Monday, March 21, 2011

When to Stop Reading and Start Doing

And I find myself again, unable to fall asleep, browsing the wide world of web and reading about amazing events, cultural moments, and fun adventures. In particular, tonight I read about the Salon of Shame started by Ariel of the Offbeat Empire (bride, mama, and now home!). The Salon is a reading night where people come and read out of their old, embarrassing teenage diaries or old, horrible poetry they wrote in younger years. It sounds like an awesome event, something I would love to start (and Ariel even hooks readers up with a guide!). I already picture like-minded friends from my Master’s program, Funk’s rag tag group of peoples, and friends from Camarillo getting together to laugh, share, drink, and run down our embarrassing memory lanes. Yet, I ex out the page and move on to my next search. I sometimes complain that there isn’t much to do in Camarillo… why don’t I make it happen?
                This same thing happens over parenting. I read and read and read about all the different “types” of parent I can choose to be. I read about all these activities I can do with Droidlet to help his learning and development. Yet, sometimes, the day just gets away. It bolts out the door and I’ve spent another day running errands, playing a little, feeding, bathing, and doing “basic” stuff with him.
                These “I wish I could ‘cause it would be awesome” ‘s also happens with academic/professional stuff. I research creative writing journals to submit my stories to – and then never submit. I research online zines to get involved with or send submissions – yet I wimp out on the “join” page. I say I’m going to go back and revise awesome academic papers for publication and yet, they remain in their old folders.
                Now, I’m not saying I’m a fuddy duddy who sits at her computer all day and doesn’t engage in life. It’s more that I’m tired of making excuses for not doing all of these things I think would be awesome and/or I covet other peoples’ lives because fun, interesting, original events happen for them. That silly cliché of “Life is what happens when you’re making plans” couldn’t ring more true for me right now. It’s time for me to put down the books, turn off the computer, and start having the life that I want. Because that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Not to watch movies or read articles and wish that was my life but to take an active role in all the awesomeness I’ve got going on; and when I feel a lack, seeking out and creating those great moments.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Our Family Bed: When Restless Nights Are Worth It

“Oh. So, Droidlet still sleeps with you?”
                This is a question I get. A lot. From friends, family members, or strangers who ask. Apparently, with Droidlet getting to his six months post-womb state, the hottest question is whether or not he is sleeping through the night. And sometimes (okay, lots of times) I do wish there was a magic button in his brain that once his body ticked to six months, lit up, and forced his little brain to fall asleep at ten and not wake up until six. However, this is not the case. And after an inquiry about whether or not he sleeps through the night comes… “well, where does he sleep?”
                I wish after I reply, “with us,” the conversation would be over with an “Oh, that’s wonderful!” or “That’s great your family can make that work!” Instead, responses always come in the “you’lllll seeeee” form detailing how I’m basically ruining my child because he is going to want to sleep in our bed until he is twenty-five or that he will never ever ever sleep through the night or that (although we have been co-sleeping for over six months now) we will definitely roll over on and suffocate our baby.
                Now, I’m not writing this in complete defense or to get upset about those who don’t co-sleep, but rather, I want to reiterate that we’ve made a choice that works for our family and our child. Also, there are very important aspects to keep in mind. Funk and I are well aware of the “dangers” of co-sleeping (especially when Droidlet was a newborn) which is why we always practice in the SAFEST way possible. We never go to bed under any sort of influence (not even one glass of wine), Droidlet does not have covers on him and does not sleep on a pillow, and he isn’t on the edge of the bed where he can potentially roll off. These issues are very important to follow and help make our co-sleeping safe and great for the whole family.
                Of course, it’s not perfect. There are nights when Droidlet, especially now that he can move around, tends to kick us in the back or slap us in the head. I’ve woken up with little fingers up my nose and on some mornings have even found Funk on the floor because Droidlet basically inched his way over to Funk’s side of the bed. However, Droidlet sleeps best when in our bed and we love the family experience of sharing sleep together. Oh, and the whole “you’ll never have sex if you co-sleep”… trust me, it’s not true.
                Eventually, it will be time for Droidlet to move out of our bed. Whether this is Droidlet-led, or parent-led, or whichever comes first, we haven’t decided. If this will happen next week, or at one, or a two, we don’t know. What we do know is that, for right now, sleeping with the little bot in our bed is what works best for us. We haven’t noticed any “unhealthy” behavior because of it – Droidlet is a happy, bubbling, growing little guy. The choice of where Droidlet sleeps is just that – a choice that works for us – and it has been a wonderful experience to have as a new family trying to figure out the odds and ends of sharing a life together.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"I would... if I didn't have a baby."

I hate hearing myself think this (yes, I hear myself think). HATE IT. Generally, it happens at night, when I’m tired – when Droidlet is asleep and I’ve been lesson planning/working on my thesis/hunting for better paying jobs for far too long and I stumble across something that sounds awesome:
                Teach English overseas! Join the PeaceCorps! Be an assistant to a crazy 86 year old author woman who lives in a mansion in Agoura Hills! Be a free lance writer!
                And I think in my head, “I would…if I didn’t have a baby.”
                I promised myself when I got pregnant that I would never use Droidlet as an excuse. Yes, there would be reasons that are tied to him for why I may have to cancel a girls’ night or not go on a weekend adventure up North, but none of those would be Droidlet’s “fault” and instead, a decision I make for what is best for my family. Yet, here I sit in front of the computer, with lots of interesting, random events and opportunities popping up in front of me and all I can think is “I would…if…”
                Where did I go?
Of course, I am realistic. PeaceCorps is not in the cards for me anymore but that's not just because of the little bot but because of my educational pursuits, my relationship with Funk, and my closeness with my family. A good balance? Supporting my cousin whole-heartedly as she entertains this as a possible path for herself while I continue to navigate my own revised plan.
                Before getting pregnant, I talked a lot about getting my PhD or MFA – definitely furthering my education. And aside from “Is Droidlet sleeping through the night yet?” and “How is your thesis going?” the most common question I get is “So, are you, um, still gonna go for that PhD?” in a very why the hell would you do that to yourself? kind of way. And for that half-split-very-miniscule-itty-bitty-second, I almost think “I would…if I didn’t have a bab-“ and then I catch myself.
                YES. Yes, I am still going to get a PhD. Now, the path to that PhD may have changed a little bit. I still need to decide whether I’m going to enter a program immediately, or when Droidlet starts school, or when he leaves for college, or when/if I become a grandma. I haven’t figured out the when of it, but I do know it’s going to happen. I am not done attending school, I am not done learning, and although those two things aren’t mutually inclusive, I love having them intertwined.
                So, why would I let “having a baby” get in the way of smaller decisions?
                I think part of it is battling what society tells me I need to be as a mother. Droidlet should come first, in every single way – my goals should become secondary in order to let him have a fulfilled life with all the opportunities he needs. Of course, I don’t believe this. I think him seeing me teach and write and pursue research and education will be just as enriching if I was able to stay home and school him myself. He’ll be able to do fieldtrips to the universities I speak at and will learn about other people needing their space to write and think and create. Hopefully, he’ll learn a respect for reading, writing, and research because he grows up in a home with an “academic” (whatever that turns out to mean for us…).
                So, it’s time to get that excuse out of my head, remove it from my repertoire of silly excuses and justifications that bounce around up there. “Want to take a hike, Rachael?” Why, yes! I’ll just strap the baby to my back and make sure to stop and feed him every hour to prevent altitude sickness and yay! he gets to start to foster a love for the outdoors. “Rachael, want to try for this crazy job opportunity?” Why, yes! I’ll work out a flexible schedule and maybe a work-from-home time so that I can be both mama and awesome writer-making-money-lady! "Hey, why don't you try to publish some of your work?" Why, yes! This is the scariest thing ever, ever but during Droidlet's naps I can research journals and maybe, just maybe, some of my thesis work can be sent to publishers! And the list goes on. Because the possibilities are endless. Even for Especially for a mama.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"ChildFree" is Not a Bad Word; And Neither is "Mama"

I have many childfree friends – childfree in the “I have a made a conscious decision to never have kids. Never ever” and not in the “maybe” or “just not yet” sort of way. Many people seem to be under the impression that those who have chosen not to have children cannot/will not/don’t want to get along with those who have had children and vice versa. However, I’ve come to realize how much I need my childfree friends.
                Of course, this doesn’t take anything away from my friends who are mamas and papas or who do want children someday. Unfortunately, this blog post isn’t about those awesome people but about other awesome people in my life.
                Part of the reason these relationships remain strong is due to respect, from both sides. I never try to convince my friends that they should have kids, that they are “missing out,” or that they’ll “regret it” later (none of which I believe). I never assume that being childfree means hating children or not knowing how to take care of them. I trust my childfree friends with Droidlet – they love him and our little bot family.
                And this respect is reciprocated. My friends don’t spout off statistics of over-population, or refer to me as a “breeder.” Yes, I had a child, but that does not mean I am breeding for the sake of procreation, or because I believe it’s my role, or because I have to. My feminist friends don’t try to retract my feminism card because I’m a mama. And most of them are even gracious enough to put up with me talking about the Droidlet, though I try very, very hard to not only talk about him.
                What’s most important is that mamas and papas benefit from childfree friends and vice versa. Some of Droidlet’s coolest aunties and uncles are childfree and are going to play a huge role in his life and shaping the person he becomes. I very much believe in building a community around Droidlet of people who are going to open his perspective, love him like crazy, and broaden his world – this includes both friends with children and those without.
                And yes, I’m not delusional. I know that it gets hard sometimes. I know it’s frustrating when I have to flake last minute on plans because something happens at home; or when I do get overly excited about this huge life change (I HAD A BABY! AHHH!); or when I get that small pang of “what if” as I watch my childfree friends live a lifestyle that isn’t a reality for me anymore because I chose to have the little dude. I know it won’t always be rainbows and butterflies and puppy dog kisses. I just think it’s important that mamas don’t feel like they have to drop all of their friends that don’t have kids; or for childfree people to feel they can’t associate with women who do decide to have children.
                So, rock on, you childfree ladies who are proving to the world that having children is NOT the primary goal for a female and making a life decision that works with who you are. And rock on, you mamas out there who are proving that being a mama doesn’t mean losing your life, your goals, or your individuality. And thank you, to the ladies and the mamas, who remain friends and show how children bring people together, not rip them apart.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Parenting Guilt Monster

I've met a new monster. Not a vampire with sharp teeth (you know, the actual scary, non-glittering kind); not a vicious werewolf; not a phantom ghost. Instead, this is a tricky monster, who sneaks out from under the bed (which is quite a feat since our bed is on the floor), or charges from the closet, or climbs the roof and jumps onto our balcony - all when I least expect the monster and definitely when I least need it.

The Parenting Guilt Monster.

That little thing - from under the bed, in the closet, on the balcony, but usually in my head - that tells me I'm not doing enough for the Droidlet. This little monster ignores the fact that I am writing a Master's thesis, teaching a composition course (and that we realllllly need that extra money every month), and that I am still trying to hold some semblance of myself together - not to mention stuff like, ya know, keeping the apartment from becoming a place where "real" monsters would actually want to live. And instead, this parenting guilt monster, focuses on the things I don't do.

He scratches me with his claws when I come home a few nights in a row (of working on my thesis or lesson planning) after the Droidlet has gone to bed, completely ignoring the fact that Funk has been there with Droidlet the whole time. He attacks my back during the day when I let Droidlet play in his walker for longer than fifteen minutes, telling me I'm a lazy mom. The monster ignores how I play with Droidlet and when we sing and dance and laugh and cuddle and instead attacks my neck and between gnawing on my skin mentions how I don't give the Droidlet enough - enough cuddles, enough educational opportunity, enough time.

The kicker is, I know none of this is true, yet the Parenting Guilt Monster is still there, taunting and stalking me.

So, I've come up with a plan of attack; with a Parenting Guilt Monster Battle kit. Now, the normal silver bullet, strings of garlic, wooden stake, magic potion aren't going to do for this kind of monster. This kind of monster goes for the jugular of self-esteem, the heart of confidence, and hides doubt inside your skin. To battle this kind of monster takes a different tactic.

Inside the kit, I keep a few small items.

1. Words of Funk (and other people who support my family). It's good to fall back on conversations with others, their boosts of confidence, their marvel at how well this little family is doing despite the overwhelming situation of a "surprise" pregnancy.

2. A good book. Yes, this sounds strange, but sometimes the best battle against the Guilt Monster is to let myself escape into something that has nothing to do with being a mama. And, generally, what works best for me is a good book. Right now, a Jeanette Winterson novel.

3. Playing with the Droidlet. Sometimes when the monster is on the attack, I just need to grab the Droidlet, smile at him, and his smile in return lets me know I haven't messed him up... yet. Sounds cheesy, yes, but seeing him laugh and smile and what a happy baby he is helps to show me I must be doing something right.

This is about as far as my arsenal goes for now. You other parents out there, or non-parents who have to battle the other species of Guilt Monsters (like the Work Guilt Monster, the School Guilt Monster...), what's in YOUR arsenal?