Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The One Thing All Parents Can Count On

Almost a year ago, my toddler twins went through a nudist phase. Every afternoon, we'd put them down for their nap, and once that bedroom door shut, the pants came off. Of course, it would have been fine if they stopped there, but no, they wanted to go Full Monty, which meant the diaper had to come off too. Watching from the baby monitor, I'd run in there yelling, "Diaper, on! Keep your diapers on!" I'd change them again and put their clothes back on. But, as soon as I left the room, the strip show continued.

This went on for months. I'm not kidding. Months! Everyone kept saying it was a phase and it would pass, but I always thought a phase lasted, I don't know, a couple of weeks. We tried reasoning with them. We tried bribing them. I yelled...a lot. One afternoon, I even ended up on the floor in tears after I ran in to find them peeing off the side of their cribs onto the carpet, their discarded poop diapers smeared on their sheets. Again, not kidding.

Ultimately, we discovered that nothing was really going to get through to our (then) 19-month-olds, so we resorted to duct tape. Yes, duct tape. We literally sealed their diapers on before naps and bedtime. We even turned their pajamas backwards so they couldn't unzip them. They tried, oh, they tried to Houdini their way out, but ultimately realized their arms weren't long enough...and that they were no match for industrial adhesive. Soon after, they just lost interest. Just like that--their nudist naptime antics had finally come to an end.

Or, at least, that brand of antics. A couple of months ago, out of nowhere, my boys climbed out of their cribs. They did it several times in a row until one boy wound up on the floor screaming, "My back, ouch, my back." I would have kept them in cribs until, say, college, but with a risk of bodily injury, clearly our days of containment were over. So, now we were dealing with a whole new kind of crazy at naptime. After ripping the baby monitors off the wall, breaking a lamp, pulling knobs off of their dresser, and knocking over their nightstand, we realized we basically had to strip that room down to nothing. Of course, they still seem to find ways to create mischief--somehow pulling clothes out of their child-locked dresser, scaling said-dresser, climbing on top of the couch to reach stuffed animals on a very high shelf. And since they trashed the baby monitor, I have no way of knowing exactly how they're making all of this happen. Unless they're magic babies. Maybe they're magic babies.

Anyway, I thought this would be yet another phase. Maybe it would take, oh, a few weeks for the novelty to die down. But no, not really. Now with damn near nothing in that room to hold their interest, they're making up games to play during naptime. They run from one end of the room to the other. They jump on the couch to hide from dragons. They lift up the shades and say hi to people walking by. For a period of time, they were ultimately falling asleep...it just took about forty-five minutes. I'd find them crashed out like drunken frat boys, one kid face down on a chair with his feet hanging off of the side, the other on the floor, his giant stuffed gorilla pulled on top of him. When I would get them up, I almost wanted to go in like some Mommy cop, shining a flashlight in their faces, nudging them with my toe, "Soooomeone had a rough afternoon, huh? Maybe if you'd gone to sleep when you were supposed to instead of running around like a coupla hooligans."

We were away for the holidays and between the time change, all of the excitement, and a new room to destroy like rock stars, their naps just completely disappeared. For two weeks, I tried to put them down. I went in there and scolded and threatened until I just gave up on their naps altogether. Were they done with naps for good? Was this the end of that two-hour afternoon break for both boys and me? Noooooooooo, I mentally screamed. Once we got home, things went back to normal for, hmmm, maybe a split second and then, just like that, went all screwy again. I'm afraid to admit it, but I think our days of naptime bliss may be coming to an end.

Way back when they were babies, I remember sitting in a Mommy and Me class, full of exhausted new moms consistently confused about sleep and eating and desperate to know, "What happened? What now? How do I get baby to eat more, sleep more, cry less? When can we have that secret code that'll help us figure out these damn infants? Because you know that we know that you know it, oh wise Mommy teacher." Week after week, we came at her with questions, wanting to know, exactly, exactly what to do.

Then, one day, she told us the secret code: The one thing you can count on with kids is that you can't count on anything. It all keeps changing and once you think you've figured it out, they throw everything out of whack again. Sometimes it goes back to normal, sometimes it's a new normal, but the changes will keep coming.

These last couple of months, I've tried to keep those wise words in mind, just as I did last year when I was buying duct tape and carpet cleaner in bulk. With toddlers, everything is a phase and we as parents are powerless to their continuous evolution. Their habits are always in flux--nothing is forever, good or bad. Either way, we have no choice but to just keep rolling with the punches, take some deep breaths and adapt. I have no idea what's next with my mischievous little angels, and I'm pretty sure I won't really be prepared. Sure, it would be nice to have all of the answers, but as any seasoned parent will probably tell you, "Hahahahahahahaha."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Why Are Women So Hard On Themselves?

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

For the most part, I’d say I’m pretty confident. I like who I am, I believe in myself and believe in the things I can do. I’m a good person, a nice person. I know that I’m smart, I know that I’m pretty, and I know that I’m a good mom.

Wow, did I just say all of that out loud? Yep, I did, and it feels really...uncomfortable.

As I was writing all of the above, I wanted to add the disclaimer. Sure, I believe in myself…when I’m not plagued with self-doubt. I’m a nice person…when I’m not gossiping like a petty bitch. I’m pretty…well, my face is, if you can ignore the rest of me. And I’ve got that mom thing down…until I lose my shit and scream, “No more Barney ever! Ever!”

I want to say that I’m awesome, and truly believe it, but my knee-jerk reaction, my go-to sentiment, is that I basically suck at life.

I spend some portion of every day wading around in my own insecurities and a sense that I’m doing something, maybe everything, all wrong. Sometimes I’m full-body submerged in it, and sometimes I’m only dipping my toe in for a few minutes. It’s a mean little voice that’s just always there, lurking. I hate being so damn hard on myself all of the time. I hate how the day is not complete until I’ve found some way to take myself down a peg.

And the worst part is, it’s generally just wallowing, a one-sided conversation in which I just berate myself for a little while and don’t really come up with any solutions. Some little thing happens—like I had an awkward conversation or I saw an unflattering picture of myself or I put too much salt on the pasta—and then decide everyone must hate me and I’m lumpy and a terrible cook.

Even if I’ve had a good day with good stuff, I find the charcoal lining. I could get some amazing career news, and yet, still feel like a failure because I’m not bringing in more of an income. My kids could do something impressive—like finish a multi-piece jigsaw puzzle—but I’ll go to bed worrying that I haven’t provided them with enough stimulating puzzle-completing opportunities. I lost two pounds? Hooray! Too bad I still have 20 to 30 pounds to go. No wonder I have trouble sleeping! Oh great, I’m bad at sleeping too. If it’s not one thing, it’s something else. Always. The low feelings don’t last and they’re pretty surface, but they’re consistent. It’s almost like an indulgence.
Actually, that’s exactly what it is: an emotional indulgence.

So why do I nitpick myself? I grew up with really positive female role models—confident women like my mom and my grandma who knew they were smart and charismatic and attractive and taught me to feel the same way. I could blame the media, assume I’ve been getting subliminal messages that I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, or good enough. I don’t think it’s that either though because, like I said, I had strong women in my life who convinced me not to buy the soul-crushing hype.

No, instead, I’m going to blame my friends. I blame other women. And I blame myself. Let’s blame each other, shall we? Because we’re all knocking ourselves on a daily basis and, I think, creating a vicious cycle.

In fact, I think it’s so insidious that we sometimes don’t even realize we’re doing it. We can’t even take a compliment, say “thank you,” and leave it at that. No, instead, it has to be like, “Oh God, this thing? I bought it at Old Navy for $5, like, forever ago.” Or, how about this: “Oh God, really? It must be this new BB cream because I swear the bags under my eyes are Costco-sized.” Or maybe, “Oh God, seriously? This place is such a mess right now and I want new throw pillows and maybe some pictures but, uch, I’m so bad at this stuff and just can never get it together.”

Come on, why the dialogue? We’re basically just making our complimenter tell us all over again how awesome we are. If you look at basic word efficiency, a simple “thank you” would be so much easier. Unfortunately though, the social niceties of dodging a compliment are ingrained in us. (There’s actually a funny Amy Schumer sketch where a group of women off themselves when one of their crew dares to accept a compliment.)

I’m no shrink, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the root of it all is the constant compara-thon between women. Sure, maybe there’s a little bit of jealousy and competition at play, but for the most part, I think it’s because we actually think our friends are freaking awesome. They’re a lot to live up to! And God forbid those women have insecurities of their own—well then we’re really screwed. When we hear a beautiful woman knock herself, we think, “If she thinks she looks like crap, I must look like super crap.” Or if your incredibly successful friend is complaining about not being very motivated these days, you really start to feel like a bum.

Here’s a little secret though: No one is perfect and no one’s life is perfect either. Every woman has her own crosses to bear.

While I wish I didn’t have to be so mean to myself sometimes, I’m starting to think that maybe a little bit of tough self-love isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s what pushes me and challenges me to do better and be better.

Still, I think this is one of those areas where we could learn something from men. They seem to own their accomplishments and brush off their perceived failures. They take the compliment and let it bolster them.

But old habits die hard. I don't think I’ll ever be able to stop nitpicking myself, no matter how accomplished, fit, or Pinterest-worthy I may be someday. And I’m actually comfortable with that because as harsh of a critic as I am, at the end of the day, I really do believe in myself. I really do like myself. And I bet that most women, in spite of all of their insecurities, feel the exact same way.