiet time.
… You longingly look at a book/e-reader every night as you drift off to sleep, feeling sad that YET AGAIN you didn’t get a minute to start reading that thing your sister-in-law keeps telling you to dive into while on vacation.  
… You will spend more time packing the floats, towels, sunscreen, changes of clothes, swim diapers, snacks, wipes, drinks, water shoes, blanket, canopy, Coast Guard-approved flotation devices and water toys than you actually will at the beach.
… You almost cry when the family members you are with offer to watch the kids for an hour so you and your spouse can go to breakfast alone.
… Dessert happens every night. Even when all the kids eat is a graham cracker and slice of cheese.
… And sometimes you sneak an extra dessert for yourself, but you eat it behind closed doors so the kids don’t see it and demand to have more, aka extend their sugar high.
… 5 a.m. is bright, warm and filled with the shrieks of children asking if the ocean is open yet.
… The kids get to watch TV a little more than usual because, well, it’s their vacation, too, and that’s what they want to do.
… Every day there are no fewer than 300 photo-worthy moments and you are so overwhelmed when trying to decide which to post to Facebook that you accidentally delete half of them but decide that it’s 2 p.m. and time to drink wine, anyway, so no big deal.
… You realize that even though vacations are much less relaxing now than they were then, you are creating memories that will forever live someplace in your heart. And though you spent more money on food and wine (It’s vacation! Get the expensive bottle!) than you did on the vacation house itself, you know that you can’t put a price on getting to spend time in a beautiful place with the most important people in your life. You start to cherish every second of vacation a little bit more, knowing that your kids will never look this way and be this young again.

… But you still kind of long for the calmer, carefree vacations of years past. Just a little bit.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Grocery Store

Anyone with kids knows that going to the grocery store is pretty much going to be the worst part of your day. It’s such a shame, because I used to love shopping for food. It is amazing to me how different these trips are now compared to just five years ago.

Parking

Pre-Kids: Oh, I’ll just park way in the back of the lot. They say that walking a little extra every day is good for you!
Now: Did that guy seriously just take that spot? He did! You, hey! You! Listen, bucko, there is clearly a sign that says “For parents with children only” on that spot! You do not have any kids with you! You better hope I don’t pass you in the produce section, because I will shove a cucumber right up your-Oh, nevermind, there’s another spot that’s closer to the store.

Walking In

Pre-Kids: Ooooh, look at these cute holiday decorations on sale! I can’t wait to spend way too much money on them because I have no other use for my disposable income. And discounted holiday chocolate! My lucky day!
Now: Oh %$*@. They have the damn candy at the front of the store again. Must distract toddler.

Produce

Pre-Kids: I just love taking my time to find the PERFECT apple, the PERFECT bunch of bananas and the PERFECT avocado.
Now: Sigh. Whatever.

Deli & Bakery

Pre-Kids: Bread bread bread yummy carbs bread donuts bagels bread bread bread bread
Now: Must.Not.Look.

Meat

Pre-Kids: Let’s grill steaks tonight! Mmm and have that fresh, expensive fish tomorrow and then the next day, I’ll spend two hours putting together that new chicken dish I have been dying to try.
Now: $10 for 10 hamburgers? Are they microwaveable?

Dairy

Pre-Kids: I haven’t bought milk in a decade.
Now: Organic milk is the downfall of our budget.

Walking the Aisles

Pre-Kids: I think I’ll go up and down every single aisle just to see what’s here. Maybe there’s something new! I just love being able to take my time and leisurely stroll through this miraculous collection of delciousness.
Now: Don’t need anything from that aisle. There will be a major tantrum if I go down that one. Must go down this one but keep 3-year-old from seeing giant bags of candy. Lord, is this trip over yet?

Running People I Know

Pre-Kids: Oh, how wonderful to see you! Yes, I do look thin! I have ton of time to work out and cook healthy food. Oh, these? I just got them at the mall this weekend. Just $80 – they had a sale on sandals!
Now: I was hoping I wouldn’t see anyone. Yes, I’m wearing a sweatshirt in this heat because right now baggy clothes are my friends. Please don’t look at my feet. I’m wearing two different shoes.

Checking Out

Pre-Kids: La la la I love grocery shopping la la la this is so fun
Now: Why must they have MORE CANDY right here? I’m almost done. I almost made it without a tantrum! Thanks, geniuses, for tempting my kids ONE LAST TIME in such an obvious place. THIS IS PURE HELL!

Leaving

Pre-Kids: An hour!?! I was in there for an hour? That is SO.LONG. I have all these evening plans and I have to spend at least two hours getting ready. I can’t believe I was in there for an entire hour! That’s four times as long as it usually takes.

Now: An hour? Record time!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The incident

Do you know how intricately made Thomas the Train wooden figures are? Have you ever taken the time to really ponder the workmanship that goes into one?

My daughter has been teething. I think. Her gums look creepy and she never sleeps or naps.

My son has been potty training. I think. He has mastered part of it but is still working on what comes after number one, if you catch my drift.

Every time I try to put the baby down for a much-needed nap, nature loudly and emergently calls Monster.

He has no problem lording over the potty, hands on his hips, seemingly proud of the stream that sometimes hits its target. But the other side of that coin? Well, I guess his highness is not yet comfortable with sitting on the throne.

And now his aversion has gone from inconvenient to disastrous.

It always happens while I’m trying to get the baby to sleep. For three days in a row, she starts to close her eyes only to have them fly open as Monster barges in and makes a terrifying announcement regarding his bathroom activities. 

The first day, we easily resolved his little accident by simply throwing out the train-themed underwear.

The next day, his news involved an incident that was slightly messier and necessitated a good hand-scrubbing and lots of patience.

But on the third day ...

Good things are supposed to happen on the third instance of something. Third time's the charm. Jesus rose on the third day. 

Our third day was neither charming nor miraculous.

"I tried to clean it up," he said sheepishly as he led the fussy baby and a close-to-exploding me into the playroom.

I have seen first-hand what a tornado can do to a neighborhood. I have walked through homes that a flood destroyed. I have personally helped a family pick up the pieces after a fire.

But never in my life have I ever seen anything like what I walked into on that third day.

I am not trying to downplay what people endure when they experience a natural disaster. Those are truly terrible situations. 

What I am doing is telling you that our once-shining example of a child's playroom was now stained with the unparalleled effects of a 3-year-old's attempt to cover up a toxic accident before his exhausted mother could get a cranky, teething baby to sleep and discover that her afternoon would now consist of close-mouthed scrubbing, sobbing and cursing.

I couldn't even discipline the boy. He knew what he did was wrong. He knew he needed to clean up. While I was still in the nursery being unsuccessful, he had gone into the laundry room, retrieved cleaning wipes and proceeded to further blemish about 10 square feet of carpet.

I suppose he then felt that doing a little light cleaning on top of his cover-up would soften the blow, which is why the now-dirtied wipes had been used to “clean” the windowsills, walls, toys and tabletops. 

So, back to my original question: Have you ever taken the time to appreciate the minute, detailed work that goes into those wildly expensive Thomas the Train figures? 

Until that third day, I hadn't. 

As I stood over a sink of piping hot water and disinfectant, I realized just how many nooks and crannies there are. So many little crevices that just when you think you have identified them all, one triggers your sense of smell and you contemplate burning down the house instead of spending one more second doing what you are doing.

We could not save all the victims of that third day. A plastic lion, knock-off train and a few tracks found their new home in the garbage alongside the used wipes and empty bottles of peroxide. 

My son will undoubtedly ask where his toys went. The kid can't remember where he put his shoes, but he keeps a detailed toy inventory in his brain and knows when one goes missing.

So when he asks me where the purple caboose went or why he is two links short of a full train track, I will have the perfect response:


"Shit happens."