Moments in parenting incompetence: an introduction

There are moments in life when you realize you really don’t have a clue what you’re doing. For me, it’s typically just as I’m feeling particularly accomplished or even complacent. “Oh yeah, I’ve got this!” (Pats self on back.) “Oh wait, no…”

These moments happen frequently enough in my household that they deserve an ongoing place on this blog. And so I present for your enjoyment the first two Moments in Parenting Incompetence on Motherhood and All the Rest.

Incompetence 1

1: It’s a special moment with the baby. He’s just nursed and we’re playing on the couch, just the two of us. We gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes as the fall sunshine warms our skin through the big front window. He’s smiling, I’m smiling. Our connection is perfect. I raise him up into the air and he gurgles happily. I raise him up again and he chuckles. And then he barfs into my mouth. I guess it wasn’t a great idea to be bouncing the baby right after a feed.

2: For once, I am cooking dinner in peace. The baby is finishing his last nap of the day and the toddler is playing quietly in the living room. That’s right, he’s playing quietly. You see, the night before I had been inspired by this list of activities to keep toddlers busy. So to buy myself some uninterrupted dinner-making time, I set up a pile of coloured pom poms with coordinating coloured construction paper and some cardboard tubes, and demonstrate how to drop the pom poms through the tubes onto the coloured paper. He begins to do so happily and I retreat to the kitchen with pride. What an enriching play experience! He is learning colours and improving his dexterity! He is quiet! I am not burning dinner! Except that 20 minutes later he calls me excitedly to come see what he is doing and I discover that the entire time he has been stuffing the pom poms down the vents.

Stay tuned… there will be more incompetence.

What-my-kid-said Wednesday: my favourite mispronunciations

Toddler-speak can be hilarious, and is often indecipherable unless you are the parent of said toddler.

Here are some of my favourite Bean-isms.

Prizery = privacy

Hockacotter = helicopter

Pimple → pumple → purmple = purple (who knew purple would take so long to get right?)

Peezle = puzzle

Yove = love

Spoom = spoon

BAnana = baNAna

Hawngry = hungry

Fwoopits = footprints

Ingergy = energy

Effascare = excavator (also escalator)

Craps = crafts

Crocogidle = crocodile

And finally, this one isn’t a mispronunciation but it’s pretty cute:

Sprinkles = freckles

What wrong-but-so-right things do your kids say?

To the pumpkin patch we go! Or not.

It’s fall. The scents of fallen leaves and pumpkin spice lattes are in the air, the nights are growing longer, and my Facebook feed is full of photos of tots at the pumpkin patch.

Last year, we took Bean to a popular pumpkin-picking destination for what seems to have become an Annual Toddler Rite of Passage: picking and posing for pictures with pumpkins (whoa, alliteration!). But it wasn’t just the pumpkin patch. The farm we went to was a seasonal extravaganza of toddler meltdowns waiting to happen. Petting zoo! Bouncy castle! Train ride! Playground! Corn maze! Mini donuts! Hayride to the pumpkin patch! And then… the pumpkin patch. A picked-through field of misshapen pumpkins, the most attractive of which were piled in big cardboard boxes at the edge of the field, ours to take home for $5 apiece.

After the fun of everything that had come before, the actual pumpkin patch was decidedly underwhelming to Bean. We eagerly followed him with the camera, snapping shot after shot as he picked his way through the muddy field over and around pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, not quite sure what he was doing there.

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So… this is a pumpkin?

Yes, we did get the obligatory photos of him surrounded by all of the non-rotten pumpkins we could find (we went kind of late in the season, as I recall). But afterwards, the two things that Bean remembered and cared about were: 1) that the hayride involved a REAL TRACTOR!!! and 2) mini donuts. Nothing about the pumpkins.

When did the pumpkin patch become a thing? I know it’s not new, but when did the pumpkin patch become a must-do pre-Halloween family activity? Is it because we have the ability to share photos of our darling offspring with everyone we know through social media, and so we must find new and adorable situations for those photos to occur? Is it because, again through social media, we can see that all the other parents we know have taken their tots to the pumpkin patch and so we must do it too, because if we don’t our children will be deprived of some incredible experience? Are we just keeping up with the Joneses?

I think things were simpler when I was a kid. There were no big outings to the pumpkin patch – just a grocery store pumpkin inexpertly carved by Dad and the kids at the kitchen table, probably while my Mum frantically put the finishing touches on our homemade Halloween costumes. (Not Pinterest/Martha Stewart-homemade; four-kids-no-money-do-I-have-to-wear-that-again homemade.) And the only way we knew what the Joneses were up to was if we saw them in person on our trick-or-treating adventure – there was no Facebook feed to let us know what kind of fancy costume the Joneses’ kids were in, or how much fun they’d had at the pumpkin patch.

For the record, we’re undecided on the pumpkin patch this year, but leaning towards not going.

Hugs are great, but only if you both want to

Last week at kindergym, Bean ran up to a little girl he’d never met before and gave her a spontaneous hug. I made my way over from across the room, and when I’d arrived they were still hugging. Or, I should say, Bean was still hugging. The girl was standing there, arms at her sides. She wasn’t pushing him away, but she wasn’t reciprocating either. As quickly as he’d decided to do it, Bean suddenly shouted “Bye!” and raced off to play with something on the other side of the room. When I finally caught up to him, I asked:

“I saw you giving that little girl a hug. Did you ask her if she wanted a hug?”

“Nope.”

“Did she say anything to you?”

“Nope.”

“Okay. Hugs are really nice, but you need to make sure that the person you’re hugging wants to be hugged.”

“Okay.”

In that moment, I was thinking of Bean the toddler, the energetic, natural leader (positive-speak for bossy-pants) who tends to steam-roll his less assertive playmates. I wanted him to learn to listen to other kids and respect their wishes. But later that day while my tired-out Bean was napping, I began to think about him not as a toddler, but as a middle-schooler, a teenager, a man. Hugs are great, but only if the other person wants to hug too. Kissing is great, but only if you’re both into it. Sex is great, but only if you both really, truly want to.

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My husband and I chose not to find out the sex of either of our babies before they were born – at least, not on purpose. With Bean, due to an obvious penis image during our 20-week ultrasound along with a not-so-tactful ultrasound technician, we were 99% sure we were having a boy. With Monkey, I had no clue until my last trimester of pregnancy when Bean started declaring to all who would listen that he was going to have a baby sister and she would be named Owl. Though it was silly, I started to believe that he was tapping into some kind of toddler power of prophecy (about the sister, not about naming her Owl) and that I would have a girl.

But on April fool’s day, I gave birth to a hefty little boy. I’ll admit that I had a few moments of mourning – that our family symmetry would never be perfect; that I would always be outnumbered; that there would be no french braids or party dresses or girl talk. But after that brief sadness for what was not to be, underneath the joy of finally meeting my healthy baby boy, I felt something else: relief. Because in some ways the prospect of having a little girl terrified me.

I am a mother of two boys, and sometimes it feels as though that is a privileged position.

A woman from my city recently made waves with a blog post gone viral about the sexualization of Halloween costumes for little girls. She succeeded in having some offensive costumes pulled off the shelves at a large North American retailer. We’ve all seen the type: the boys’ police officer costume is a miniature version of the real thing, while the girls’ costume is a skimpy, short-skirted get-up that looks nothing like the uniform of a real police officer (a stripper, maybe). If there’s no difference in real-life uniforms for male and female police officers, why the difference in costumes for children? These costumes carry the message that a while it’s appropriate for a little boy to aspire to be a cop when he grows up, a little girl should only aspire to be a sexy woman who can dress up like a sexy cop.

I can’t read the news without seeing stories about girls being victimized by their peers. Three cases that come to mind immediately are SteubenvilleRehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd. Girls who are raped and then victimized again and again when pictures, video and rumours are shared and spread online (by boys and other girls).

So how is the difference in the ways we treat boy and girl children related to healthy relationships and the concept of consent when those children get a little older? I’m not sure exactly, but I know both are pieces of the same messed-up puzzle. There’s no direct line between skimpy Halloween costumes for toddlers and date rape in teenagers. But when kids are continuously exposed to the unspoken message that their worth is not equal, that a boy can have a purpose but a girl is an object to be looked at, how does that not breed attitudes and situations in which boys are privileged and powerful and girls are taken advantage of?

I still worry that my boys will be hurt or bullied – what parent doesn’t? But I have to face up to the fact that as boys, it may be more likely they will participate in victimizing someone else. So here are the tough questions: as hard as it is for a mother to even consider, what if one day one of my boys doesn’t want to hear “no?” Thinks so little of a girl that it doesn’t matter what she wants? What if my boys are the ones who stand idly by at a party while they know something bad is happening in the next room? If a friend texts them a picture of a girl in their class against her will and they laugh and send it on? What if they forget that the person in that picture is a person?

So how do you teach your toddlers to respect other kids; your boys to respect girls; to stand up to bullies; to go against the crowd when it’s the right thing to do? How do you make sure they know that the absence of “no” isn’t the same as “yes?” That they grow up into men who can love and respect women as equals? How do you teach them the concept and importance of consent?

I’m not sure, but I’m starting here: Hugs are great, but only if you both want to.

To my breasts: a letter of apology

sorry

Dear breasts,

Guys, I have so many things to apologize for. Is it odd that I call you guys? Would you prefer girls? Ladies? Mammaries?

The other morning as I passed the bedroom mirror, instead of my usual cursory glance I happened to take a longer look. And then a double-take. It had been a while since I’d looked at myself with a critical eye, and the person looking back at me was not exactly the person I remembered. As my eyes traveled down my reflection, I finally found you. What were you doing down there? I was wearing a bra, wasn’t I? Was this just… where you live now?

The realization hit me: I’ve been taking you for granted. I let your youthful prime pass by without notice. I thought you’d always be there for me, right where I left you. And you are still there for me, just a little lower than I’d expected. How did this happen, I wondered? How did I not notice? It seems just yesterday you were firm and bouncing happily away, and now there’s something… listless about you. You’re deflated. Tired. You’re not your old selves.

I haven’t given you the support you need – that is clear. In my defence, it is difficult to find a nursing bra with that magical combination of both adequate support and comfort. So far the best I’ve done is not-quite-adequate support and zero-comfort. But to be honest, I haven’t tried that hard. To put it bluntly, I would rather dive naked and open-mouthed into a pool of ice-cold fish guts than go bra shopping.

You’ve put up with a lot over the years. I’ve encased you in ill-fitting and uncomfortable bras. I’ve lost crumbs and small particles of food in between you. Every time I decide to take up running again you get a thorough jostling. I’ve even cursed your size, tugging at v-neck shirts in an attempt to make you a little more work-appropriate. But in the past couple of years, you’ve gone from purely aesthetic to primarily functional in the blink of an eye. You’ve been latched on to by not one but two greedy babies. You’ve been hooked up to that cold instrument of torture known as the electric pump. (Pit of Despair, anyone?) You’ve been drooled and barfed on. You’ve got stretch marks. You’ve suffered cracks and soreness. You’ve leaked. You’ve been bitten. All in the name of duty.

cow

So I am sorry, dear breasts. It is true – I have valued your function far more than I ever valued your form. And now your form is… changed. I am sorry that I didn’t appreciate you when you were at your best, and I thank you for all your years of dedicated service. From now on I vow to cherish you for as long as we have left together, as I can only imagine that at the rate you’re going, you’ll be somewhere below my waist by the time I’m 40.

But… now that we’re talking again, would you just do me one favour? Would you maybe put the brakes on that inevitable journey down my torso, just for a little while? I promise, I’ll go bra shopping right away and find you something nice. It won’t poke. The straps won’t slip. I promise – I’ll find you the support you need. Because you’ve put up with a lot, and you deserve it.

What-my-kid-said Wednesday: on cookies

My sister-in-law and two nieces came over today to decorate Halloween cookies with us. Icing + sprinkles + excited 2, 3 and 4 year-old + a yelling baby = chaos. But also fun.

20141022_110308  cookies

After the cookie party was finished and Bean was waiting for the icing to dry so he could try one, we had this conversation:

“Mummy, you know dragons and monsters love to eat cookies that have no cweets on them?”

“Cweets?”

“No, cweets.”

“Treats?”

“No, cweets.”

“Creets?”

“Yeah and little boys love to eat cookies with sprinkles.”

“I’m confused about creet.”

“Mummy, you tell me about that?”

“About what?”

“Cweet. You tell me about that stuff. What it does?”

Anybody out there know what a creet is?

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Dads can be judgy too

We’ve all heard about judgy mums. You know, the ones who have discovered the secret to perfect parenthood and are honour-bound to share it condescendingly with all in their immediate vicinity.

“We make all of our baby’s purees out of organic food.”

“Baby doesn’t eat purees – we are doing baby-led weaning as it promotes a healthier relationship to food.”

“It’s so much better for your connection with Baby to wear him; you should really try it.”

“Why are you still wearing your toddler? Shouldn’t he be walking on his own?”

“Time-outs are the best way to discipline your toddler. My toddler’s behaviour has improved dramatically with time-outs.”

“Time-outs are cruel punishment that make kids feel isolated and don’t teach them the correct behaviour. We would never do time-outs.”

“Breast is best, no matter the circumstances.”

The judgy mum and backlash against the judgy mum have been well documented (for example, here.) It’s tough to be a mother – there’s so much pressure to be perfect and it seems that the weight of this perfection falls solely on our shoulders. We agonize over each and every parenting decision and then feel guilty if we don’t measure up to someone else’s standards.

But what about the dads? Why should mothers be the only ones to carry the weight of perfection? Why are we the only aggressors and victims in the war of perfect parenting? Why are they called the “Mommy Wars?”

I’ll tell you a secret: judgy dads are out there too, and they’ve been flying under the radar this whole time. They’re free to spout their judgy judgment all over the place without fear of being labeled or judged themselves, because the judgy dad isn’t “a thing.” Yet.

I present for you snippets of a conversation I had with a dad I met last week at a parents and tots group.

On family size

Dad: How are you finding the adjustment to having two kids?

Me: It’s getting easier now, but honestly it was really tough in the beginning.

Dad: Yeah, I have three. The third was the hardest by far.

On gardening

Dad: Do you have a garden at home?

Me: No, we don’t. Maybe another year.

Dad: You really should. It’s so good for the kids to eat vegetables that come right out of their own garden.

On picky eaters

Me: Bean tends to be a pretty picky eater. He won’t touch protein, unless it’s frozen chicken nuggets. I’d rather he ate the real food that I cook, but some nights I just need him to eat something and so we do nuggets.

Dad: We don’t do any kind of processed food in our house. I don’t want that stuff in my kids’ bodies.

Me: Hmm.

Dad: I do all the cooking. The kids sit at the kitchen island and I get them involved, you know, smelling the spices that go into the food, that kind of thing. It makes them excited to eat it.

Me: That sounds like a good way to do it.

Dad: But, you know, my kids can be picky too. Like, some days they’ll eat pickled beets, and then the next day they only like beets that aren’t pickled.

Okay, I get it. Different things work for different people. But come on. If your kids will eat beets, pickled or otherwise, they’re probably not that picky (unless beets are all they will eat). This was a clear example of humblebragging. The dad was parading the examples of his spice-smelling, beet-eating kids as a reflection of his super-awesome parenting, all while judging my obvious inability to prepare healthy food for my own kids. But guess what? I try to get Bean involved when I cook too – it’s just that in my tiny, island-less kitchen there’s no space for the kids to sit docilely and watch as I whip up a delicious gourmet meal. It’s Bean, standing on a chair beside me at our cramped counter, and me, trying to keep him from touching knives and raw meat. (All while Monkey alternates screams of happiness, excitement and rage in the bouncer just outside the kitchen.) Bean is not the type of kid to be a spectator. He is in the action, all the way. For about 2 minutes, after which he has made a big mess and is no longer interested.

Suffice it to say, there are a thousand ways to do this whole parenting thing, and what works for one family may not work for another. Nobody can be perfect all the time, because there is no perfect.

So to the judgy dads out there, I say this. Judge all you like, but I’m on to you. The judgy dad is now officially a thing.