I Knew I Was Done Having Babies, But I’m Still Grieving

I had surgery yesterday to get sterilized. The irony that the last time I was in a hospital bed was the day my second child was born was not lost on me.

I am almost 42 years old. I have two children but sometimes it feels like 10. Once my second child was born, we all knew that our family was complete.

And yet yesterday as they wheeled me into the operating room I felt a heavy waterfall of grief come over me. I started sobbing.

There was a man behind me, I assume the anesthesiologist but I didn’t see his face when he asked if everything was ok.

I tried to chuckle through the tears. “I just can’t believe it’s really happening. I’m getting sterilized. It’s just all so much.”

Celeste Yvonne/Facebook

The nurse beside me nodded. But the guy sounded confused when he said, “But isn’t this what you want?”

Oh, if only all of our life choices were as simple as finding satisfaction and peace with every major decision we make! I can only imagine.

I don’t think I responded before they hooked me up to the IV, and I didn’t wake up again until a few hours later.

Now I lay in bed with a throbbing tummy and deep exhaustion, but grateful for a smooth surgery. I know I made the right decision in the same way I knew we were done having children years ago. And I’m reminded yet again that even the most important decisions we make in life can come with tears. Even with certainty comes grief. And mourning the end of my childbearing is not only acceptable, it’s warranted.

It’s the end of an era. My babies are now little men and I will never grow another baby inside of me. And as I listen to those little men outside my bedroom now fighting and screaming, I think, “Thank God!” But it’s also so deeply bittersweet.

What will the next phase of life be? It’ll be soccer games, friendships, school, and then (gasp) preteens. Maybe there will be grandkids in my future. Or maybe not.

Everybody talks about wanting to have children. But nobody ever talks about the day you know it’s time to stop having children. And as someone who just switched to the next phase of life, all I can say is wow. So deeply bittersweet.

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You’re Right, Stranger: I Am Brave––Here’s Why

Moms of the internet seem to really hate when strangers at the grocery store tell them “you’ve got your hands full!” The memes on this topic are endless, and sometimes they even make me laugh.

But to be totally honest, I kind of agree with these intrusive pedestrians. Because, really, they’re exactly correct: I, and all the other moms out there, really do have our hands full (even if it’s maybe not always in the way that they mean).

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking my children along the sandy beachfront path a few blocks from our home (which sounds idyllic, except for the fact that, as I previously stated, I had both of my children with me, and it was afternoon, so one or both of them really should have been sleeping), when an older woman walking an alarmingly bedraggled-looking beagle, neither of whom I knew in any capacity, stopped, raised her eyebrows at my 32-week pregnant belly, and said “Girl, you’re brave.“

Courtesy of Katherine DeVries

I feel like a lot of internet moms would have had a field day with this comment. It was pretty intrusive. And a little bit rude. But I surprised both her, and myself, when my immediate reaction was to laugh. I even peed my pants a little (although that isn’t too unusual for me at this point). The older woman smiled, gestured to my stroller, and wished me “good luck with all that,” as she continued to drag her dog down the sidewalk.

And I kind of love that woman, because I’m pretty sure she’s me in 30 years.

Having two children under four is a wild ride. I definitely do have my hands, and my pockets, and my patience-pouch full. And in a few short months, we’re “bravely” throwing another kid on top of it all.

The decision to get pregnant again was not an easy one. In fact, my husband and I talked about it basically every night, for a year. Because, as the aforementioned stranger implied, having a third kid is pretty scary.

Sure, the risks of pregnancy are scary, as is the financial burden of three children, and the fact that I’ll be officially outnumbered whenever the kids and I leave the house without my husband. But for me, what scares me the most is the first, and arguably the cutest, part of parenthood: the newborn phase.

The newborn phase has never been my favorite. In fact, I can honestly say that I hated Cara Dumaplin (Of Taking Cara Babies fame) long before it was “cool” to hate her, largely because she told me that her $120 sleep training course would magically allow me to “love the newborn phase.” Spoiler alert: I paid up, and it didn’t happen.

During my first pregnancy, I worried about whether the baby would be healthy, and how I would survive delivery. The prospect of giving birth was so foreign and overwhelming to me that I couldn’t really look past it and imagine what the days and weeks immediately afterwards would be like. And so, like most new moms, I brought a beautiful, healthy baby home from the hospital, only to be bombarded by the real challenges that, despite taking all the right classes, and reading all the right books, no one really told me about.

Cavan Images/Getty

During those first few weeks, I was shocked by how insane true sleep deprivation could make me feel. I was shocked by how much time my baby spent sleeping, yet how little I was able to accomplish during the day. I was shocked by how foreign my body felt, how difficult breastfeeding was, how much it hurt to take a gosh darn poop, and how overwhelming and unpredictable my emotions were.

While all of these perfectly normal side-effects of early motherhood were difficult, the sadness that seemed to linger at the edge of every beautiful moment was the most surprising, and frightening to me. While I had experienced periods of real sadness before, they had all been brought on by, or correlated with, difficult, or truly saddening life events. Never before had I had so many reasons to be happy, yet felt so darn bummed out all the time.

When my second child was born, he slept less, and got sick more, and the “baby blues” I experienced with my first were a little closer to navy. While, the second time around, I had a better understanding of the connection between my crashing hormones, and my bummed out brain, it was even harder for me to give myself grace, and space to sit in my emotions–largely because I now had a daughter who was there, and watching me, all the time.

This time around, I’m still worried about the health of my baby. I’m also worried about the delivery, and the epidural, and the Apgar score, and whether or not I’ll be able to pee when they take the dang catheter out. But I’m mostly worried about feeling sad again, and having two tiny pairs of eyes on me as I try my best to find the sunshine in what is normally a very cloudy time for me.

When that lady on the boardwalk told me that I’m “brave,” she probably meant it facetiously. If my kids were old enough to understand her, I might actually have been mad, and would have had to make it clear to my kids that they are not, in fact, the burden she was implying they were. Because my kids are absolutely adorable, and, right after my husband, the absolute greatest blessings in my life.

Courtesy of Katherine DeVries

But despite her implicit sarcasm, that “you’re brave” transported me into the mind of a future version of myself, perched on a well-worn rocker in the middle of the night, wincing in pain as a I try to get a squirming newborn to latch before his whimpers become cries loud enough to wake up the entire house. It made me imagine an afternoon spent playing puzzles with my kids, and being awed by their perfection while simultaneously feeling completely overwhelmed by sadness. I saw myself sitting at a boisterous and joyful dinner table as the sun goes down, unable to focus on my daughter’s lighthearted tales of her day because I’m somehow incapable of tearing my mind away from its fixation on the seemingly endlessly-dark night ahead.

But as much as I am fearful of this third postpartum period, I am so much more excited about what it represents. Because, despite the undeniable challenges we’ve endured together, my kids have completely transformed my life for the better. And while the beautiful parts of their childhoods are often the ones I most want to celebrate and remember, the hard ones also matter too.

When I think about my kids watching me struggle, and feel sad, and wonder, out loud, if I can do it all, I feel a little bit heartbroken, but also a little bit proud. Because life, in general, is pretty hard. As my kids grow up, they are going to be faced with challenge after challenge that is unlike anything they have faced before. If they do it right, they will have periods in their lives where they suffer, or feel like a failure, or wonder if whatever they worked so hard for was really, actually worth it. And while they likely won’t remember the 6-8 weeks after their littlest brother was born, I hope that some part of my struggle, and my efforts to rise above it, stick with them as a reminder of what real life, and real bravery, really looks like.

I know that at some point in the near future I’ll be zombie-walking through the grocery store with three screaming kids in tow when someone passes me and yells, “you’ve got your hands full!” without making any attempt to actually help. And I won’t resent them for it. Partially because I won’t have the mental space to process any more emotions, but also because they’ll be right. I do, and will, always have my hands full, and I’m so eternally grateful that I was brave enough to make it that way.

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I Tried So Hard To Make Everything Equal For My Kids, And I Wish I Hadn’t

I remember the first night our second child was home. My husband and I were in bed, holding her, smiling at her, and loving her, when our 13-month-old walked down the hallway into our room and gave us a death stare. The look on that sweet baby’s face said, “What the hell is she doing in my spot, hanging out with you?”

My heart broke in an instant, and I wanted to prove to my toddler that there would always be enough love in my heart for him and his sister and certainly enough room in our bed for him to snuggle with us. Now let’s start with the fact that I felt I needed to prove something to my 13-month-old … how is it possible to prove anything to a 13-month-old? I wanted him to know that it was possible to treat them equally and fairly, and it was my job to do that. I did not want my children thinking that I favored one over the other.

I desperately needed him to understand — so those sweet eyes looking at me would reflect back the love and understanding I had in my heart.

That was the beginning of a futile parenting journey I embarked on, and looking back, I wish I would have done things differently.

We had three children in 2.5 years. The early days consisted of management. It felt like a military operation to leave the house for anything. I felt like I had a mental score card. At snack time I divided up the gold fish equally: 10 for each, and I gave them the exact same amount of juice. If one of my kids asked for more, I did not give in. It was not fair.

At bedtime, I tried my best to spend equal amount of time reading books and snuggling with each child. I soon realized that some books were longer than others, therefore, I needed to spend more time with the child that wanted the longer book. Oh no … now my scorecard was off. I would stay wide awake at night wondering how I could give an equal piece of me, and my attention to each of my amazing children throughout the next day.

It’s been a long hard road, with many lessons learned (mainly by me). This parenting method has not served me or my children. How I wish some fairy godmother would have appeared on that night when our 13-month-old walked in. I wish I would have parented differently — not for the sake of my children’s happiness, but for the sake of my own sanity.

People are different, kids are different and require different approaches. Some need more hugs at bed time, some need more gold fish at snack time, more quiet time, more exercise, more clothes, more friends, more sleep. Some children are really just content regardless of what their siblings have or do. The list is as diverse as the individuals standing in front of me. The challenge is that their needs and wants change as fast as they do. It is impossible to keep updating the score card. It serves no one. Not me and not my children.

I hopped on the “let me make it equal and fair treadmill “and was trapped. I was a pleaser.

Every now and then I would make a visit to my therapist. I would sit on his couch tell him my frustrations with my children and one day he said to me: “You resent your child because he/she is requiring you to be the type of parent you do not want to be.” At that moment, I thought he was 100% correct, and realized if I was the parent that this specific child needed, then my (failing) parenting strategy of equal and fair would not work and I would have to make some big changes. I would have to toughen up, roll up my sleeves, and get to work. This would be uncomfortable.

Looking back, I realized that I did not have resentment towards my child, but I resented myself. I resented the fact that I did not have the courage to make parenting decisions that would cause tears. This was not the fun part of parenting ,but would ultimately prepare my children for life, this would toughen them up for when they were out of the nest. This was important work.

When I taught preschool, I always felt it was my duty to honor each child’s individual interests and needs. That is the guiding principle to my teaching style, and I so wish I would have applied this principle early on in my parenting journey. My three kids who are now 17, 18 and 19 have different schedules, different tastes, different friends, different interests. They are unique in every way, however they are equally kind and good humans.

So I guess I didn’t mess things up too much.

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I Wasn’t Ready For My Kids To Outgrow Their Picture Books

“These all have to go,” my tween daughter declared.

She pointed to the slippery mountain of picture books on her bedroom floor. I glanced over at her bookcase. Three of the four shelves had been entirely cleared.

“I’m making room for my books.”

The heap was only a fraction of the picture books we had owned at one time. It was made up of our favorites, the survivors, the books that had escaped periodic culls that sent the rest of our collection to donation bins. The books’ last remaining territory was in my daughter’s room, because she was the youngest.

But now their time had come, too. Off went “Room on the Broom,” “Days with Frog and Toad,” and “The Paper Bag Princess.” On went the Hunger Games trilogy and “A Court of Thorns and Roses.”

I stared at the pile, trying to decide where the evicted books should go next. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them. Would it be weird to keep them in my own bedroom?

It was the official end of the picture book era in our family, and I was surprised by how bereft I felt. I’m usually able to purge outgrown clothes or toys without feeling too bogged down by nostalgia. I treasure my memories of the little-kid days, but I wouldn’t want to go back. I appreciate the independence of teens. I enjoy learning about the world with them, instead of always explaining it to them. I love being taught a TikTok dance rather than leading them through a round of “Wheels on the Bus.”

But seeing those discarded books tugged at something inside me.

There was so much magic contained in that jumble on the floor. Fairies, wizards and monsters. Softened portraits of daily life (just as fantastical). The absurdities of Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems, which make perfect sense when you’re reading them with a small child. Julia Donaldson’s skillful rhymes that propel your voice like it’s motorized. Each book in that pile had some special quality that kept it on heavy rotation for years. “The Pocket Dogs.” “Harry’s Home.” “Plum Tree Cottage.”

But the books’ artistic value wasn’t the only reason I was reluctant to see them go.

Once upon a time, when the kids were very young and the days long and relentless, picture books were my lifeline.

We always hear how beneficial it is for children to have parents read to them, never about how good it is for parents to do the reading. But looking back, those books were like therapy for me.

A mouse went strolling through the deep dark wood/He saw a nut, and the nut was good. (“The Gruffalo,” by Julia Donaldson)

Therapists recommend guided imagery exercises to take oneself to a calmer mental space. Picture books are even better. They’re the original virtual reality. To read one out loud with children is to grab their hands and plunge into a self-contained tiny universe. When we opened “The Gruffalo,” we entered the mouse’s hushed wood, breathed in the cool still air between the trees. By the second page, our own world — the one with knee-deep toy clutter and spilled Cheerios and unwashed breast pump parts in the sink- was already far behind.

Winnie lived in her black house with her cat, Wilbur. He was black too. And that is how the trouble began. (“Winnie the Witch,” by Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas)

Therapists teach us how to be mindful, to be fully present in the moment. As anyone who has ever gone for a walk with a toddler who takes half an hour to go twenty feet (the ants! the sidewalk crack! a candy wrapper!) knows, mindfulness comes naturally to kids. Book illustrators know it, too. The images in picture books are packed with details, enough to withstand repeated readings. We noticed something new in Winnie the Witch’s house — the tiny lizard on the wall, the pitch-black toilet — every time we read her story. A slow, focused trek through a picture book slows you down, centers you.

Then I dreamed I was sleeping on billowy billows/Of soft-silk and satin marshmallow-stuffed pillows. (“I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew,” Dr. Seuss)

Therapists encourage self-care. Cuddling up with a book and a few warm kids was as close as I got in those frenzied times to a spa visit in the middle of the day. The kids and I would get snuggly, their wild kinetic energy on pause. A kid or two burrowing into my lap, another leaning into me on the sofa, a small head pressing into my shoulder like a Swedish massage. Words from the pages warmed as I murmured them over fuzzy heads. I’d make sure we had a stack of books in easy reach so we could stay cozied up like that for a good long time.

You’re not awake/it’s six o’clock. You hear a ring, you hear knock-knock. (“The Birthday Monsters,” by Sandra Boynton)

Therapists advise going easy on yourself. The best thing about picture books for a wrung-out parent is that the authors have already done the hard work. On the days I zombied around the house after another fragmented night with my terrible sleepers, I had no capacity for play requiring creative effort on my part. Like Hide and Seek, or even an art project. But when you read out loud there is a path from eyes to mouth that circumvents the brain. I’m pretty sure I read some books to the kids while I was, neurologically speaking, asleep.

Sometimes people would tell me what a great job I was doing with the kids, by reading to them so often.

But here is my confession. If all that reading had really been for them, like trying to get them to eat vegetables or practice the violin, I wouldn’t have done nearly so much of it. I don’t have that much good-parent energy in me. That whole time, I was doing it for me.

And so I’m hanging on to our collection of favorites, like an emergency supply of sanity, in case I’m ever called on to take care of little humans again.

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Why You Should Talk To Your Kids About Respecting Ethnic Foods

I remember that fall day in 1992 like it was yesterday. My classmate and neighborhood friend, Kara, was coming over for a playdate. Kara could be described as bossy and yet, my five-year-old self wanted to be her friend from the first time I met her. Something about her assertiveness was striking. I remember very purposefully sitting next to her on the bean bags in kindergarten during “reading time,” chatting about nonsense while pretending to read as we flipped through the picture books with dogs and horses on the covers.

Shortly after school, Kara was dropped off by her mother, who quickly walked her to the door and left with her other two sisters in their minivan. We immediately ran to my room to grab some Barbies and then headed to the basement. In what I’m sure was a slew of outfit changes and alternating hair dos, our Barbies were stylish babes in no time. After Barbies was dress up, and after dress up, hunger struck.

We ran upstairs to the kitchen to see what goodies my mother may have set out for us. She was always one to have a snack tray ready if I had a friend over. She would usually lay out a choice of prepackaged brownies, a bowl of saltines or pretzels, which were quickly devoured so as to not waste any time away from playing. But today, something was different. My mother did not have any snacks set out. Lucky for us, I was an expert at climbing onto the counter and opening the cabinets. So, I used my expertise to hoist myself up onto the laminate countertop and find a quick treat.

After finding nothing of interest in the first cabinet where I suspected snacks were, I ventured to another cabinet. I stood on the stovetop, careful not to step directly onto a protruding gas burner, and opened the top shelf. I felt no cracker box, so I put the first jar I grabbed down on the counter below me so that I could further inspect the snack situation. And that’s where my mistake took flight. I had set down onto the counter a medium-sized clear glass jar of dried anchovies, an ingredient my mother often used in various Korean dishes, particularly for broth.

Kara immediately saw this and shrieked, “Ew! What is that?” I reflexively tensed up at her pronunciation of the word “ew” and looked at the jar. A wave of apprehensive regret rushed over me as I hesitantly said “Uh, minnows.” (I didn’t know they were actually called anchovies, because as a family, we had never discussed what in fact these dead fish actually were).

After having accumulated about a year’s worth of actual memories as a human being, having little to no experience of how the world works outside my immediate family, it didn’t occur to me that having something like a jar of dead minnows was a thing to be embarrassed about. But apparently it was weird, and I quickly became aware — and very embarrassed. What set this moment apart from other cultural related feelings of embarrassment in my life was that it was the first time I felt any shame toward my mother’s culture’s food.

Inna Klim/Eyeem/Getty

Kara stared at the jar for a bit longer and made a wrinkled expression on her face. But it didn’t take long for the moment to pass. We had moved on and found a snack and went back to playing. Her mother picked her up and we said goodbye. But I knew as soon as the door closed, the feeling of being found out wasn’t going to magically vanish. My mom had dead fish in the cabinet and now someone else knew. My stomach sank.

The next day at school I entered the classroom, hopeful there would be no mention of the odd discovery from the day before. I unpacked my backpack into my cubby and sat down. Half the day had gone without issue. Then, during reading time, when Kara and I were back on the bean bags, my secret became exposed. Kara had been talking to another girl in class when I heard her yell out “Jenny’s mom eats dead minnows!”

I looked at her and I wanted to flipping die. In my recollection of this moment, my facial expression toward her was: what the hell?! I thought we were friends?! I thought we had let that strange moment pass and had moved on from it? I felt my face get hot and my hands shake; I was so embarrassed, I wanted to just evaporate. Who would be my friend now? How could she do this to me? The general reaction of anyone within earshot at that moment was to let out an expected, collective “ew!”

I hated her in that moment for many reasons. I hated her for violating what trust my five-year-old self thought we had between us. I hated her for exposing my mother as a foreigner who kept peculiar things in our cupboards. I hated her for her easily assumed white, American identity that allowed her to blend in anywhere, with no one questioning her food choices. I knew that she could just sit back and continue eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch without worrying about her own mother doing anything out of the norm for an American mother. I hated her because she was what I could never be.

That day after school I went home and I cried. I knew I wasn’t being raised in a traditional American household. I was well aware I did not look classically American. The slight slant in my eyes and olive skin tone ensured that. My sister and I had played at our local midwestern McDonald’s ball pit enough times to know what potential racial jabs could be floated our way. Usually a defiant boy would shout “Ching-chong!” if there was something either of us disagreed about. Occasionally there would be a “you’re Chinese!” shouted in a taunting fashion, (as if that was an insult and being Chinese was a negative thing), to which I would matter of factly reply, “I am NOT Chinese! I’m Korean!”

Upon deeper reflection of that moment, I don’t really blame Kara for her reaction. I understand it. Anchovies are weird looking. I don’t harbor any ill feelings toward her parents for not having a conversation about foreign foods. We were five, and it was the early ’90s. People were definitely not “woke” about a lot of things. But, regardless of any intentions, her reaction had a profound effect on how I viewed my mother’s food from that moment on. I wish it didn’t.

Luckily, it’s not the ’90s anymore. And yet from time to time, I still see those types of reactions with no follow up from a parent or adult nearby and I wonder, why not? I believe we are evolving as a society and getting better at accepting cultural differences. That being said, shouldn’t we as a society be having conversations with our children about the feelings that people associate with their food, particularly when the food item is considered “ethnic?” Based on my own personal experiences, I think so.

The situation involving Kara obviously stayed with me for a very long time. So much so that not only am I writing about it, I’ve also spoken to my own daughter about it, as a prime example of why we do not criticize other people’s choice of food in our household — because although I know she didn’t mean any deep harm toward me, the feelings from that moment somehow had their own power in forming my thoughts about my mother’s family and myself. I calmly explain to my daughter, just as I will to my son when he’s old enough, that we can say no to trying anything with a simple “no, thank you,” but we do not call food “disgusting” or “gross” and we don’t say “ew.”

Everyone has a nose and everyone has taste buds with their own unique preferences. What may appeal to some as a delicious piece of food, like fermented spicy cabbage (kimchi), may be less than appealing for someone else. And that’s completely fine. But what doesn’t need to accompany a denial of trying a piece of food is a reaction that would make someone who partakes in the regular consumption of that food feel embarrassed about it. This is especially true if you’re in a situation where a child is present in sharing an ethnic piece of food, because there’s a chance he or she may already feel on the edge about sharing their food customs anyway, fully knowing they are different.

What may be a casual dining experience for you might be something else entirely for another person. Based on my own childhood experience, all I’m advocating for here is a lesson in mindfulness by having a brief conversation about cultural connections related to food. And while it may seem trivial to some people, I would bet those people aren’t the ones whose food has been gawked at before. I hope others realize that with mindfulness, similar to anchovies, a little bit really does go a long way.

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5 Brutal Truths Of Motherhood That I’ve Learned The Hard Way

Before I became a parent, I used to ask my friends with kids what it was like to be a mom. They never really gave me a straight answer.

“Oh, you know,” they would say airily. “It’s hard.”

And then they would add quickly: “But SO worth it.”

I couldn’t help but feel like there was something they weren’t telling me. Like they knew something I didn’t.

It turns out I was right. They sure did know something. And now that I am a mother, I find myself saying much the same thing. I have considered whether this might be an evolutionary tactic: I mean, how many of us would have run for the hills if we knew how hard parenting actually was? Mostly though, I understand now that becoming a parent changes you in so many ways, it is almost impossible to put into words.

Nowadays, if anyone asks me what it’s like to have children, I use this analogy: parenting is like having the best job in the world that you can never leave. You sleep there, you eat there, and you don’t get a vacation or sick days. If you are having a bad day, your “employees” don’t really care. They expect you to carry on. This is the intensity of parenting. It really never stops.

I’m not talking about being tired all the time or having to sacrifice your social life, or constantly cleaning up poop, Cheerios, and LEGO (not necessarily in that order). Those things I was prepared for.

What I was not prepared for, because you can’t really know until you become a parent, is all the ways that your child will crack you wide open: breaking or melting your heart in ways you never thought possible.

Here are five things I really wish I had known before I became a parent.

You will not be the parent you imagined.

My children have tested me in ways I could never have anticipated. My parenting vision coincided with how I envisioned my children’s personalities, but no one can predict or control who their child will be. You might think you know how you will react when you first hear your child tell you he hates you, but you don’t. You might think that you will never be the parent that plops their child in front of the TV for two hours to get a break, but believe me, you will.

When I pictured what type of parent I wanted to be, it was always about how I would parent on my good days, when I felt rested and at peace with the world. It’s hard to imagine how you will deal with parenting challenges when you are sick, exhausted, struggling with a major work or personal issue, or fighting with your spouse.

You will discover hidden sides of yourself.

Nicole De Khors/Burst

Before I became a mother, I never knew that I had the capacity for anger. I always considered myself a relatively calm, even-keeled person. But after the birth of my first son, I experienced overwhelming feelings of postpartum rage. Not just depression. Red hot anger. It scared me. I never knew where it was coming from. But it was there, for several months.

At the same time, before I had kids, I didn’t know it was possible to love and protect another person with such intensity. Everyone has hidden facets of their personality, and your child can likely bring them out.

The guilt will be overwhelming.

Oh, the guilt.

I am writing this from a mother’s perspective, but I expect there are fathers out there who experience the same running commentary:

Am I doing this right? Did I say the right thing? I raised my voice. Have I damaged his self-esteem?

I didn’t have time for homemade baking. Does he think I don’t love him? Do all the other parents do homemade baking?

Why isn’t he reading like the other kids yet? Was it that glass of wine I had while breastfeeding?

Am I doing enough? Am I enough?

Questioning your abilities as a parent and then beating yourself up for the mistakes is, I’m told, quite normal. But it will keep you up at night.

You will realize your capacity to hurt another human being.

stocksnap/Getty

My good friend and I had our first kids a few weeks apart. During one of our visits, I asked her if she felt all “mama bear” like I was. My normally mild-mannered friend looked down at the sweet bundle in her arms and matter of factly stated: “If anyone ever tried to hurt this little guy, I would tear them from limb to limb.”

A couple of years later, I was at the beach with my then 3-year-old son. He was playing in the sand, about 20 feet from me, close to a group of pre-teen boys. A couple of times, he accidentally threw sand in the hole they were digging. One of them got up, yelled at my son, and then started to physically drag him away. I have no idea what the expression on my face looked like, but as I sprang off my towel to intervene, people around me parted like the Red Sea.

Even if you are the quietest, shyest, most conflict-averse person you know, you can become a terrifying force when it comes to protecting your children.

There will be times when you really do not like your kids.

This is a tough one to come to terms with. But kids are people too, right? Nobody likes their partner or best friend all of the time, and children are no different. They have bad days too. They can be mean, spiteful, and just downright unlikeable. It took me a long while to understand that this was normal. Not liking my kids sometimes doesn’t make me a bad mother. It makes me human.

For me, parenting sometimes feels like being on a boat in the middle of the ocean. I have no anchor and no wheel, so I can’t stop, and I rarely know what direction I am going. I’m the captain of the boat, but I’ve never taken sailing lessons. Sometimes I hit major storms, and there is nothing I can do but hunker down and wait for it to pass as the boat gets tossed about.

And then, every once in a while, the seas calm. Something unexpectedly wonderful happens. It might be in the form of a hug, an unsolicited “I love you,” watching your child finally accomplish a new skill, or hearing them laugh for the first time. It feels worth it. Even if just for a moment.

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My Mom Once Threw Everything Out The Window — And I’m Getting Close

When I was 12, my mom had the psychotic kind of meltdown that most 39-year-olds can only dream of, but don’t have the guts to pull off. After days of repeating the same request to clean up over and over, she was done. She asserted herself as queen of the castle, and threw the contents of my brothers’ bedroom out the window. There are only so many times you can tell your darling darlings to clean their shit up, before all of your fucks go flying from the second story and crashing to the ground. My kids better watch it. I’m getting close.

I have four children, three sons and a daughter. Let’s start with the sons, shall we? And to set the stage, we’re going into the bathroom. The three of them share a hallway bath with a nice sized tub and a newly-remodeled vanity. It sounds pretty, doesn’t it? Well, it would be if it wasn’t covered in fucking boxer briefs and urine.

Urine first. There is no aiming. At all. Ever. It’s like they just drop their drawers and let it fly. The shortage of Clorox Wipes is because mothers of boys are hoarding them for this exact problem. I have often threatened to make them sit. It’s coming. They shower daily, win for mom, but they just leave whatever they had on in the middle of the floor. Doesn’t matter what it is, nothing is returning to their bedroom. And the next guy? Well, he’ll just step on it soaking wet and saunter back to his bedroom. By the time number three hops in there is a heaping pile of soaked striped underpants that I will have to transfer into a laundry basket that I hope doesn’t leak all the way down the steps.

The steps! Oh those fucking steps. That’s where it all goes to die. Every single day I collect what is on the first floor and place it neatly on the steps so that it can be taken to their rooms. Very June Cleaver of me. They’d rather fall to their death over mounds of shoes and books and toys than pick anything up. They will traverse that mountain 10 times before they even bother looking down. And then they’ll have the audacity to tell me that they can’t find their shoes. That’s when I start looking for the Xanax.

Wanna head to the kitchen with me? Please, let’s go. Do you buy your cereal in those giant boxes at Costco? I do, just so they can decorate my counter. No one actually eats it. Well, not in a bowl, I mean. No, they’d rather take it handful by handful and make a little trail like Hansel and Gretel to and from the family room. They’ll do that two or 37 times. Shit, they might even empty the box, but it’s not going to the pantry or the trash. Nah, mom likes her brand new, beautiful granite countertops, that she waited five years for, to be completely covered by General Mills. It makes her happy. And the cherry on top? Leave the milk out too. You know, the stuff you never used because you changed your mind and ate it dry. She loves that.

Remember I mentioned a girl? Well, let’s get to that. She is four, so she has a bit less responsibility than the others because she has less stuff and I still monitor bathtime. But don’t misunderstand, she can make an impact. Her room looks like a tornado ran through. And the dolls — holy shit, the dolls! They’re everywhere. There are clothes and accessories and shoes. She has stands for the dolls, but she’d rather leave them face down on the floor with their hair strewn all over the place so that it resembles a crime scene. Then she gets pissed if you step on them because you are “hurting them.” She has a wheelchair and I swear to God, she has put a doll in it because she has been trampled by a parent who should have ended up in a wheelchair themself for the pain inflicted on bare feet by pointed doll shoes!

For the sake of full disclosure here, I am not a clean freak. My bedroom has some stuff going on, but I’ll be goddamned if anyone’s going to tell me what I should be doing with it. I am 41! I can do what I want. You are 10 and I am tired of looking at the LEGO strewn across the floor. Pick them up! Repeat after me, “I am your mother, not your fucking maid!” (Leave the “fucking” out though, because people judge.)

My kids need to understand that my mind is a steel trap. The day my brothers’ room was emptied, I was in the backyard watching it all float through the air. I watched her remove that screen. I listened to her babble incoherently. I studied her form as she so eloquently tossed that shit out the window. I was primed for success that afternoon. I learned from the best in the business, folks. And I know how great that had to feel to let that shit fly! So help me God, they better watch it. I am one more wet towel in the hallway away from the whole neighborhood knowing exactly what those boxer briefs look like!

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Your 10-Step Guide To Making The World’s Most Epic Snow Fort

It’s that part of winter when the days stretch out like stale bubble gum, flavorless and grey. The holidays are over. School drags on.

That’s when you, the coolest parent on the planet, step in to help your kids build the most epic, unforgettable, impossibly beautiful snow fort ever. It won’t be easy, nor will it be fast. Expect frustration, sore muscles, and the occasional broken ice block. And then, when you’ve finished, expect to take a seat at your rightful throne as the ruler of all awesome winter projects.

Supplies

– Tupperware containers and/or empty plastic food containers

– 1 box of non-toxic food coloring

– Whisk

– Large bucket and or plastic sled

– Snow

– Waterproof gloves and other cold-weather gear

– Optional: extension cord and outdoor lights

Step 1. Live somewhere uncomfortably cold. The colder the better.

Step 2. Spend all your time at home, avoiding the social gatherings you used to cherish, and growing increasingly stir crazy. You’ll need to be desperately bored for this project to seem at all appealing.

Step 3. Maintain a career that lends itself to spectacular procrastination. In my own experience, being a writer mid-novel works very well.

Step 4. Gather all your Tupperware. If you feel extra motivated, buy a pack or three of Costco plastic takeout containers with lids.

Step 5. Add a couple of drops of non-toxic food coloring to each container, then fill it up with water. Whisk till the color is dissolved.

Courtesy of Rebecca Siegel

Step 6. Carry the container outside, making sure to slosh the vibrant liquid down your pajama pants. Set it somewhere flat. If it’s snowing, put the lid on. When your neighbor gives you a weird look, just wave. It’s fine.

Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you’ve used all your Tupperware. Encourage your children to help, then watch as they, too, soak their clothes in reds and blues and yellows. Embrace it. Life is chaos.

Step 7. Wait. Depending on your area’s temperatures, it will take a day or two for the ice to freeze. (If you have room in your freezer, jam some in there, too.)

Step 8. Submerge the bottom of each container in a tub of warm water, then pop the block out and store it in a shady outdoor place with the others.

Repeat steps 5-8 approximately a billion times. You need a mound of ice blocks. A mountain. A technicolored Mount Everest. For our castle, we used 475 blocks. Please see the above notes about ideal careers and lack of social activity.

Step 9. This is it! Time to build! Haul your whole family outside and make sure that everyone is wearing waterproof everything. And I mean everything. This part is very fun and very messy.

Make a mix of snow and water for your “mortar.” We do this by filling a plastic sled with snow, then dumping cold water into it and mixing it with our gloved hands.

Courtesy of Rebecca Siegel

Step 10. Layer your beautiful ice blocks with “mortar” to build any shape you want. After you’ve laid a row of blocks, use your hands to smear some extra “mortar” over them to help glue them into place. Stagger your blocks as you lay them to increase your structure’s stability and awesome appearance.

Optional: leave a little hole for an extension cord and illuminate your creation with outdoor-friendly lights. Invite your neighbors to stand at the edge of your yard for a very awkward, socially-distanced lighting ceremony and play Olympic Fanfare for the big moment.

Enjoy. You’re the coolest.

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Ask Scary Mommy: Help! My Four-Year-Old Is Giving Everyone The Bird

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week: What do you do when your preschooler won’t stop giving everyone the bird? Got a question? Email advice@scarymommy.com 

Dear Scary Mommy,

I have an issue that I’m too scared to post about in my moms group because I can only imagine the judgement some moms would fling my way. But, my preschooler (4 years old) won’t stop flipping people off. He flips off his teacher behind her back when he’s upset, he flips off his classmates during outside time, he flips me off, he flips off strangers when we are stopped at a red lights. He even flipped off his Nana on Zoom! Now his dad and I do curse, so he’s heard some choice words, but we do not flip people (or each other) off. I’m not sure where he learned it, but we can’t seem to make him unlearn it. I think he got attention for it at school, and the shocked reactions fueled the fire. But now, he won’t stop. We’ve tried talking him through what it means and why it’s not nice, time-outs, and even letting him flip things off in his bedroom only. None of it works. It was mildly amusing at first, but now it’s getting old. What the heck do I do here? 

Okay, I know what you are describing is a real problem and I totally get why you are upset. But can we pause for a second to acknowledge how incredibly hilarious this is?

Your kid likely has no idea what flipping someone off means exactly, but is basically doing what every last one of us wishes that we could – telling people exactly what we think of them, and how irritating and annoying they can be. I mean, this kid is living his best life, and I can’t help but envy him.

But back to your query. As I mentioned above, your child really, truly likely has no idea what giving someone the middle finger even means. He’s four years old, after all! But what he does know is that doing this is getting him a lot of attention, and he likely revels in that.

It probably doesn’t help that everyone he does this to is seeming shocked and upset by his actions. It’s understandable that people are having this reaction, because flipping someone off is not considered socially acceptable behavior, especially in environments like school, and among one’s grandparents.

However, the downside in feeling offended by his behavior is that it only seems to egg your child on, which is the opposite of what you want. I know you can’t fully control how others react, but if you are able to convey to others that they might want to try a “gray rock” approach to the whole situation—where you don’t react, or at least underreact to the situation—that might really help make the behavior disappear.

You can at least try this at home. Look him in his eyes and explain, gently but firmly, that his preferred gesture is something that many people don’t like, or think it’s mean. Then when he does it again, rather than lecturing him about it, doing a timeout, or trying to redirect him, just don’t really respond. Change the subject, move onto another activity, etc. Think of things that make your child feel happy and like he is getting attention. Swap this attention-getting activity for something more wholesome—or at least, you know, less expletive-filled.

Remember that whatever happens, and however long it takes for this behavior to end, it will end. Your kid isn’t going to be flipping people off for the rest of his life. Take comfort in the story of Scary Mommy’s Deputy Editor, Rita, whose youngest son was your son’s exact age when he also found an affinity for the middle finger – and its origins were innocent. “At the time, he called it ‘Spider-Man fingers,'” she explains. “He truly thought it was the motion Spider-Man made when he shot webs. But it got a reaction that he found hilarious.”

 

Courtesy of Rita Templeton

She’s happy to report that this phase didn’t last long; he’s eight now, and frequently praised for his good manners. (Whew!)

As for the jerks in your life who might judge you … well, they need to keep in mind that your kid is only four, isn’t doing this to be malicious, and that there is really no issue here besides the fact that he picked up something you’d rather he didn’t. Unless you were actively teaching your kid to curse people out, this doesn’t reflect poorly on you. It’s just a cute and hilarious kid mistake. Truly.

And for people who continue to judge you no matter what … well, you know what to do about that. Or maybe you can get your kid to do it for you.

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The 5 Best Parenting Decisions I’ve Made So Far

Pausing for parenting praise is not something that happens often. It’s February though, the month of love, and that love should extend to ourselves. In that spirit, I am sharing five of the best parenting decisions we (my husband and I) made for our family. Perhaps this may inspire new ideas for you and your family or affirm you are doing a lot more right that you give yourself credit for. Let’s get right to it!

1. Letting Our Children Start A YouTube Channel

Courtesy of Christina Moog

“Can I make a YouTube channel?” my then-five year old asked in a soft-spoken mumble of a voice. A question only mom and dad could translate.

There is soft-spoken and inaudible soft-spoken that no one, Grandma and Grandpa included, could understand my son. My son’s speech was the latter.

Contemplating the YouTube query, with immense reservation, I took the iPad and hit record.

My son and I watched the video back, “No one can understand me,” he shared, reflecting and speaking clearer that I had ever heard before. “I gotta do that again.”

I hit record.

His volume shifts from a one to a three; we were onto something.

I will save more of that story for later, but I think you see where I am going. YouTube gave my child a communication tool: he wanted others to understand him and knew the concept of YouTube was that there was an audience.

Now, at age eleven, my painfully shy son shares stories he has written, directed, filmed and edited on YouTube. With the camera and this channel, this communication tool, he is developing confidence. Deciding to support a child in developing their self-esteem is why letting my child start a YouTube Channel makes this list of best parenting decisions we made for our family.

2. Specific Rules Around Extra-Curricular Activities

Courtesy of Christina Moog

Music is instrumental, no pun intended, for a child’s development. Study after study, like this one — “Brain Structures Differ between Musicians and Non-Musicians” — describes how music enhances brain development, including receptors within the brain’s motor, auditory, and visual-spatial regions.

One of my children lived drifting into a comatose state weekly from age 3-years to 7-years, but his brain development concerns began a year before the seizures started. He developed a cataract at the age of two, and pain receptors stunted some of the synapses in the brain from firing “traditionally.” Working with his neurologist, she recommended piano. After researching the benefits, there was no turning back.

When my child could not read words, he could understand music and play notes on a keyboard. He learned how to follow the page from left to right and how the symbols on a page have meaning.

This rule to have piano be a mandatory activity for our children is one we have communicated with our children, so they understand why it’s so important to us — for their benefit. They get it. We are not strict on practicing, we keep the emphasis on fun, and the monthly concerts in the house, organized by the kids, surely is evidence of how much they enjoy the craft.

The extra-curricular activities extend to a rule around sport and physical activity. We have let our children know that if there is any sport they want to try, we are committed to making that happen. If they desire to participate in a sport, they must start/end the sessions/season before deciding whether or not they wish to continue.

When rocking climbing, equestrian and skiing (we are 3-hours from snow) made the list — the excitement of the diverse activities superseded the expense. I learned the hard way to get creative with budgeting, so our family is fortunate enough to follow through and make this a reality. This is a blessing of suddenly losing half of your household income — but, I digress.

Making this a foundation with our parenting guides dialogue for my husband and has a parenting team to keep this a priority. Encouraging music and sport in a fun and non-competitive environment unites our family through experiences. It also helps me and my husband keep budget discussions transparent, which is why our choices surrounding extra-curricular activities make this list one of the best parenting decisions we made for our family.

3. Paper Route

Courtesy of Christina Moog

When my oldest brought the idea of starting a paper route forward, my husband and I had much hesitation. We didn’t know whether or not he was ready and capable. The reality was and is; he is not — yet. Not alone, anyway. And that is okay; that is our place as his parents. It has been a bumpy (and wet) road, but an avenue of opportunity to develop skills towards potential independence. But there’s much more to this story and why it makes this list.

In addition to helping my oldest develop social skills and enhance his fitness (read that story here), our child’s paper route is helping teach our children financial literacy. The conversation around a Lego set costing $70 Canadian dollars has translated into completing the paper route for seven weeks to purchase that set; our children are more informed around making financial decisions than they were before the route began.

The paper route also gives our family time to unite on shared tasks every week: a family bagging papers together on a rainy day in a cool garage or pulling a wagon uphill while rain soaks through our clothes during a Pacific Northwest downpour is a bonding family experience.

Enhancing our children’s development, teaching them financial literacy and facilitating regular family bonding time — you can see why a paper route makes the list of one of the best parenting decisions we made for our family.

4. Homeschool

Courtesy of Christina Moog

Before COVID, we decided to homeschool our oldest child. We arranged to withdraw him from “brick and mortar” to homeschool for the 2020–2021 school year. As of March 2020, he was attending the local public school. When the government extended spring break, and uncertainty around the pandemic meant schools transitioning to remote learning, many in our region — parents and teachers alike — were scrambling to transition to home learning. Meanwhile, our decision affirmed; our child began to thrive.

My son’s neurotypical development reflected in his precise routine showed that he had the remarkable discipline to succeed in this environment. Combine this with technology and the course was set for success. Add-in: a distance education program filled with supports including a subsidy for art programs (piano fees now covered by the school), one-on-one sessions with his teacher and his educational assistant 3–4 times per week, two Zoom classroom sessions each week, and technology clubs and virtual field trips that are optional to join — it’s an exemplary, well-rounded package to support his learning. Our only regret, we did not transition to such a program sooner.

We were so impressed with the distance program; we also transitioned our youngest. That was a much bumpier road, but the learning and progress made far exceed anything we saw from attending the brick and mortar institution.

The flexibility within the school days adds another benefit. This flexibility is how we can fit a paper route into our schedule; we integrate it into their school day. Additionally, the skiing noted above — the hill is much less busy during the week, so rather than missing school to enjoy such an opportunity, we conveniently move things around.

While the safe and supportive learning environment tops the reason for homeschool making this list, the flexibility home learning allows is also why choosing homeschool is one of the best parenting decisions we made.

5. Purchase An All-Season Camper

Courtesy of Christina Moog

Freedom to adventure and an ability to be completely self-sufficient while keeping to a budget, yes please! The opportunity to explore and change environments, seeking new experiences, and making unforgettable memories is tremendous for family bonding.

The self-sufficient home on wheels and budget piece had us exploring this decision. With my youngest playing hockey, out of town tournaments meant costly hotel bills. Less than one weekend at a hotel covered two of our monthly payments on the travel trailer! After researching over sixty units, we selected a unit that demonstrated good resale value.

The practically initiated this decision; however, experiences with hours around the campfire, exploring new trails and beaches, and the memories purchasing an all-season camper allows for is why it makes the list of one of the best parenting decisions we made.

There you have it: five of the best parenting decisions my husband and I made for our family.

In compiling this list, a theme emerged with those actions that support family unity and bonding. Michael J. Fox says, “Family is not an important thing, it’s everything.” For us, nurturing our family values and fostering a connection of trust and community is our purpose. Our values and this action keep us grounded. They allow us to encourage compassion and neighborly stewardship beyond the walls of our household and have a lot of laughs along the way.

As hard as parents can be on themselves, there is a constant evolution of doing what is best with the knowledge you have at any given time. This story shares the knowledge I have right here and right now; these are the investments we are making in our family — for that, I think they each serve their place well on this affirming list of best parenting decisions for our family.

So, that’s our story; what’s yours?

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