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Real Mom Talk– What I Think vs. What I Actually Say and How it Enables Toxic Masculinity

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Emily is in first grade now and the mean girl club has started with a vengeance. This has been a seriously rude awakening for both of us. For whatever lucky ducky reasons, my son (who is four years older and five grades ahead of Em), did not go through social crap in the same toxic, manipulative ways my seven year old daughter is already navigating with her peers.

Emily is a sensitive and empathic child, which makes the whole issue all the more heartbreaking. I’ve addressed it with parents, her teacher, and the principal and we’ve come up with some supportive ways to help Em cope with the stress of being a sweet little lamb in a lion’s den.

This week she went back to school after the holiday recess, and happily applied herself to her studies. She loves to read and is thrilled by participating in art. This morning, as I was in the bathroom getting ready for work, she approached me.

“Mama, when you go up to dress, can we have a talk?”

“Of course. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just need to do some talking about my feelings.” She said with a serious little face.

So, here’s another difference between Em and Jack. Both of them have the same goopy, social worker mom, but my son rarely willingly divulges his emotional space to me. Em on the other hand is all about the deep, emotional bonding.

As I pulled myself into my undies and leggings I asked her what was up. She disclosed to me that after school, when she was playing in the school yard, under the watchful eye of her babysitter, one kid had stolen her hat off her head and her special new toy, and run off with them,  and threw them over a fence.

She told me this calmly and clearly as if recounting the forensics of a crime scene.

My heart sped up and it was all I could do to keep the steam inside my head. I hugged her. Her glossy curls brushed against my cheek and I felt the little bones of her back under my hands.  We talked about how it made her feel and how she solved the problem and what she thought we should do next.

Then she wanted to play on the iPad.

She moved on, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I was pissed.

Had it been an isolated incident, maybe I could have let it go a little easier, but dude, I’ve been dealing with this social crap for the past four months now and I don’t understand why it isn’t getting any easier. It also seemed to suck and confound me because the bully this time had been an older boy.

So, at pickup, I approached the kid’s mom and mentioned to her that her son (who is four years older than my first grader) had been physically aggressive to my daughter. I let her know that Em is just super sensitive right now and I’m trying to keep tabs on things, and I knew her kid probably didn’t mean to hurt her hat, toy, body, or feelings, but that was the end result. I told her directly, but politely.

She told me it was inappropriate to mention it in front of her son and that she would talk to him and get back to me…….

Here’s what I REALLY wanted to say, “Heya bitch face, tell your poorly socialized excuse for a spawn to keep his grimy paws off my precious little baby and while you’re at it, maybe you want to have a convo with him about consent and how to treat women because clearly you are training him to be an abusive little shit! Boys will be boys after all!”

I didn’t tell her that at all. I smiled and thanked her for her time and then I went and privately had an anxiety attack that I had confronted this woman who was clearly pissed with me and didn’t have a grasp on where I was coming from.

TBH, I’m pretty much still shaking, even after texting and talking to several friends who validated that I was advocating for my daughter and did the right thing.

It is hard to address these issues with other moms. I appreciate that. Furthermore, I get that the other mom was also advocating for and protecting her son, but oh man, in this day and age, maybe we all wanna double down on those discussions with our sons about respecting the physical space of female bodies and set some good examples for future generations.

IDK. It got me thinking about all the things I sorta wanna say as a mom, but don’t.

Smile and nod. Smile and nod. . .

When does my politeness become complicit? When do I actually enable the abuse of my daughter on the playground by saying what is polite instead of saying what I really mean and feel?

What do you think?

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For the Record: I Didn’t Yell at the Vacuum

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Hubs had tried twice to unclog the vacuum.  Unsuccessfully.  He and Jack had gone out to get planting supplies for our flower garden and the stupid vacuum was sitting in the middle of the filthy living room rug.

The damn thing had been clogged for like a month and every time I tried to vacuum, it spit out more dust than it picked up.  I’d once again implored the Hubs to take a peek at it, but he hadn’t gotten around to it.

Long story short, I took the thing apart, with the cheerful support of my six year old daughter, and plucked out a huge wedge of dust and fur along with a broken clothes pin that had been horizontally blocking the hole.  It took me a couple tries to put the thing back together, but I got it set straight and was happily sucking up a month’s worth of decrepitude.

Hubs and Jack got home and I proudly announced that I’d fixed the vacuum.

“How’d you do that?” Hubs asked incredulously.

“I exerted my domestic goddess nature on it,” I smiled.

“Mama,” Jack chimed in.  “Did you yell at it?”

“No, Punk,” I said, mildly annoyed by the smirks on the three other faces of my family.  “I did not yell at the vacuum.  Why would you even say that?”

“Well, you are really good at yelling,” Jack laughed.

“Very funny,” I said and dragged the vacuum upstairs to do the master bedroom.

It was actually pretty funny.  Jack’s timing was totally on point and we were all able to have a chuckle at my expense.  I don’t know if I would categorize myself as a yeller.  I do raise my voice on occasion, out of frustration, and truth be told I am not the world’s most patient person.

But it is always interesting to get a little glimpse of how my kids see me as a human.  And of course they do not see that for the one time I yell, there are about 47 other times where I take a deep breath and remind myself to go slow.

At any rate, I’m pretty sure the time that Mama (did not) yell(ed) at the vacuum to make it work again will go down in my family’s mythology.

Sweet Spot

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It really was a good week.

I’m contemplating that it really had been just a great week.  I was happy.  I felt genuine, uncomplicated, happiness.

Both of the kids had been relaxed and pleasant.  There was a random, late-winter snow storm and we all got stuck at home.  But instead of contracting cabin fever, we lounged blissfully in our jammies, snuggled, and watched TV.  I even snoozed.  We baked muffins. We ate muffins.  It was a day of cozy comfort.

Then Jack found out a piece of his art had been chosen to be in the district art show.  It was a totally unexpected accomplishment, and we were absolutely thrilled to celebrate it with him.  He was proud and humble as he reluctantly posed in front of his drawing at the local library where the exhibit was held.

The very next day, Emily picked up a book and started reading it to me.  She is having a pretty great year in kindergarten, and all of a sudden, a switch has been turned on in her brain and all she wants to do is read.  She tenaciously sounded out words and struggled through page after page of Dr. Seuss as I cheered her on.

It felt almost too good to be true.

Things almost never go this smoothly.

We were getting out of the house in the morning in one piece without any drama, on time, and with cheerful attitudes. The kids were not bickering with each other as much.  I made a French Toast Bake that Jack (my super picky eater) declared was so good it should be on a cooking show.  Emily slept through each night without coming up to our bed and waking us up.  They said “thank you” for random things that they normally overlook as crap that I just do on the daily because I’m their mom.

Part of me was tempted to break into song and dance, because surely this sort of delightful existence only happened in musicals.

Honestly, I just felt like I was nailing it.  I was totally rocking the working mom gig.  I wasn’t even doing anything different or extraordinary.

I didn’t post about it on any social media for fear of seeming braggy, although I did put up pictures of Jack’s art and a video of Emily reading.  But the larger, greater sense of the motherhood machine running just right- I did not post about that.

It isn’t often that I feel this way; like all is well, and all will be well.

Much more often I am beating myself up for letting the kids watch too much TV, not serving as much veggie as I should, and forgetting to check if Emily has remembered to change her underpants.

I so easily fill with self loathing because I lack energy to force my kids to write thank you notes.  I convince myself I am a failure because my kids’ rooms are pits of despair and I’d rather not deal with them.

And then there are all the times I wonder what the hell I am doing wrong when I can’t seem to get places on time, or when I burn dinner, or when I forget to sign a field trip permission slip.

Even worse are the times when Jack is having a sensory meltdown because his anxiety has gotten the best of him and I am completely helpless to assist him in regulating his emotional state.  Or when Emily is annoyed and frustrated and she tells me she hates me.

This stuff is so hard.  I had no clue that the hard stuff would be so hard, nor that by contrast, that the amazing stuff would be so amazing.

I also had no clue that motherhood would frequently and chronically consist of so much more of the hard stuff.

So, that’s why I’m writing about the little sweet spot we shared that nice week.

It’s important to acknowledge and remember what it feels like to nail it in this gig.  It’s good to write it all down so when times are tough we can remind ourselves what it feels like to know and hold happiness, to do it right.  It’s important to remember that we are doing so, so great, even when we think we aren’t, or when we feel like we are struggling to even put milk in our coffee.

There are good moments if we look for them.  We create them, like we create life, like we create last-minute, haphazard recipes from the last four random things in our fridge at the end of the week.  It doesn’t have to be anything earth shattering.  There can be joy.

And that’s the other important thing to remember in this parenting game:  that there will be joy again.  Even when it feels like the rough patch is going to go on forever, there is still a potential for change.

When was your last parenting sweet spot?  How did you nail it as a mom?  Are you going through a rough patch now?  Talk to me in the comments!  

Hey, Remember That Time I Casually Mentioned Breastfeeding to My Spirit Animal?

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It’s been over two years since Emily weaned. I don’t write about breastfeeding or nursing anymore, unless it is in response to a comment on my nipple trauma post, still my most popular post on this blog.

It gratifies me to know I’ve left even a tiny mark on the world of breastfeeding health and lactivism.

I miss nursing, but I don’t really feel the urge to write about it anymore.  And unless I am doling out obnoxiously unsolicited advice to a new mom, I rarely talk about it.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

Since I nursed Emily until she was a little past four, when she naturally weaned herself, she remembers her time at the breast.  She occasionally mentions it to me.  She reminisces, and even wishes she could still be a cozy little nursling.

It is also gratifying to know my daughter has happy, safe, sweet memories of nursing and will hopefully grow up with positive attitudes about breastfeeding.

But I digress. . .

What I really wanted to tell you about was meeting my all time musical idol a few months back.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a HUGE Regina Spektor fan.  My obsession for her cannot be stifled.

Regina is a Russian immigrant who came here as a child to escape religious persecution for being Jewish.  She is a classically trained pianist who writes insanely creative songs in the indie-anti-folk-alternative genre.

You might know her as the singer who wrote and performed the Orange is the New Black theme song.  She also recently did a cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps for the animated movie, Kubo and the Two Strings.

Her presence in the world brings me joy and hope.  It’s no hyperbole to say her music changed my life.  It may have even altered my DNA at a molecular level.

Regina toured this past year, and I got to see her three times.  THREE TIMES you guys!!!

I saw her in my home state, and in New York City at Radio City Music Hall in March. Then I got to see her in November in Northampton, MA. Through a confluence of rare and unusual events, a friend managed to obtain  backstage passes to meet Ms. Spektor after the show in Northampton.

OMGOMGOMG!!!  I know, right!!!

It was going to be really hard to play it cool, but that was the plan.  The entire show was like an out of body experience, and she sang Loveology and Pound of Flesh and Flyin‘ and a bunch of other oldies I’d never heard live before.

Oh, and also my friend and I were in the second row, just so, so, so close to this woman who has more artistic energy in a fingernail clipping than most people can imagine in their entire lifetimes! The show was unreal, and even if I’d never met Regina that night, it still would have pretty much been a perfect experience.

So, we stuck our backstage passes on our lapels after the show and waited in the appointed spot for the tour manager.  There were people hanging around who didn’t have backstage passes, and they didn’t even try to hide their envy as they asked how we got “on the list”.

Finally the tour manager came to get us, and he led us down some stairs to a chamber that was all brick and basement and lacking in any glamour or glitz.  And there she was.  Regina Freaking Spektor.  My spirit animal.

She greeted us with genuine warmth and kindness that set me instantly at ease.  She was soft spoken and almost shy.  We chatted about this and that and fuck tRump!

I got to tell her how I’d seen her at RCMH and how I heard her speak about Purim and the importance of resistance and how meaningful and prescient this had been to me at the time.  I shared with her that I worked for a Jewish agency and she seemed truly delighted by this little fact about me.

While we were talking, her tour manager came up to her with a bag of lentils.  She thanked him and turned back to us.  “If you ever need to make a heat pack in a pinch,” she said. “Lentils work great!  Stick them in a sock in the microwave.”

“Rice in a sock works good too,” I added.

“Oh yeah?”

“Sure,” I offered confidently.  “Came in handy during breastfeeding.”  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was sure I’d said the most flagrantly awkward thing on the planet.  Who meets their idol and starts talking about breastfeeding?  I apologized with a little laugh.

“No!” Regina said with a pleasant and unflappable grace.  “That’s so real.  Breastfeeding is real.  I remember. . .”  Somehow we got on another subject and then she signed my poster for my daughter and me.  Love and peace and fun.

She gave us hugs and we took photos together.

The whole encounter didn’t last more than ten minutes and then my friend and I were on the road back home.

I haven’t posted here in a long while, and I haven’t posted about breastfeeding in a longer while.  It occurred to me that this was a sharable little nugget.

I’m always searching for ways to integrate all these random bits of myself; to reconcile all of the parts of who I am to make something whole and awesome.  There is me as an artist, woman, mom, wife, worker, and friend.  There is me as someone who hopes and hurts and heals and hides.  There is me as a sexual goddess being, created of life.  There is me who is very private.  There is me who is very proud and enthusiastic.

In a way, it is so totally perfect that I managed to casually weave a thread of one of my life’s greatest passions into my tiny interaction with my greatest hero.  It felt awkward and crazy and just right.  To me, that’s what my integration is all about, and it was received with gracious humor that night.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/stifle/

We Are All Momming As Hard As We Can, So Can We Stop Already With the Mythology of Summer?

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A friend recently remarked that she was super impressed with how much fun, enriching stuff I do with my kids.  She mentioned seeing a group of photos I’d posted on social media of an outing my daughter and I took to a local farm, where we pet a lamb.

It had been an enchanting excursion.  I won’t deny it.  We were by the ocean and the scenery was lush and pastoral.  Emily chased after chickens and we walked up to a fence to look at a bull with gigantic horns that looked like something out of a story book.

Then we got into the car to go home and Emily told me I was the worst mom in the world and she hated me because I wasn’t taking her to a restaurant for lunch.

So, I thanked my friend for her compliment of my pictures.  And then I let her know Emily’s five-year-old opinion of me.

Sure I could have taken the compliment and allowed my ego to be stroked. But I happen to believe reality is important. 

I also let my friend know that every photo of us doing something energetic and interesting represents a minuscule slice of our actual existence. 

 For every five minutes we are out doing something exotic, there are about three hours spent lolling around the house watching television, having tantrums, bickering, eye rolling, and sighing.  Heavily.

I also do not incorporate photos of my never-ending laundry, toilet scrubbing, and refereeing sibling rivalry on social media.  No one does.  We all post the highlight reels.  We post the pics that say “Look at me winning this impossible quest!”

We perpetuate our own mythology along with the collective mythology of modern day parenting. 

It’s what we all do.  Sorrynotsorry. No regrets. Because we are all on this seemingly never-ending struggle bus ride fraught with constant motion sickness and punctuated with momentary glimpses of something lovely out the window.


We all do it, but we all forget that we do it.  That’s the problem.  And that’s what leads us to compare with one another and feel like everyone else is out there having a better time.  All the other moms are out there momming better, harder, and faster than we are.

Summertime seems to highlight this dynamic.  At least it does for me.  There seems to be this unspoken expectation that we are all going to be shiny, happy summer people, and that in addition to all the normal mom duties, we are also going to bring it in the areas of crafts, activities, and day trips to exotic ports of call like we are a deranged cruise director.  Oh, and shit, I forgot about incorporating baking and sensory play.  Gotta do it all.

I’m here to tell you, you do not have to do it all.  I’m here to tell you, it is perfectly okay if this flurry of activity is not a realistic expectation for you.  If you are tired, frustrated, or out of good ideas–  it is all okay.  If you just don’t feel like going outside today, also okay. Stay on the couch.  Put in some Disney or Doctor Who.  It’s all good.  We all eventually get to the same place.

I personally don’t have the time or energy for being super creative mom of the year. 

Of course it is important to do things with our children.  In no way do I espouse neglect or unlimited screen time.  Balance is key.  Exercise is important. Hugs count. But…..  

We do not need to be in constant motion and contact with our kids.

Kids need a break too.  I’ll speak for me and mine.  As a children of working parents, my kids have really  long days–  as long or longer than mine sometimes.  Emily can usually be flexible and roll with the flow, but Jack needs a lot more down time.  This makes it even trickier to balance their needs with my own.  Societal demands, pressures, and expectations have no place in this equation for me.

It’s really hard not to let the social media highlight reels feed into the mythology of what summer and parenting is “supposed to be”.  A lot of people I know have gotten off of social media for just that reason.  

I’m learning to enjoy the posts of other parents without feeling threatened or pressured to do and be more, more, more.  Because really, we are all already doing more than enough.

We are all more than mom enough.

The Kids Are Alright. . . I Just Have a Lot of Feelings

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It has been a few since I posted.  Days?  Weeks?  Months?  Who know?  I lost track.

I guess the typical myriad of reasons is to blame.  Life is busy.  I’m a mom.  I work.  You can only post so many times about the frustrations of your messy house and kids’ behavior in the summer before you start to hate the sound of your own voice.  Blah, blah, blah.

There was something else. . .

My last post was about depression and frustration with life as a mom trying to balance work and parenting and the ongoing grief of losing a close friend.  I was responding to one of the WordPress daily prompts, and I allowed myself to get pretty far out with my metaphors.  I do that sometimes.  It’s part of my process as a writer, and it also helps me deal with my feelings.

Cuz you guys, I have a lot of feelings.

Like, all the feelings.  All of them.  And lots of all of the feelings.

It’s just how I live.  And it’s why I write.

Anyhoo, a very well-meaning reader commented that she felt bad for my kids because I was so depressed and maybe it was hard for them.  She went on to make a bunch of heart felt suggestions about maybe I should join a group or try feeling better, etc.

I get where she was coming from, and I genuinely appreciated her kindness and concern.

But there was another part of me that felt incredibly vulnerable and frightened.  Like, do people think I’m crazy?  Do people think I’m a bad mom?  Am I a bad mom?  Am I screwing up my kids?  

For a few hours I contemplated taking the post down, hiding it in the stack of posts that feel too raw, real, and close to share with the general public.

But then I pulled the brake on the run away mine cart in twisty recesses of my brain.

No.  I’m not a bad mom.

And my kids are fine.

My kids don’t see me as depressed or damaged or screwed up.  My kids see me as a human with human emotions.  My kids see me as a person with big feels who channels those feels into poetry and art and silliness around the house.

Life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, and I do not think we should pretend it is for our children.  That is not reality and it doesn’t prepare or teach kids for what they need to deal with the complexities of the world in which we live, or their own emotional landscapes.

This is not to say that children who live with caretakers with severe and persistent mental health issues don’t suffer profound consequences if the adult does not seek help.  That situation is no joke, and I am not writing to minimize it.  But that situation is not me or mine.

I’ve cried in front of my kids.  I’ve yelled and screamed in front of my kids.  I’ve slammed a door once or twice.  I admit I’m not perfect.  But I’ve also taken loads of deep breaths.  I’ve talked about my feelings.  I’ve taken space and counted to ten.  I’ve modeled healthy coping skills for them right along with being my own human self.

Am I screwing up my kids?  Yes.  Of course I am.  We all screw up our kids in one way or another.  And if you think you don’t, then you are living among the rainbows and unicorns and more power to you.

So I left the post up, because here is the other thing:

As moms with mental health issues and needs, we absolutely have to have safe and open space to address these topics.  For me, my blog is my space.  I’ve had decades of therapy and it has helped.  I know the things and the skills.  At this point in my life, writing is the way I process and what I need to do to take care of myself.

Feeling judged and crazy because we are anxious or depressed is a huge barrier for women in admitting and addressing their needs for support and treatment.  Too long have we been told we are hysterical and maligned for simply feeling the pressure of this impossible life.

And oh my goodness, it really is impossible.  Being a mom, let alone a working mom, is the hardest thing I can imagine.  Add into that the facets of anxiety or depression and you have something so real.

So, despite my fear and vulnerability, I left the post up.  I’m no heroine, but if my words resonated with even one other mom, then I feel like it was worth it to put myself out there.

Look.  If you had a cold or a toothache, it would be excruciating to deal with life, to work, to mom, to cook and clean and do all the things you have to do to be responsible.  But would you feel ashamed to say, “Whoa, it’s really difficult to mom and adult today because of this cold?”  Probably not.

I don’t really think it should be any different with anxiety and depression.  Our feelings can get big and become sort of like emotional toothaches.  That isn’t something to feel shame about.

But I did.  And I do.  And part of me still wants to take that post down so that you’ll all think I have my shit together and that I’m a super great mom and that I’m doing okay.

Truth is, I am a super great mom and I’m doing okay.  And my kids are okay.  No need to worry about my kids.  We are all going to make it.

What are your thoughts?  What are your struggles?  I’d love to hear from you!