Saturday, November 7, 2015

Moms Don't Need the Gratitude Police

Everyone who is a mother has had this moment. Probably a lot of them.

Worn out with an endlessly fussy baby, non-stop toddler tantrums, grade-school homework revolt, or a morose and defiant teen, a mom vents to friends and family, or posts something to the modern-day confessional, Facebook.

Almost without fail at least one other mom, and often an entire guilt-inducing chorus of them, will make a comment that is some variation of this:

"Oh, you should cherish every day with your child, because eventually all those precious moments will be gone and you'll regret it. Count your blessings. You should be grateful!"

Honestly? Stop. No. Don't say this to other moms.

I've never been a huge fan of those who insist that a properly thankful attitude is the solution to every problem--or as I call them, the Gratitude Police-- but lately I've been more bothered by them than usual. Maybe because I know a lot of young moms right now and I feel protectively big-sisterish. Maybe because as the years have gone by (I've been a mom almost 21 years), the Gratitude Police keep showing up, and I'm tired of grimacing through their advice.

I've decided that "you should be grateful" isn't all that helpful. I think in a lot of cases it's not well-meant-- it's a form of passive aggression. In quite a few cases I think it does real harm.

In the first place, I'm generally of the opinion that any sentence that starts "you should...." is not going to be well-received by a woman who's had dried spit-up in her hair for three days straight. Nor should it be.

To anyone who shared their fears, frustrations, irritation, exhaustion, and bewilderment about mothering a child, regardless of whether it was on a minor or monumental scale, "you should be grateful" plays like a one-sentence lecture. Because that's what it is. A lecture on how you should be quiet about your feelings, and how your attitude is all wrong.  I don't call that empathy; I call it an an emotional shut-down.

And who said anyone was ungrateful? What a way to leap to the worst possible assessment of someone's character. The large majority of the time, moms are letting go of some temporary frustration, not rueing the day their child was born. They're stating the hardly earth-shattering news that breast pumps and nights of lost sleep and sibling warfare and melted candy bars in hot mini-vans are all really crappy. Nobody should have to feel grateful for that shit. Ever. Believe it or not, it's absolutely possible to hate these things and still be grateful every moment that your kids exist. They're not mutually exclusive. Complaining in the moment doesn't negate your overall commitment to the people you brought into the world.

At its worst, "you-should-be-grateful" talk angers me because when we address someone else's discontent in such a casually dismissive fashion, we may not know what we don't know. We're telling a mother her feelings not only don't matter, that she should feel bad for having them? That's not a super-great message to send to the average woman who is momentarily struggling with some parenting challenge, or just needs to blow off some steam. But what if you're telling that to someone who is also battling severe anxiety? Post-partum depression? A physical health problem? Emotional abuse? What if what you see on the outside is just the tip of her very large and frightening iceberg? Do you want to take that chance?

Cut it the eff out, ladies. Seriously.

As an Official Older Mom Person, here's what I know from all of my two decades of experience:

Good, bad, or indifferent, these moments moms are having will pass regardless of how we feel about them. It's not like we get jelly beans in the Extra Time Jar for being properly grateful, whatever-the-baby-poop that even means. Nor do we get to return to yesteryear for being properly grateful. Either way, the calendar pages flip-- some days with a loving and wistful look over the shoulder, and sometimes with a "welp, we survived." We can be glad for both. Because they are both real life.

I had four absolutely adorable, funny, mostly-happy babies that I loved with every particle of my being. I did not, however, love every minute I spent with them. And that's okay. I can say honestly, years after the fact, that I still do not miss tantrums, dirty diapers, and sleep deprivation so profound and ongoing I had difficulty remembering the proper names of common household objects and my own husband. I don't. And no one can make me. It doesn't mean I loved my children any less, then or now.

I think it's okay to stand up for yourself, which I began to do when my youngest, the twins, were little. "Excuse me. I didn't say I was ungrateful. I said that I was at my wit's end because my child keeps throwing food on the floor. Do you have any useful suggestions?" Reframe the conversation away from shaming you. Because you do not need that garbage when you have a valid problem, and they should know better.

Gratitude can't be coerced out of you by someone else. Because that's not gratitude. That's guilt. Moms have enough of that to deal with as it is. We are made to feel bad because we breastfeed in public, or because we choose not to breastfeed at all; because we stay at home, or because we have a job; because we let our children walk to school unsupervised, or because we are helicopter parents. Society delivers us a lot of conflicting messages about motherhood except for one: mothers are expected to be damn near perfect. We're not. We're exactly the same person we were before we became mothers, only with less sleep and more laundry. There's no point in feeling ashamed of our humanity just because we produced some more of it. Do your best. Accept that some (many) days it won't be enough. Love them anyway. Love them ferociously. Forgive yourself. Forgive them too. Somewhere in the middle of all that, gratitude tends to take care of itself.

What if gratitude isn't taking care of itself? Ask for help from friends and family who don't discount your feelings. Tell your doctor and pediatrician. Be specific about what you need, and what you're worried about. There's a whole world-wide army of variously imperfect and yet awesomely capable and loving mothers out there who understand, whatever it is.

They are not the ones who will tell you to be grateful. They are the ones who will tell you to hang in there, and offer you the extra hand you need to do so. They are the fellow mothers you need in your life. They are the mothers you will be truly, truly grateful for. Without having to be told you should.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Post-season Garden Review (No, There was No Pre-season Preview)

I did have a vegetable garden this year. I even started plants from seed in my basement. I just didn't blog about it because this spring I was so rushed and the garden looked so incredibly puny and frail. I didn't have high hopes. While it was more productive than last year, it wasn't quite what I had in mind this year either. But there were problems all summer.

I think I can illustrate the main problem by way of a list of the things I grew.

Carmello tomato (eaten by rabbits)
Big Beef tomato
Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato
Corno di Toro sweet pepper (eaten by rabbits and replanted with starts from hardware store)
Bennings Green Tint patty pan summer squash
Dill (eaten by rabbits)
Purple podded pole beans (eaten by rabbits)
Basil (eaten by rabbits)
Onions (eaten by rabbits)

Bunnies are not cute, people. They are toothy little bastards, descendants of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, and all they do is eat and destroy, eat and destroy. In their spare time they breed like, well, rabbits, and produce more of their evil and all-consuming kind.

By mid-summer I had most of my really prized things fenced. My few rose bushes were never freed from their mesh prison this season, which is a sad way to enjoy rose bushes, but I was tired of spending my money replacing things. But it was too late to start over on beans and onions, and the dill I tried again never came up.

In spite of the the eleventh plague of Egypt that was rabbits, it didn't go all badly. We got a ton of summer squash. Here are some that hid from me and grew too large to eat, though they sure were pretty:

I would estimate we got about two to three bushels of tomatoes from just two plants. I'm not sure I will grow the Aunt Ruby's German Green again. I grew them because I had an Aunt Ruby (who was German, no less), and the name just made it too good to refuse. It was a handsome-looking plant, if you can consider a tomato plant handsome. But I found the tomatoes overly sweet and a little too watery, and I don't have enough space to grow things just out of a sense of novelty, despite my nostalgia for my Aunt Ruby, rest her soul.

It was nice enough just to have an unlimited supply of slicing tomatoes for sandwiches and hamburgers and salads, and a few squash and peppers for the summer supper table. With an earlier and better line of defense against the &*$# rabbits next year, I hope to do better.

We also had an assist from elsewhere in September, in the form of apples from my aunt and uncle's farm in Missouri. I will never have the room here for orchard fruit with my postage stamp yard, so it was nice to have this. They became pies and happy bellies in short order.

My goal is to eventually have the back yard entirely in garden, with little to no grass. Flowers and vegetables and paths. This was a good learning year, and I'm already looking forward to next year and more progress.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Painting My Garage, in a Series of Bad Cell Phone Photos

This has been done for awhile, but since I'm in the middle of a long streak of intense single parenting these days, I just haven't had time to blog. 

But ignore the mess. Ignore the weeds. Ignore (for at least a little while longer), the hideous features of that purple broken door and light fixture.

One more side of the garage is scraped and painted. No, I didn't exactly do this in the right order, and no, I don't really care. It was me managing my fear of heights. By procrastination, one of the other things I'm super-duper good at. Deal with it later. Tomorrow's another day. Fiddle dee dee. Until I can't stand to look at it anymore. 

It is clear in this last photo that I was losing daylight, and the last of summer. 

Next up is the door and light fixture. And as is usual around here, some other projects scattered around the place. Because nothing can happen all at once, start to finish, in a straight line. Normal would be abnormal around here. But for the foreseeable future, it's all about the paint. And more paint.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Room for Change

Last weekend my oldest son, who'd been home from college for summer vacation, moved into an apartment.

Since he's a junior this year, on the face of things it isn't much different from the last two times he moved out, cramming laundry baskets full of socks and t-shirts and boxes of textbooks in the back of his car. But this time, he also borrowed my van and loaded up his mattress. And headed not to the dorm, but a shared two-bedroom apartment, with a tiny closet of a kitchen and a living room with just enough space for a small futon sofa.

It's not really that different. But it is. I'm pretty sure it means he won't be living with us, full-time, ever again. That's a healthy thing. He's 20, spreading his wings, finding his adult life. That's all as it should be. I also realize he's close by, and I don't have to face the hardship other parents deal with, of him going to school several hours or even several states away.


While he's seeing the beginning, I'm also, just as much, seeing the ending. And I'm having emotional reactions that are not the norm for me. My good intentions (being proud of a young adult going out on his own) are colliding with my fears and losses (I'd had no idea how much a dependable and reassuring presence he's been to me).

Take that torn-up conflicted mess of my emotional insides and add a big pile of the usual back-to-school stress for the other boys, and.....well.  It's made me bossy. It's made me a scold. It's made me not unlike Kitty Forman from That 70s Show. I have been reminding myself of this episode a lot lately.

Yep. While for my oldest child life is moving on at a rapid and wonderful pace, I feel like I'm left behind with the metaphorical equivalent of a fucking car show in Kenosha. I wish I could be more graceful about it, but right now I'm just not.

His more-permanent departure has left the door open for other big changes, too.

Since birth, my twin sons Ben and Joe have shared a womb, a swaddling blanket, a crib, and always, always, a bedroom.

While at the subterranean level of the heart, their relationship is like this:

On the day-to-day level it's more often like this:

They're twins with vast differences in their personalities, and I'll admit there are times when the entire family would benefit from a break in the cycle of open conflict and armed detente in the twin identity/sibling rivalry wars. While that sounds pretty dysfunctional, I understand it's normal for same-sex twins.

Normal can be pretty exhausting for the bystanders, though. At 11 years old, the twins are starting middle school this year. They feel grown up. They want grown up things. They're each wanting the same thing their oldest brother wanted: a space to call his own.

Grant's bedroom up until this last weekend looked (when clean and uncluttered, which I'll admit wasn't often) like this:

The twins' bedroom looked like this:

This weekend, we moved Ben's bed into his big brother's old room. We'll be working this fall to gradually morph the twins' old room into Joe's personal space, and Ben's new room into his very own.

Unlike television shows and some other blogs, this won't be a total renovation of both spaces in just a few weekends. Real-world budgets and schedules don't really allow for that. But we'll see how far we can get on use-what-you-have decorating.

We'll also see if I go all Kitty Forman on this change too. The rooms in my house are still all full, but so is my heart. In both cases, rearranging is a messy process.