Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Parenthood in the Time of the Internet

There are a few aspects of parenthood that I consider particularly difficult to deal with.

I suppose first on the list would be the usual things: not getting to pee alone, not sleeping, not being able to explain to a tiny irrational monkey that I cannot, in fact, read her mind.

One aspect that I have found difficult is the fact that I have to deal with the opinions of other parents, and that many parents in my generation are absolutely insane.

It doesn't help, perhaps, that I don't have many parent friends in real life and therefore find myself turning to the Internet. The Internet has blessed me with many amazing friends throughout my adulthood, but it's also exposed me to the thoughts of people I may not give the time of day if I knew them in person.

I think that most parents of my generation are affected by the clamor of uncited opinions that are brazenly presented as fact. While it's true that the Internet has given us an unprecedented exposure to information, it's also given us equal access to the thoughts and feelings of millions of people. The problem with every belief presented on equal footing with fact is that it's really easy to internalize those beliefs and assume they accurately reflect how parenting is or should be. This leads otherwise (mostly) logical people--myself included--to submit to the narrative presented by the loudest and craziest among us.

The ultimate result, then, is that parents nowadays have become absolutely obsessive about things that don't actually matter all that much and have created a complete blind spot over things that could actually matter.

We are a generation obsessed with breastfeeding to the point that we talk of formula as if it's a last resort instead of the valid, healthy alternative that it is; a generation that grew up watching TV but that is convinced that TV and screens are all that's standing between our children and an Ivy League future; a generation that obsessively feeds our children organic, non-GMO food despite a complete dearth of evidence that it's any better than conventional food; a generation that has somehow conveyed the message to expectant moms that anything other than an unmedicated vaginal birth can't be counted as "really" giving birth; a generation that doesn't let children play outside and manages to subconsciously project a fear of the world on them; a generation that assumes we must be constantly playing and engaging with our children and loving every minute of it.

Conversely, we don't think twice of posting our children's faces and potentially embarrassing stories all over the internet for the world to see. We go on and on about how should teach our children that looks don't matter, but then dress our children in tiny adult clothes, taking a billion photos and giving them for free to companies as unpaid "brand enthusiasts." We are shocked by the fact that our children still deal with body image and food issues while still presenting food as having some sort of moral value (with words like "clean," "whole," and "poison.").  We think that our children playing happily by themselves is a sign that we are not engaging them with enough crafts instead of a healthy sign of independence. Some of us prefer the advice of celebrities over educated, experience physicians.

There isn't a whole lot of evidence yet about the effects of the internet, since we are among the first to have to parent children with it. But the fact that we play so fast and easy with our children's presence on social media suggests that we aren't doing a good job of separating ourselves from them. In our race to be perfect parents, to outdo the outdoers, and to out-Pinterest our high school classmates, I think we too often forget that our children are their own people who one day will craft their own identities more or less independent of us.

In short, our children aren't art projects. They aren't medals or trophies for us to show off. They also aren't delicate, fragile pets that need to be coddled at every turn. Human beings have survived and thrived through much harder times, and our sons and daughters will be just fine with un-organic avocados and the occasional (read: more than occasional) fish stick. They can and should survive (and thrive) on their own, without our continual involvement.

I guess my hope for myself and for my fellow parents is that despite the perpetual cascade of opinions we can all just let go a little bit--let go of the need to control every part of our kids' lives, to have the "perfect" birth and "perfect" child and the "perfect" life for all to see, to need to be anything other than enough for our children.  That's all they ask of us, and while it is a very important duty, we don't need to take it so goddamn seriously all the time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Accepting the Rain

Our July 4th weekend was complicated.

The Fourth of July is a pretty important holiday to both my and Rob's families, so we decided to travel to Maine this year. I planned on taking Amelia swimming, enjoying time on my dad's boat, and checking out the festivities in Rob's oceanside hometown. If I'm being honest, I got my hopes up a little bit.

One thing no one told me about parenthood was that a lot of the fun stuff is delayed by at least 6 months, and in some cases even longer. I had visions of sharing holidays and new traditions with Amelia, but have found up to know that most of my holidays have been spent hidden away in a room begging her to sleep and seething with rage at the joyous noise my family was making without me just a few rooms away. The noise I used to participate in, the noise that has defined my holidays for my entire life.

Amelia is in a period of serious--and I mean serious--stranger anxiety right now. I've never seen anything like it. From the second we arrived at my dad's house I saw my image of a "perfect holiday" shatter into a thousand pieces. Amelia in a group of new people is a completely different person than the Amelia that is with just Rob and me. I watched my funny, goofy,  curious, sweet baby shut down into a shy, closed off one within seconds.  I saw her crack a smile in the company of others maybe once--the rest of the time she spent frantically trying to get to me and clinging to my neck.

One night I was nursing for what felt like forever, praying to gods I don't believe in that she'd fall asleep and give me even an hour to enjoy the late-night remnants of my family's celebration. I thought a thought I've had many, many times since she was born: one day I will get time to myself. One day this will not be so hard.

I was struck in that moment by a quote from one of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins. I couldn't remember it exactly, but I knew it had something to do with the rain as a metaphor for acceptance; acceptance of nature and acceptance of things that we couldn't change. It hit me that neither my nor Amelia's life can't be measured in what will happen one day: this is our life, all of it--right here, right now. I thought about how I needed to learn not to simply grin and bear the "rain" we may go through now--stranger anxiety, clinginess, teething, what have you--but to accept it, and to accept my daughter for who she is and for the path her life will follow.

This doesn't mean I enjoy the difficult times necessarily, just that they shouldn't be seen as a means to an end. The future is not guaranteed to us and the present--with all its difficulties--is all we truly have in this life.

This isn't a new concept, certainly, and it's something I've struggled with a lot throughout my life. I've been a generally negative person for as long as I can remember and I'm sure that won't change overnight. Never has the desire to change been so strong, however, as when I had a child and wanted to be the best person possible for her.

When we came home I did some research and after a surprising amount of work (I'm from the Google generation and we expect to be able to find everything) I finally found it. It's a bit different than I imagined it that one night, alone with my daughter thinking of how I failed her that day and trying to think of ways to do better the next day, but I still found it in its true form to be beautiful and poignant.

"The sky was still blue, the sun still beaming when they locked me up. But during my incarceration it had begun to rain. The legendary Seattle rain. It was a thing gray rain; hard and fast and cold. In it, we had to walk four blocks from the Public Safety Building to the Zillers' Jeep--we were at its mercy. As was my custom in such elements I hunkered against the rain, drew my head into my collar, turned my eyes to the street, tensed my footsteps and proceeded in misery. But my hosts, I soon notice,d reacted in quite another way. They strolled calmly and smoothly, their bodies perfectly relaxed. They did not hunch away from the rain but rather glided through it. They directed their faces to it and did not flinch as it drummed their cheeks. They almost reveled in it. Somehow, I found this significant. The Zillers accepted the rain. They were not at odds with it, they did not deny it or combat it; they accepted it and went with it in harmony and ease. I tried it myself. I relaxed my neck and shoulders and turned my gaze into the wet. I let it do to me what it would. Of course, it was not trying to do anything to me. What a silly notion. It was simply falling as rain should, and I a man, another phenomenon of nature, was sharing the space in which it fell."

The quote is from this book, if anyone is interested. I'm a huge fan of everything by Tom Robbins but this book was a lovely one.

Friday, June 5, 2015

What I Want to Remember

Amelia is 11 months old next week.

It's a cliche, I know, but I have no idea where that time went or where it continues to go. I feel like I'm constantly doing double takes wondering if it's really this close to a year since I had her.

When you have a new baby so many moments take on significance. The first time they respond to their name, the first smile, the first tooth, the first giggle and the first full-on laugh, the first time they noticeably recognize you. If you're anything like me you frantically write down dates in animal-themed books so you have them somewhere, as though one day you'll have a party on April 25th every year to mark the anniversary of her 7th tooth coming in.

Amelia first tried solids--pears--at around 4.5 months. I had my mom record the event on her iPhone. At the time I asked my mother what my first food was, and she could really only guess since it was close to 30 years ago. That she couldn't remember something that was currently so central to my own life surprised me--would I really one day have to look up that her first food was pears, eaten at almost exactly 4.5 months in our dining room in Vermont? Would I forget the look on her face when she ate something aside from breastmilk for the first time? How could these things ever lose the deep, bone-crushing significance they seemed to have now?

But I realized that moments that seemed significant at the time to my mother were quickly buried by more and increasingly significant moments--riding a bike, interacting with my sisters, going to school--not to mention what I've done as an adult, and not to mention all the other significant moments in the lives of my two sisters.

Bottom line, there will come more moments, greater in number and in significance, and I imagine the little things that I recall so vividly now will fade into turtle- and owl-covered pages in her baby book.

But that doesn't mean I'm okay with forgetting them yet. As excited as I am for the future and for Amelia to grow and change, I can't help but find myself wanting to hang on to them in whatever way I can. To that end, here are some of those things that I want to remember about Amelia's first 11 months.

1. How her fist jiggles at the end of a very big stretch.

2. The high-pitched squeal she would make at the end of a scream as a newborn.

3. The drudgery and soul-crushing frustration of the "colic days."

4. How illuminating it felt when the colic days ended.

5. How her eyes scrunch up when she smiles.

6. Her ability to mimic our sounds ("hi," rolling her tongue, growling).

7. How she points at Rob (with her whole hand open) every time he comes home.

8. Watching her master clapping.

9. Her fondness for baths and water in general.

10. Watching Rob become a dad and grow more and more excited with each milestone.

11. Her 7th tooth came in on April 25th.

12. Her first food was pears. Eaten at 4.5 months in a dining room in Vermont. And she fucking loved them.

Friday, May 29, 2015

To Be Better

Having a kid makes you do some weird shit.

Like sometimes you wipe bodily fluids with your bare hand. That's one of the biggest cliches in the honest mom blogosphere but it's true. I mean you spend a relatively large percentage of your day cleaning another person's butthole. Most people's lives pre-baby have very little cleaning of buttholes, and given the incredibly abrupt transition between one and the other, it's pretty amazing how little thought you give it.

There are other, deeper things though. Deeper even than buttholes.


There are times you feel like you could explode with all the love you have for this tiny miracle of life and a second later you're walking to the mailbox and wondering if you could just keep walking into the forest and disappear.

And other times you come to fundamentally questioning who you are and what you've done. Every stupid or cruel or obnoxious thing you've said or done, no matter how distant in time or place, comes sharply into focus as though it happened just moments ago.  You become aware of how much trash you are responsible for putting into landfills, how much water you waste waiting for the shower to reach the right temperature or flushing bugs down the toilet, how little you have done to make a world with so much darkness into something better and brighter.

You look at your tiny miracle and realize that even if you do everything "right" you are constantly fucking it up.

I've always struggled with the pulse of failure beating in my brain, reminding me of all the stupid shit I said or did. I've dealt with imposter syndrome in just about every area of my life. But never has it been so strong or so fierce as when I realized that I am responsible for molding this human into someone who is better than I am.

Who agreed to let me do that? Who gave us permission to conceive and raise a child? When is her real mom coming to pick her up?

On the other hand, I suppose there's beauty in imperfection. Amelia doesn't know the difference since I'm the only mother she will ever have, and there's no rule that you need to have finished growing yourself before you grow a person.

All any of us can do is our best. I just hope I can make my best...better for her.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Things "Good" Parents Do That I Don't

Despite the fact that there are as many opinions of parenting as there are parents, and despite the fact that we are aware of all of them in this age of information, there is a single narrative of "good" parenting that is often held as the golden standard among parents of this generation. This "good" parent is 100% parent, all the time. The mother likely had an unmedicated birth or strived for one at the very least. Her children don't watch television, favoring instead Pinterest-worthy crafts made from fingerpaint and mason jars.  The toys in her immaculate house are BPA and pthalate-free or all made of wood.

I imagine while most of us project this bogeymom on every parent we meet, very few of us actually achieve it. I personally don't think this is a bad thing. My favorite people are the ones who embrace their imperfection and I hope my child grows up to be like that too.

To that end, here are some things that the "good" parent does that I don't:

1. Avoid screen time. Since I was in high school, I've always needed some sound going on in the background while I go about my day and most often this takes the form of a TV show I've seen a million times. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screen time until the age of 2, but I'd say I gave up on even pretending I was following that by the time Amelia was a few weeks old. I figure if having the TV on gives me even a modicum of my sanity back it can only make me a better parent than TV-less Caitlin would be.

2. Give in to "mute buttons." Here's a really obnoxious truth about parenting for you: literally every object or method that actually gives you more than 5 seconds of peace is, according to some expert somewhere, irreparably harming your child. Pacifiers disrupt breastfeeding and cause nipple confusion. Exersaucers destroy your baby's hips and give her hip dysplasia. Bumbo seats force babies into unnatural positions and they'll never learn how to sit correctly. Cell phones will scramble their brains and give them ADD. Every blog post that demonizes these things gives at least a few alternatives but none of them work like the actual thing does. My baby could have every toy in front of her and she will still dive for my phone every damn time she sees it. Can you blame her? She's essentially the closest thing to a prehistoric human I will ever have in my house and that small, shiny square has ever-changing lights and sounds. If it makes her happy to look at her own face on the reverse camera, and if I can get a few minutes to fold laundry, so be it.

3. Read to my baby every day. Another not-realistic recommendation from the good old AAP is that you should read to your child from birth. Have you ever read to a 2-month-old? There's like an 80% chance they will stare at the wall the whole time. Have you ever read to a 9-month-old? If they're like mine, they'll grab the book from your hands, turn it around in their hands, throw it, and crawl away to something more interesting like ripping all the clothes out of the dresser. I'm sure this recommendation is extreme so that you'll actually try and fall somewhere in the middle, and while I will sometimes try to get through "Goodnight Moon" in the time it takes my daughter to realize I'm reading and crawl to me to rip it out of my hands, it definitely does not happen every night.

4. Talk to my baby all day. There's some statistic about how babies who hear more words will be smarter and more communicative and so on and so forth. Lots of parents will tell you, "just narrate your day, it's easy!" At least for me, though, this is much easier said than done. When I've tried, the conversation sounds something like this: "Wow, so you shit yourself I guess huh? What's that, is that the fireplace? Look, the dog. Do you want to breastfeed? My nose itches. Stop poking out the dog's eyes." As you can tell, it gets old and extremely unrewarding, so sometimes we just sit quietly and make funny noises.

5. Plan elaborate parties. Amelia's first birthday is coming up and I have planned absolutely nothing. I think elaborate birthday parties for babies are insane, honestly. Since her birthday falls near the Fourth of July, we will probably have some sheet cake and booze with family members and a few gifts. No theme, no cute favors, no $200 platters of food. Somehow I survived my childhood having slumber parties and a shindig at McDonald's once, I figure Amelia will too.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Moment in Time

One really weird thing about having a baby is that while this is probably the most challenging, significant part of my life so far, Amelia won't remember a second of it.

Obviously there are important things happening for her here--science agrees that much of how she will interact with the world is figured out at this point. That's why I spend time helping her sleep, snuggling her, feeding her good food. If she didn't remember it and it didn't matter, I could feed her whiskey to help her sleep or ask Cypress to babysit.

Not that I would know. I could.

This weekend I was laying on the couch with Amelia heavy and asleep on my chest (the only way she will currently nap). I could tell you that I always spend those moments marveling at the beauty of parenthood and magical unicorns and so forth, and while that does happen, most times I just scroll through social media on my phone and wait for her to wake up.

Not a lot of people tell you that about parenthood so here it is - there's a lot of waiting and moments "in between."

Anyway my phone started to die and I'd already slept for a few minutes, so I stared up at our skylight and started to think about how Amelia won't remember anything from this time. If she talks about herself as a baby, it'll only be through the lens of the memories I share with her. It's strange that this time can be simultaneously so unimportant in terms of her own memories and yet so significant to the development of her brain, her personality and her ability to relate to others.

As I looked down at her and thought of who she'll be in 5, 10, 20, 50 years, I realized that in some small way these experiences will stick with her. Maybe one day she'll smell something that reminds her of me--perhaps my infrequently-applied deodorant, or Tide detergent, or Burt's Bees chapstick--and feel a little nostalgic drop in her stomach that she can't quite identify but that is oddly peaceful to her.

That made my own stomach drop a bit, thinking of how vital I am to her survival now and how one day I will be only a piece of her life. I read the other day that the goal of parenthood is to make yourself obsolete, and my greatest wish for Amelia is that she feel confident enough to let go of me and Rob and move forward. But it doesn't mean it isn't a little sad to think that one day in the (hopefully) distant future I'll be nothing more than a series of memories to her.

Interesting how new life can make you think about death, isn't it?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Some Lists

Here are some lists about Amelia's life lately.

1. Goon
2. Goon-la-loon
3. Bitsy
4. Bits
5. Bootsie
6. Mealie-bot
7. Botskidoo

Favorite Toys:
1. Captain Calamari
2. Anything that isn't a toy
3. The remote control
4. Mom's phone
5. Stacking cups
6. Bath toys
7. The fireplace
8. The dog's paws, nose and eyebrows
9. The dog
10. The diaper wipe box

1. Rolling her tongue
2. Sharp inhales when she cries
3. Babbling (bababa, rarara. Sometimes it sounds like she's saying rob-rob-rob-rob)
4. Growling at dad

1. Pulling herself up on anything and everything
2. (Almost) standing without help
3. Sleeping on her belly
4. Crawling like a champ
5. Growling at dad

Favorite Foods:
1. Anything that is food

Favorite TV Shows:
1. Sesame Street
2. Hockey games

1. Bottom
2. Bottom
3. Top
4. Top

Favorite Songs:
1. Anything by Meghan Trainor (I know, I know)
2. Alkaline Trio's latest album

Least Favorite Things Ever:
1. The carseat
2. Napping alone
3. Loud ripping or snapping sounds
4. The dog barking like, right in her ear