On Vicarious Motherhood

A decade or so ago, I waited tables at a vegetarian restaurant. I befriended a good many women while there, including Mary Margaret, today’s Not Mom. I nannied and it ended sadly, she nannied and it ended sadly; we just hired a nanny, we are hoping, despite the odds, for a happy ending.

Dear Mary,

Right now, my niece watches Violet for a half day and my mom is with her two full days while I’m at work each week. My mom goes to Florida for three months every winter, though, and so we’ve just hired a nanny.

I think you know being a nanny was my favorite EVER job. I know you loved being a nanny too. I think you may even know how being a nanny ended for me, which is to say: HORRIBLY, and in a river of tears that flowed for years. YEARS. That may sound overly dramatic, but 1) it’s actually not, and 2) it is a situation that was VERY dramatic.

Here’s the shortest version of the story. I nannied for a family full-time. I watched their toddler son, and a few mornings a week I watched the dad’s daughter from another marriage before school. To say I got on with both of them would be vastly understating it, but, as I said, this is the shortest version of the story, so we’ll leave it at that. At first, it was great. I got along with the little boy and everyone was happy. Then I got along with the boy and people were not happy. It is hard to say when this happened. There was one written conversation where the mother (who left for work before I got there and was still working when I left, so I didn’t see her much, just at family gatherings and some weekend evenings) said something about the little boy being so well behaved around me. Silly me, I thought it took a village. So I wrote back, something about how I’m always really consistent, and if, for example, I say, “Tell Linda thank you for lunch or we’re not leaving,” after my mom takes us out to lunch (this actually happened), we WILL stand outside a restaurant for thirty minutes until he does it, no matter how cranky he gets about it. I may have given examples of how she had been inconsistent. She did not write back and did not speak to me for a while after that. I should have taken it as a sign but I didn’t.

Okay, THERE IS NO TRULY SHORT VERSION OF THIS. I had written a story about a mom and a nanny. It’s funny, because both the nanny and the mother character were based on ME. The nanny was physically me, but didn’t have any emotional presence in the story because it was told from the mother’s point of view. The mother was single (me) and insecure (me) and going on bad dates (me) and going to crappy romantic comedies alone (me) and questioning her life choices (me) and just generally trying to do her best (me). (The mother I worked for was confident, driven, questioning nothing that I knew of, and in a good relationship with her son’s father.)

Here we can be short. A journal decided to publish it. I decided to tell the mother. I sent her a copy of the story. Her partner called to tell me that I was no longer allowed to be around their kids. Cue river of tears.

(Anyone who’s interested can find the story and the story I wrote AFTER the story here. I wrote them a decade ago, and I’ll fight the urge to talk about edits I might make now. The fact is, they’re both published online, but in GREATLY changed form — I will not get into the editorial decisions that were made that I disagree with, or how many times I’ve written asking for them to be taken down. I’ll just put them here in their original form.)

At any rate. It’s a tricky situation. You want the nanny to be good, because you want the baby to be spending time with someone she loves and feels comfortable with and enjoys. But — and I haven’t experienced this yet, because so far I’ve left the baby with family, and I WANT her to be very close to them, but I understand it’s what happens — if the nanny is TOO good, feelings of jealousy emerge. If, say, hypothetically, the nanny is someone to whom you can say, “You can’t see my kid anymore,” and actually mean it and make it happen, well, that’s a different situation. And I know, for a fact, that the nanny can be jealous of the mother too, and that can cause its own problems. Now that I’m a mom, I GET why the mother of the kid I nannied for did what she did. I ALSO get that it was an incredibly selfish thing to do, and I hope to never get into a situation where making someone who is very important (and present) in my child’s life disappear seems like a good idea.

And I don’t want to make what happened to me happen to anyone else. I still think about that little boy (who’s now a teenager), I am not kidding you, EVERY day. I have an old knit hat of his in a drawer; I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. And I still feel heat crawl up my spine whenever I think of his mother.

So, Mary. How was your nanny situation? Did it end well? Do you have any advice for me, a former nanny and former not-mom who is now a mom who’s hired a nanny?

Love,
Amy

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Okay, it’s not TOTALLY relevant to the entry, but: 1) it is a very adorable picture of Violet and I as Bert and Mary Poppins on Halloween, and 2) I’ve had “It’s a Jolly Holiday with Mary” in my head the whole time I’ve been putting together this post.

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Dear Amy,

I do remember that story, though I didn’t know it in that detail back in the day when we were servers at Seva together. I just knew that you were very upset about it—didn’t want to, or couldn’t, talk about it much, so it must have affected you deeply. And though I was a not-mom and not-nanny at that point, I could easily enough imagine that mother’s jealousy. Thinking about it now, I wonder if it stems from a woman’s sense of lack of control of her life. You know? Like they say that women abuse food, abuse exercise, become workaholics all because they want a sense of control in their life. Mothers probably anticipate that their relationship with their child, especially during the young years, will be under their control, and anticipate this with much joy. Having that intimacy, which in so many ways does belong to the mother, threatened can no doubt set some ladies berserk.

My sister-in-law, Michelle, is not one of these set-berserk ladies. She has a great self-esteem and a degree in early childhood education. Sometimes I’m amazed at her ability to NOT be phased by her daughter’s fleeting affection.

OK. Back up. First we have to talk about the fact that I am the aunt of the most beautiful little girl in the world, Isobel, and my sweet, handsome nephew Benjamin. (I’m kind of a snob sometimes and think no babies come near the beauty of my brother’s, but Amy, Violet is absolutely beautiful, I do admit). I was lucky enough to be offered the nannyship of Isobel, since my sis-in-law had to return to her job as a kindergarten teacher, a gig for which I gladly ended my stay in the best city on this planet, San Francisco. From the time she was 10 months until she was 2 ½, I got to be with Isobel five hours a day, playing with her, feeding her, changing her diaps, putting her down for naps. Let’s spare the not-moms and the not-nannys the clichés, and suffice it to say this experience was the most beautiful and rewarding of my life.

It ended well, but sadly, of course. How do you go from spending every day with the person you love the most to not and not feel sad? But our beautiful Benjamin was born, and my sis-in-law now stays home with both of them.

When I was Isobel’s nanny, I felt like her second mother, and I think she felt I was too. Isobel was the kind of baby who screamed in the arms of anyone but her mother and father, and to this day is shy and withholding from not only strangers but close family members she doesn’t see extremely regularly. But she was close with me. She was comfortable with me. She would eat for me and sleep for me, nuzzle me in public when she was shy, and do all those other special things kids only do for the people they really trust.

There were times that I wondered if Michelle didn’t hate this. Like, my sis-in-law came home every day at lunch and would call out to Isobel from behind the corner before Isobel could see her. And instead of calling out, “Mama!” back, Isobel would go, “Daddy??” Every. Time. Almost like she wanted to piss her mom off. Not ever give her the satisfaction. Punish her for going away yet another morning. If this bothered Michelle, it barely showed—I think that’s where the early childhood ed. came in. Maybe she understood those are the kind of things kids do, since they don’t know how to tell you what they’re feeling.

By the time I left for the day a few minutes later, Isobel had fully warmed to her mother, and would barely issue me a goodbye. Kids are quick. And resilient. And smart. The go where the warmth is. And they work well on schedules.

Isobel isn’t as close to me these days. She still loves me, of course, and on a good day we are still best buds. But I only see her once a week now for a couple hours at most, and sometimes she punishes me for loving Benjamin by denying me her affections. Alas, that’s how it goes. Isobel has to put up with all these people who used to love only her now loving her brother, and I have to accept that my special time with Isobel is really over and I now play a part probably more appropriate—aunt, not second mom.

My advice? Hire someone you trust. Hire someone who actually disciplines with consistency. You know, like what you talked about above. Go into it knowing Violet is going to become attached to her nanny—and remind yourself that this is good! But know that no nanny is going to replace your relationship with her, especially since you are such a strong, present, loving mother. Oh, and also, don’t hire my friend who recently posted on facebook about her nanny gig that she unapologetically hates constructing robots from milk cartons and toilet paper rolls. She probably isn’t the best nanny for you.

Love,

Mary Margs

Mary Margaret is a not-mom and a no-longer-nanny, currently working as a manager at Seva Detroit. She is a sometimes singer/songwriter and fiction writer, who fantasizes of becoming a comedy writer. You can find her music atmarymargaret.bandcamp.com. She’s also hoping to get into med school for next fall, so cross your fingers with her.

On Coming Out

A few years ago, I had the great fortune of meeting Erin Dreps when she began volunteering at the non-profit I work for. Very slowly, we became friends. She is one of my favorite people to receive an email from. Today, she comes out to the internet at large.

Dear Amy,

I came out today. I also came out yesterday, to a guy I was talking to at dinner. And I came out the day before that to my roommate at this orientation I’m attending. I came out the day before that to a doctor who was examining my possibly – though thankfully not actually – broken wrist (and I can’t even imagine why that was relevant). I came out two months ago to my soon-to-be supervisor who was interviewing me for a job. All I do is come out! I’m not in the closet, yet somehow I’m constantly emerging from it.

Not to say that I’m compelled to announce to everyone I meet, “By the way, I prefer ladies.” It’s just, you know, I have a partner. And that’s kind of a big deal in my life and it kind of relates to a lot of stories I tell, so it comes up. Plus, I’m phenomenally bad at coming out despite my 6 ½ years of practice. I’ve gotten better, but from where I started there was really no way to get worse. I had a lot of painfully awkward conversations, thankfully never because anyone reacted badly but only because I made it awkward. I didn’t know how to bring it up. I still don’t, really.

From there, I just started putting it off. Like, oh, I’ll tell them when I know them better. Or, I’d rather know how they might react first. And I could justify it because I’m not actually a super proactive “sharer” about anything else – so why about this? Do you remember when I came out to you? If you don’t, it’s because I never did. Someone did it for me, which I prefer in a way. But I feel bad that because of that, you didn’t know until a week before that I was getting married. I wanted to be friends with you and with Catherine, and I wanted to bond, and in order to do so I wanted and needed to let you in on this thing, this major part of my life – but I didn’t know how to bring it up. Given that omission, I’m still stunned by the quickness and the generosity of your responses and your readiness to help me celebrate.

As hordes of coworkers and friends can attest, I have a pattern of this same hesitation, this same awkwardness. It just comes back to the fact that I didn’t know how to bring it up. Or when, for that matter. When I first meet someone, or once I know him well enough that it might be relevant? When she mentions her boyfriend, or when he mentions his gay brother?

I’ve changed tactics now, which is why I’m announcing it every other breath. Maybe I should start wearing a sign. Maybe if I cut my hair even shorter and wear even more plaid it will announce itself. Maybe it already does announce itself, but people are too polite to verbalize their assumptions. Maybe I need to finally get the bad reaction, the bible-quoting bigot telling me I’m going to hell (which, in fairness, would be a bigger threat if I believed in hell – and I bet that’s another reason I’m sure to go there). Maybe I need to experience that, and go through it to the other side, so I realize that I can. So I don’t worry about reactions from new coworkers and soccer teammates, because there’s no way they can react worse than that one guy did. So it can’t touch me, so fear is not a factor in whether or when I come out to someone.

Of course, I say that like I want to be a badass or something, but in reality I’m eternally grateful to (and always relieved to encounter) the people who recognize the ultimate irrelevance of my gay-ness, who forgive my inappropriately delayed disclosure of the fact – who react like you did, in short. And, sidenote, I have to say that it confuses me when straight people use the word “partner.” This is how you introduced Jason to me when I first met you both. I want to own that word, because it’s how I come out subtly. I want people to assume when I refer to “my partner” that she’s a woman and that makes me a lesbian. So. You know. Stop it.

Your friend,

Erin

Dear Erin,

Well, now I am in the awkward position of having to come out to you. I call Jason “my partner” because I am gay and he is a woman. I do like to tease him about that, actually. Is that offensive? I hope not. It’s not that I’m teasing him about being a gay woman because being a gay woman is something to tease about. I’m teasing him because he’s a man who looks and acts like a woman. Not that I’m saying being a woman is something to tease someone about. Unless you’re a man? JESUS. I’m just going to stop now.

I’m happy to hear you’ve never gotten a bad reaction to coming out. For most things, I can see both sides, even if I don’t agree with them. (In fact, lately, I’ve come to understand the pro-lifers who are like, vehemently active about it – attending rallies, protesting. I mean, if you REALLY thought abortion was murder, how could you keep your mouth shut about it? How could you NOT protest? And so, in a surprising turn of events, I came to understand those crazy pro-lifers more. That said, I remain vehemently pro-choice. And I say that AS a mother.) What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, you’re gay.

The truth is, I sort of, I guess, assumed you were gay? In all the stereotypical ways you pointed out. Because you have short hair. Because you wear a lot of plaid shirts. Because you don’t own make-up. (All things, incidentally, that you have in common with my husband.) This is not to say I would have been surprised to find out you had a boyfriend. But the point I’m trying to make is that it was, to use your word, “irrelevant” to me. It just didn’t matter that much.

Which is not to say it isn’t a big deal. I mentioned offhandedly to my mom once about how I hoped that my kids were gay. She seemed shocked, but I just felt like, it doesn’t make a difference to me. Let ME be the one with the gay kid, not the super-Christian family down the street. And my mom pointed out that gay people have a much harder time than straight people. Which I suppose is still true (although certainly not in the way it was when my mom was my age). So it IS a big deal, and I recognize that.

What I don’t understand are the people to whom it’s a big deal. What I started to say before, about how I see both sides of most issues? I DO NOT SEE the other side of this. Why does it matter? I have heard that it’s because it’s unnatural, because a woman and a woman or a man and a man can’t make a baby (without help). (For the record, I have a lot of straight friends who needed help making a baby.) That really, at base, seems to be the only difference. Do you need ALL couples to make babies? What if a man and a woman decide not to have babies? Is that unnatural too? Or does that just qualify as untapped potential?

So, here’s the deal. If Violet is gay, what’s the best way to impart to her that we’re cool with it? Like, without being like, “Hey, we love that you’re gay,” and “Any ladies in your life?” (nudge nudge) and “Want to go shopping for plaid shirts?”

 “Partner.” Girl, it’s yours.

Your friend (and ally),

Amy

Dear Amy,
Two things:
1. As long as Jason isn’t offended at being likened to a woman, I don’t see why anyone else should be offended on his behalf. And let’s face it, he and I DO have quite similar wardrobes. If he’s not sure how he feels about all this, then perhaps he can take some consolation in that at least he most resembles a rather tomboy-ish woman.
2. Not that I would wish gay-ness upon a child, but your point about it being better that your kid turns out gay than the homophobes next door is a valid one. I can safely say that whether or not Violet is gay, she’s lucky to have parents who will just be excited to find out, one way or another. And the unconditional love and support you’ll surely extend to her whether she’s Violet the Pilot or Violet the Pet Psychic will go a long way toward conveying the point that she’s perfect however, whatever, and whoever she is. But for a practical suggestion, I would say this: Avoid gender. Don’t ask if she has a crush on any boys (or any girls), just ask if she has a crush. Don’t promise she’ll meet a great boy someday, assure her that she’ll meet a special SOMEONE. Movies and music and television and magazines do a good job of telling us to like boys, and in fairness, the majority of girls do. But – and I say this not as a mom, of course, but just as a gay woman who used to be a closeted gay girl – parents can maybe be a bit more neutral about it all.
Your plaid-clad friend,
Erin
Erin is a longtime volunteer and aspiring friend of Amy’s. Among other things, she considers herself a nature enthusiast, book lover, soccer fanatic, and lesbian. She lives with her partner, with whom she is firmly undecided about whether to ever become a mom (or sometimes firmly decided, but only for brief intervals). Whatever the future holds for the pair, one thing is for sure: there will be cats.

On Body Image

Friends, I’m excited today to be corresponding with one of my all-time favorite people ever in any category EVER IN THE WORLD. She’s also one of my favorite poets. If you are wondering what me and Catherine Calabro think about our bodies, well, you are in luck.

Dear Catherine,

Ah yes, the body image post, at long last. It’s taken me a while to write it, because it’s taken me a while to get a handle on my body. When you have a baby, your body goes through a completely amazing and totally ridiculous series of changes. My uterus went from the size of a plum to the size of a watermelon and back to a plum. My boobs went from B-cups to C-cups to DD-cups. My brain went from normal to crazy to I’m not sure what. I remember at one point in my pregnancy, turning to Jason and lamenting that I was living in a body that wasn’t mine, with a brain that wasn’t mine, and yet I had to go to work and pretend to be my regular self every day. THAT was the tiring part of pregnancy.

I gained about forty pounds while I was pregnant. One week after I had Violet, I had lost twenty of them. I had three stretch marks. I had an enormous rack. I was running on adrenaline and love, and I felt amazing. I felt like Superwoman. I had always thought the whole “nine months in, nine months out” adage made sense, and yet, my super-human body was going to put that to shame.

And here we are, eleven months out. I’m about ten pounds over my normal weight, and while I can squeeze into my regular pants, the key word here is “squeeze.”

Here’s the rub: As women, we KNOW HOW TO DRESS OUR BODIES. You ask any woman what her body shape is, she knows, and she knows how to dress it. In my “normal” life, I’m pear shaped. I’m a S/M on top and a M/L on the bottom. I know to wear prints on top, solids on the bottom; dresses that are tight to the hips and then flare out. I know that my large, square-shaped ass is weirdly flat, and looks better with pockets that have flaps. In my “normal” life, if I ever got to ten pounds overweight, I’d rein it in and be my regular size relatively quickly.*

A couple of months ago, I spent some time feeling a little lost when it came to my new shape, and feeling bad about it. Feeling like my body would never be the same again, and worrying what another pregnancy or two might do to it. Feeling like I had no idea how to dress THIS body, or, at the very least, no clothes in my closet that would work.

Today, though, I’m happy to report that I’m feeling pretty great. I weigh more than I want to, sure, but I’m breastfeeding. I eat what I want, and a lot of it, because there is a (possibly irrational) fear that I have that if I’m craving something, it’s because my body NEEDS it to make the milk. When your body makes the food that sustains another life, you want to make sure it’s well fed. Also, Catherine? IT FEELS GOOD TO EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT, IN WHATEVER QUANTITY YOU WANT.

Furthermore, I’m learning to dress this new body. Yup, my ass is bigger than ever, but do you know what’s also bigger than ever? MY BOOBS. And they are magnificent. And now I have this sort of hourglass figure, and I can rock that. I’ve always been more of a Peggy, but suddenly I’m a Joan. And Catherine, I don’t think you know this, but IT FEELS GOOD TO BE JOAN.

One of these days I’ll stop breastfeeding, and then I’ll probably be an A-cup, and I won’t have any excuses to gorge myself. When that sad day comes, I’ll re-learn self-control. I’ll stop eating around the clock, bread at every meal, huge bars of chocolate. And all my old pants will fit (Hello, old friends! I’ll say happily as I zip them up without inhaling.). I’ve always assumed motherhood would look something like this:

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But maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll wear baggy t-shirts and swimsuit-dresses and tell myself that it’s not that I’ve let myself go, just that I’ve stopped caring about such superficial things. I HAVE A DAUGHTER TO RAISE. High five!

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I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

How’s your body, Catherine?

Yours,
Amy

* I could go on, ad nauseum, about my “normal” weight, as I’m sure most women could. But for the purposes of this blog, and brevity, it seems right to keep it to my “mom” weight.

Dear Amy,

I remember when I was a Girl Scout camp counselor in high school, one of my fellow counselors said “I’m so comfortable with my body that it’s not even funny.” It wasn’t even funny — but it made me feel funny. We were, what, maybe 14? 15? and I’d never really thought about my body being any different than it was — small, short, hairy, but there was my coworker, who had been through enough with her weight and height to have come around such a seemingly steady stance on her own image. In my mind’s eye I remember her as completely lovely – a year or two ahead of me, taller, curly haired, freckled – and I looked up to her in the same sort of teenage worship way that often look up to you now, Amy. I never for a moment imagined her to have any kind of issues with confidence at all until she said that. To this day I can’t decide if it was self-confidence or a strange defensiveness that led her to say that comment in the camp pool that day. It’s not even funny, which means, well, nothing, does it? Empty words. So, was she comfortable?  You know, Amy, I’m almost thirty, and I go through bouts of comfort and distress, too. A dress didn’t fit me this summer. My underwear doesn’t cover my butt. My breasts are stretching out more — they’re hairier than ever – why, why? My thighs. Good lord — somehow, they’re always making me look squat and even though they’re on my mind anytime I do any kind of exercise, they won’t get toned. My legs are never going to turn into the svelte muscular spindles of Olympic athletes. I can accept this intellectually, but something in me won’t ever let the idea go.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to care more about my outward appearances. I stole it from my friend, who vowed the previous year to work on “keeping up appearances.” For a few years, I was a grad student who wore a steady wardrobe of jeans and graphic tees, sensible snow boots and a ponytail. I think I got my hair cut once a year if I remembered. I owned two and a half cardigans. One of younger cohort-mates even said to me, “Why did you start dressing like a mom when you started teaching?” (which is funny to think about in the context of this particular blog, huh? Amy, when someone says you look like/dress like a mom now, what do you make of it?). I think my frazzled look started to actually frazzle me. So last year, I started with paying real money for a real haircut (a “style”) and more real money to put “product” in this “style.” It involved “bangs” and the upkeep (frequent trims) of said “bangs.” I’ve tried to wear just a little make-up most days and, because I’ve learned that my figure looks infinitely less dumpy (remember my squat thigh fixation) in skirts and dresses, I’ve basically followed our boss’s footsteps and disposed of all my pants. I guess I’ve only actually figured out my body shape in the last few years, because I just started paying attention. Why? Well, probably because keeping up appearances on the outside is something we can control, right? Tangible change. Things can be spiraling and syrupy inside, but it’s easy enough to put the energy into applying hair gel and looking put together on the outside. And maybe, I think I hoped, if I could get it together on the outside, the inside would have to follow suit.

Keeping up appearances! I think this is something my mom has wanted me to do for a long, long time. And maybe that’s what all moms want when they tell their daughters to put on some make-up and take care of their hair – they want to know that daughters have got it together, inside and out, and that they care enough to know themselves. Maybe that’s hard to imagine for you and Violet right now, or maybe it’s something you think about all the time? Gurl, let me know what you think about that.

Love,
Catherine

Dear Catherine,

My mom literally puts on lipstick to get the mail. She puts on lipstick to go downstairs. She puts on lipstick to look out of the window. She puts on lipstick to get something out of the trunk. Of the car. In the garage. I think you get the idea. I hate lipstick. I don’t know why. Because good girls like me and you rebel against what our mothers want for us in the smallest ways possible? (But ones that are, in our mind, tied to larger issues of generation and liberation and gender roles changing…?)

I don’t think about it too much with V yet, or maybe I should say I TRY not to. Right now, I’m enjoying the fact that I’m the center of her world. I know it may not last for much longer.

Gurl, I have three things for you: 1) I think you are petite and pocket-sized and adorable. 2) Your haircut and bangs are amazing. You may recall that my husband called you “a dish” post-haircut, and he hates bangs. 3) Thank god for razors, am I right? Can you imagine being born before they existed?? I guess, at least, you’d be warm in the winter.

“At my age” (I hate starting sentences like that, and, for the record, 36), I’m battling this whole “I should stop caring what I look like” with “I need to take care of myself so I never look my age.” What’s wrong with looking your age? I don’t know, because I’ve never had to do it, but I do know the concept frightens me. Thanks, society.

Love,
Amy

Catherine is a poet and a friend of Amy Sumerton. They work at the same non-profit and they both live in apartments with two cats. This is Catherine’s first experience with “blogging.” She is not a mom, although she sometimes dresses like one.

On Hair

Over the summer, my friend Lauren invited us to an annual crawfish boil. It was weird and wonderful and, because we have a baby, we had to leave before any crawfish was consumed (but not before meeting a fair number of them).

At the boil, Lauren did one of those “you totally should be friends with this woman” things with someone named Ellen Butler Lawson. We had a pleasant conversation with her and her husband; we became facebook friends; today, we talk about our hair.

Dear Ellen,

Over the weekend, we had dinner with friends. The subject of hair came up, which the ladies in the group sparked to instantly. My friend said something along the lines of: “Don’t get me started on my hair. I could go on FOREVER,” and I had to agree. What is it with women and their hair? (My mother, by the way, can dive into a pool without getting her hair wet, which has amazed me for my ENTIRE life.)

Two weeks ago, I got my annual haircut. It was a humbling experience. I wanted a trim and some “shape.” When the stylist asked what I usually do with my hair, I said, “I wear it in a bun-type thing.” And he asked how often, and I had to say, “Um…every…day. Every day.” And then he asked why I wanted it to be shaped if I was just going to wear it in a bun every day. It was a good question.

Mom hair is different than Not Mom hair, literally and otherwise. Little hands like to grab hair and pull it out, so a bun makes sense. I just want it out of my face. But there’s something about Mom hair that no one told me about until about my third trimester. When you are pregnant, you stop shedding hair, and your hair gets thick and lustrous. But, after you have a baby, your hair falls out. In clumps, Ellen. In clumps. Every time I wash my hair, there’s a drowned rat in the drain. Every time I brush my hair, I have to clean out the brush. I have developed a hatred of walking around our apartment barefoot because there is hair all over our carpet, no matter how often we vacuum.

I GET the Mom Haircut now. Because: 1) part of the problem with the hair everywhere is that it’s so LONG, and 2) the hair falls out, and then — guess what — it grows back. So about a half inch of the circumference of my head is maybe an inch long. It is GOOFY looking. That said, I have vowed not to ACTUALLY GET a Mom Haircut. I’m stubborn, so this will probably stand.

I admit it: I’m vain about my hair. It’s a vanity I’ve developed over time. I spent my teens and twenties dyeing the crap out of it, cutting it often (sometimes with kitchen scissors), and mistreating it. Around thirty I grew out the color, and I realized: DAMN, I have nice hair! (File under: Your Thirties: So Much Easier Than Everything Before It.) It’s soft and there are lots of reds and browns and blondes in there; I’ve never found a gray hair (although I have found some white ones). It’s not the boring “mousy” brown the teen in me loathed so much.

As begin so many sentences in mom-hood, THEN I HAD A BABY. My hair fell out. Its texture changed. I lost the desire to perform ANY amount of maintenance. And then I went and got it trimmed, and the hairstylist did THIS to it:

Image-1

Jason calls this my Author Photo shot.

Ellen, I literally took like twenty pictures of myself that day. My hair was GLORIOUS, there is no other word for it. But IT TOOK TWO MEN WITH BRUSHES AND BLOW DRIERS AN ENTIRE HOUR TO DO THAT TO MY HAIR. Which is like, my hair’s cruel joke on me. Do you know what it’s like to know that you have THAT on your head, and yet, every day, you walk around with THIS:

Photo on 2012-10-31 at 10.41

It’s got…wings?

It’s like, having a closet full of beautiful dresses you never wear. (OMG this is happening too.) It’s like, um, having a Ferrari covered in mud and and and you can’t clean it off, or you could, but it would take all day for some reason (maybe you only have a bucket and a toothbrush?) and so you never drive it. It’s like a bunch of other clever and witty metaphors that I can’t think of right now because ALSO I’M TIRED THE BABY IS TEETHING.*

Ellen, how’s your hair?

Love,
Amy

* The baby has been “teething” for, like, six months.

Dear Amy,

It seems cruel and unfair that the universe would say, “Hey, you, take care of this tiny creature—give your whole self to her, ensure her development and happiness. Great, thanks, good work! Oh, and also, you’re going to have to lose your hair.”

Not cool.

I, like you, also went through a recent hair renaissance: I stopped dyeing it (a painful process that is a testament to strong will), and, after mostly having it short since I was about six years old, I’ve started to grow it out. Now, this is an endeavor I’ve tried before, which usually ends with me running out of patience and heading straight to the salon chair, where I watch the pathetically not-long pieces fall to the ground as the stylist chops away. At times like these (and yes, there have been multiple), I simultaneously think, “This is the BEST,” and “Oh, Ellen, you did it again.”

Here’s the thing: the majority of guys don’t understand short hair on women. They just…don’t get it. Nor do they seem to like it—at all. This reality I don’t understand. “Hello! I look awesome! Have you seen how this bob accentuates my cheekbones? DUH.” And then you ask around and realize that guys aren’t really that into cheekbones. Perhaps this would explain my rather dismal dating history in college with short hair, as compared to my more successful dating history in college with long hair. I’m not claiming causation here, of course (my Psychology professors are twitching as I write this), but the correlation is definitely there. My hair, amongst other things, wreaked havoc on my college mind, the one that thinks both, “Screw men, who needs them?” and “Dear god, why don’t any of them find me attractive?!”

Then, I met my husband. He is in the .00001 percent of men who love love love that short hair. Boy howdy. One of my first “gifts” to him was showing up with about three inches of hair chopped off from what I considered long at the time (aka not even touching my shoulders) to about chin-length. But somewhere along the way, I decided it was time to grow it out. Long hair has always fascinated me. I’ve constantly marveled at female friends with long hair: How do they get it to do such fancy things? How do they…keep it all together like that? How do they wrangle that wild mane? As with other things in my life, I decided not to ask anyone for answers, but rather figured I may as well dive right in and find out for myself.

Here I am, a little over two years after setting out on my “hair journey,” we’ll call it. At last measure, it was about an inch or two past my shoulders. This is a milestone. And in lots of ways, it’s been revelatory. That bun-type thing you describe? It’s a saving grace for moms and not moms alike, I’d say. I implement the bun-type thing about 70 percent of the time, and it’s the best. With short hair, no dice. If your cowlicks are being all wacky—and trust me, I know, I have plenty of them—the whole world is going to know about it (and mock you quietly, of course). But with long hair, you can mask these atrocities with your OWN HAIR. Fix your hair problems with your hair!

I think what really helped me stay on track with this growing out process is having a goal: I plan to donate my hair once it’s long enough. If you back out on donating hair to cancer patients, you are officially a terrible person. I’m not a terrible person, Amy, and I’ll be damned if someone can go through cancer and I can’t wait for protein strands to grow on my head.

I officially volunteer myself to serve as someone you can lean on when the mom haircut starts to look like a good option. Don’t do it. Please, don’t. I’m from Iowa, perhaps one of the best states around, but also a state where about 80 percent of the women are stricken with mom hair. It seems to be associated with white capri pants and necklaces with flip flop and/or martini glass charms dangling from them. It’s almost a borderline mullet, but you’re more likely to be distracted by the streaks of highlights that can in no way be naturally occurring. Trust me: having never had long hair before, really, I can attest to its annoyances. I wish I’d never known how much it hurts to shut one teeny tiny strand of hair in a car door, or how obnoxious it is to have static-y hair clinging to your face and mouth. Whenever I scoop my dog’s poop, upon righting myself after picking it up, hair always—ALWAYS—gets in my mouth. There’s something about holding poop in a bag in one hand and having hair in your mouth that is just…unsettling. Sorry, was that TMI? I digress. Long hair = annoying. Mom hair = catastrophe. Stick with the bun-type thing. If you want to play it like you know what you’re doing (which is how I roll most of the time), call it a “top knot.” All of the blogger girls will think you’re the coolest.

Love,
Ellen

Dear Ellen,

We don’t know each other well, but I think our mutual friend Lauren is right: We should be friends. A few thoughts on your thoughts:

  1. Men also do not understand BANGS, which is a source of almost constant sadness for me.
  2. My hair has two states of being: Just Cut Off and Growing It Out. JCO has a honeymoon period of between thirty seconds and two weeks. Then I start GIO. My goal FIVE YEARS ago when I started GIO was bra-strap. It’s there now, so my new goal is…waist? I don’t know. I just know that I need to have a goal, and once it’s met, I need to have a different goal.
  3. Growing out hair dye? The WORST, although I imagine the hombre craze has made it a bit easier.
  4. Good for you for donating your hair. It’s not that I’m not a good person, it’s just that I haven’t met my goal yet. But dear lord I respect people who do it. (Props to my friend Dannielle who donates her totally gorgeous hair…REGULARLY.) That said, IF I opt to chop it, I WILL donate it, so maybe I’m not THAT awful.
  5. Hair in your mouth, I think, is ALMOST as gross as hair wrapped around your toes.

Let’s have dinner.

Love,
Amy

Ellen Butler Lawson shuns hyphens and embraces semi-colons. As the daughter of an editor mother and an English Major father, she gets excited about the opportunity to write. She is Accounts Manager at Quack!Media, a yoga teacher at Sun Moon Yoga, owner of a tiny sweet dog named Juniper, and wife of a sweet man named Kyle. The quickest way to her heart is through hot fudge sundaes from Dairy Queen.

On Social Networking

Dear Annie,

As someone who has a baby, and who sometimes posts pictures of said baby on Facebook, I feel I must address what I can only call strong feelings of resentment I have heard from various Facebook friends recently about that very practice.

Facebook is a website that asks you, every time you log in, what’s on your mind. It’s a place to tell people what you’re up to, what you’re thinking about, and what you’re doing. That’s what social media DOES.

I like all kinds of things on Facebook. I’m going to use the “you” here, Annie, and I hope you know I’m talking universally, not to YOU SPECIFICALLY (although that too), but I’ve liked pictures of what you had for dinner, some building you saw that had sunlight slanting off it, your college graduation, and your bike. I’ve liked that you’re at happy hour, that it’s Friday, and a picture of a microbrew. When you bought a house? I liked it. When your band played? I liked that too.

I like your dog. And your cat. I like when you are standing on a beach. I like when you had a great day with your friend/roommate/significant other/family/co-workers. I like that you went to a show last night. I like that your show opens this week. I like that your record release show was a success. I like that you like the new show that I like (“Girls.” Have you seen it yet? Another post!).

Furthermore, I like my baby. She’s sweet and funny and VERY photogenic. And I like when you like pictures of her. And when I post pictures of her, I am not trying to imply that she should be more important to you than your dog or your graduation or your upcoming gig or what you had for dinner. I am not trying to rub your nose in anything, because there is nothing to rub it in. I believe that, in the grand scheme of things, what you have for dinner SHOULD MATTER MORE to you than my baby.

In my mind, Facebook isn’t a place to hate on your friends, it’s a place to share what’s important to you. Right now, my life is 75% Violet, 15% my friends and family, 8% work, and 2% assorted other things, like this blog. And I think my timeline pretty accurately represents this.

Sure, I have my own “rules” about what I will and won’t do on Facebook, and how often. (I won’t go into them here, because I don’t want it to seem like I think it’s WRONG to do them, it’s just my personal preferences for my own account.) I hold back. If I had my druthers, there’d be AT LEAST a hundred more pictures of Violet.

To each his own, I guess, is what I’m saying. I post pictures of my baby because I find her delightful, and I want other people — including my cousins, my in-laws, and my faraway friends from college — to see her grow up. I hear people talking about how this age of social media has created a society where everyone overshares. I disagree. I like that I know what my best friend from college’s two-year-old daughter (whom I’ve never met) looks like. I like that I’ve seen my cousin in Florida’s dog. I like that I get to know what kind of beer my friend had last night, and what someone else ate for dinner. If it ever feels like too much, I just shut my computer.

Annie, I just want for everyone to be excited about what everyone else is up to. There are plenty of things to NOT support these days, so, if you’re given an opportunity to like something one of your friends is doing, I say do it.

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

Your pal,
Amy

PS Here’s yesterday:

Dear Amy,

I read an article somewhere (probably on Facebook) about several studies linking social media usage to higher instances of depression and anxiety, particularly in girls and women. I don’t know how other people feel about the accuracy or science of this claim, but I can say that before I heard about this phenomenon, I had experienced it.  Oh hi, photos of ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, how are you?  Oh hello, wedding photos of weirdly competitive friend.  Hey, look at that, marathon you completed/shit you knitted/house you refurbished/album you released/motorcycle you built/baby you birthed/trip you took to Spain/celebrity you hung out with/attractive hi-res picture of you wearing an amazing vintage dress OH GOD I AM USELESS WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE I HAVE ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING.

Now, readers of this blog may have already gleaned that I am sometimes kind of a secret asshole.  For example, I have a few social media connections whose only function is to provide me with material to hate-read.  I find that stoking my disdain balances out the self-loathing created by other people’s perceived successes or occasional outright bragging.  It’s like how our friend Ryan used to watch Fox News just so he could get angry about something.  I am by no means advocating combating negativity with more, different negativity as a healthy way to deal with ANYTHING, but that’s just how I’m working it out these days.

And truthfully, I’m mostly fine with my lifestyle and my choices.  I think these jags of Facebook Anxiety ™ are the other end of the evil jealousy worm created by social media oversaturation: you (and by “you” I also am utilizing both the Specific and Universal “you”) show us only the best of yourself, I in turn base my idea of you on this perfected version of you, I then feel that I must present myself as better than I truly am in order to be as good as everyone else’s idealized versions of themselves, because this is how I will be judged, I then spiral into an anxious fugue state trying to figure out why I even care what anyone on the internet thinks of me in the first place when clearly everyone on the internet is giant liar, I yell “I HATE YOU” in the general direction of my laptop, I slam it shut and condemn it to the far corners of my room, where I glare at it, eating a tiny comfort bucket of Sugar-Free Jello.  

The snake (it’s a snake now, sorry) swallows its own tail even further in the ever-popular Social Media Complaint Post, with which I’m sure you’re familiar: the tweet or status update that completely misses its own irony, a post that is all about how annoying other posts are. It’s often addressed in the form of a open letter to general entities: “Dear Sports Fans, I do not care about (sporting event), so STFU about (sporting event).”  Yes, well, we don’t care about your band’s Kickstarter campaign either but we are trying to co-exist on this website in relative harmony so maybe you could just deal.  

At the end of it, my occasional inability to put up with other people’s oversharing has infinitely more to do with my own moderate dissatisfaction and unwillingness to publicly admit this dissatisfaction, and less to do with how often my friends post pictures of their babies on Facebook.  I suspect this may be true for a lot of people.  So you go right ahead and keep putting up those pictures of little Violet.  I will continue to like them.

XOXO,
Annie

On Going to Graceland

We here at M&NM HQ are quite blessed to know many talented and hilarious writers.  Every so often we get worn out from Momming and Not-Momming around the city, and at times such as these, we, your humble blogrunners, footsore and baby-sticky, turn pleading hands toward our aforementioned fellows of the page and cry “Help!”  

With that said, please welcome inaugural guest-blogger and for-reals Jeopardy Champion AMY WILSON, with a post-Mother’s Day rumination.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Dear Amy and Annie,

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to work with some fifth-grade students who had been assigned the task of choosing an environment-themed song suitable for use in an Ira Glass-style radio piece. So naturally I was not going to let them have ALL the fun, I felt compelled to offer my opinion:

The song: Marvin Gaye, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”; 1971

When it began they started back and said “ugh!” and “this is the music my DAD listens to!” but they agreed in the end, begrudgingly, that it was a pretty good song about the environment and that maybe we should consider using it in our radio piece.

And now that I think about this I realize that these fifth-grade students, these ten-year-old boys, probably don’t have fathers who were alive in Marvin Gaye’s heyday — that perhaps even their fathers remember their own fathers listening to “Mercy Mercy Me” — that perhaps someday they will hear that song and not think “ugh! this is the music my DAD listens to!” but think “oh. this is the music my dad used to listen to,” with all the unique cocktail of emotions that implies.

The currency of Mother’s Day and the rest of its kingdom of Hallmark Holidays is emotion, grand sweeping displays of it in ecru-colored cards with tasteful bouquets on the front that say in gold embossed script lettering “To God’s Gift to Motherhood”

BUT

The meat of our relationship with our parents comes in the vicissitudes of everyday life, and there’s not a whole lot of that going on in the greeting card racks of Target, nothing that can tell our parents “I remember how you used to listen to Marvin Gaye sometimes after dinner” or “the taste of Coffee Nips reminds me of you picking me up from soccer practice” or “waking up in a cold, dewy tent is my least favorite part of camping, but you’d wake up before us and make us hot chocolate and that made it easier to bear.”

Unfortunately for the purposes of this post, popular music is also more concerned with the beginnings of things (I can’t help falling in love with you! Going to the chapel and we’re going to get married!) and their endings, with love and death, than with anything even resembling what real human relationships actually are. (Which is, to my observation, much more about soccer practice and instant hot chocolate than about the Heartbreak Hotel.)

Fortunately there is one pop musician with the skill to combine the emotional force of pop music with a clear-eyed view of reality, and it is toward him that I would like to direct your attention today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

MR.

PAUL

SIMON!

The song: Paul Simon, “Graceland”; 1986

Comes back to tell me she’s gone
as if I didn’t know that
as if I didn’t know my own bed
as if I’d never noticed
the way she brushed her hair from her forehead

I’m 24. I know there’s a lot I don’t know about life and love, but I’d really like to think that I can have learned something from roughly 16 conscious years on this planet (no really, I would really like to think that).

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned recently it’s that every mom was once a not-mom — that underneath the layers of our differing experiences there are experiences that are the same — that life, and love, is a lot less about can’t help falling in love and a lot more about the way they brush their hair from their forehead —

— that it’s about noticing the things that seem beneath notice, knowing that these are the fond memories of the future, and knowing that people are noticing these things about YOU too.

Yrs,
AW

In Bed With Amy Wilson (link: inbedwithamywilson.blogspot.com ) is a blog about pop music and matters related to pop music — in other words, a blog about everything.

On Sticky Situations

Dear Annie,

I’m not sure where this is headed but I’m just going to start it and we’ll see where it goes. Early motherhood is an obsession with sleep (not my own) and making sure the baby 1) is not in peril and 2) is developing normally, but mostly an obsession with sleep. Violet naps in the crib (sometimes; now, however, the last technical day of my maternity leave, she’s napping against me as I type, and yes, there have been tears). Like I wrote before, I needed to babystep it (more for me than her to be sure). Since then, there have been a few more naps of swing-sleeping, quite a little bit more sleeping in my arms, a few weeks of sleeping in the bed with me next to her, and now the crib. Here’s yesterday:

She doesn’t always sleep nailed to an invisible cross. And yes, her mohawk is AMAZING.

Monday, I return to work. This means I leave my baby in the care of someone else. Luckily, this “someone else” is, quite literally, THE ONE PERSON I WOULD CHOOSE, IF I COULD CHOOSE ANYONE IN THE WORLD, dead or alive. Like, QUITE literally. Which is, obviously, the best I could have hoped for. My clever and creative twenty-year-old niece Haley will be watching her (along with her dad one day a week and my mom the other).

I worked as a nanny some years ago. It was my all-time favorite job (sorry, 826, you take the silver on this one), and it ended about as horribly as it possibly could have.

I have since vowed never to have a nanny, because that’s a difficult relationship to navigate. The better she is with your child, the happier you are (at first), and the more jealous you are (later). You can’t win. If you’re not jealous of her, your nanny’s not doing a good enough job is the long and short of it.

I am hoping to beat the system, as it were, by hiring someone who: 1) I am delighted to give money to, and 2) I want to be as close as possible to my daughter anyway. The baby LOVES the nanny? AWESOME, because that nanny is her cousin, and will be around for her entire life. Instead of sitting around at working thinking about how SOME STRANGER is having a hundred and one sweet moments with my baby every day, I get to sit around and think about how my dear, very beloved niece is having a marvelous time with my sweet, very adorable baby. I *think* it’ll be a win-win, as much as me being away from Violet thirty hours a week can be.

Before having this baby, I didn’t really know any babies. I had a sort of “I’ll go back full time and we’ll save up some money, and then when she’s actually DOING stuff in a couple of years I’ll go to part time.” I thought babies were puddles of human beings. And, very likely, OTHER PEOPLE’S babies are. But not MY baby.

And I guess that’s it for us for now. Violet’s making noises, and I do not want to miss one waking moment this last week.

Love,
Amy

PS Interestingly, this is the post I’ve edited down the most. It’s a tricky subject, being a working mom or being a stay-at-home mom, and I don’t want to offend anyone. I make no judgements. I guess I’ll save my ruminations on that for another day.

Dear Amy,

I’ve never been a nanny, but I did spent some time toddler-sitting in my early twenties.  That experience may have been the thing which solidified my personal baby-making agenda, or non-agenda, as it were.  Kids are pretty gross, dude.  Some of them are cute and some of them are fun and some of them are complete terrors but ALL of them are gross, at some point.  It’s not even the poop and mucus and spit-up I mind so much, (though I just gagged a little even typing that out) it’s the stickyness.  EVERYTHING gets sticky. And who knows what the hell it even once was that is now sticking to you, it doesn’t matter, it’s all somehow the same two shades of red or off-white and somehow it is all over everything you are touching and wearing.  It was also during this period that I concluded that wet wipes are basically the greatest invention of humankind and also that you should probably not have cats and toddlers in the same house, as this can lead to angry, sticky kitties, which I believe we can both agree is a perilous situation.

Babies are a bit easier, I’ll admit.  At the very least they cannot wantonly destroy pets and household items, and they are delightful in their wide-eyed amazement.  Hey baby, check out my house keys.  Awesome, right?  Look how shiny and jingly.  Yep, those are my boobs.  You seem pretty into looking at those.  I’ll just sit here while you stare, and think about how 20 years from now that behavior will probably not be as well-tolerated as it is at this moment.

I suspect whatever overwhelming maternal feelings people seem to have toward human children I have toward animal children.  I’ve recently signed up to volunteer at a songbird rescue, and while I haven’t yet started I gather my duties will consist of grinding up various items and then feeding them to baby birds with an empty syringe, and also SMILING ALL DAY LONG.  I can’t even EXPLAIN how excited I am to hang out with naked, peeping birdlets all day.  When I shared this news with a friend he replied “EW.”

So, tomato, tomato, I guess.

Love,
Annie

On Shifting Sands

Dear Amy,

I’m so worn out from being riled up. I feel beset on all sides by tides of anti-woman, anti-feminist, anti-choice, anti-science, anti-reason sentiment.  These are times that fracture my brain, times that create in me a powerful and unstoppable need to passionately scream out THIS IS WRONG WRONG WRONG to anyone within listening distance.  I have been so traditionally a mediator, a relativist, a gray area advocate, a bridge between viewpoints, growing up amongst religious family and community, abandoning it (the religion, not the family) but still maintaining relationships with people of widely differing political and moral viewpoints. I’ve been so good at toeing the line.  But these days, I am incapable of fence-sitting. My feminism is ramped up to Defcon 1 and I don’t care who knows it.

Two nights ago, I was walking down a darkened sidewalk and a middle aged guy was walking toward me on the same side of the street. He was ambling, in that way that everyone knows, in that way that you can tell that this person has an agenda.  Sure enough, as he got nearer he called out “Miss. Miss” and veered toward me. There was no one else around. I veered away into the street.  He kept approaching, beginning a speech about two children nearby in a car who needed something something and I interrupted with a very sharp “NO”, and kept walking past him.  He called out again, loudly,  “Well you DON’T gotta get a attitude with me, white girl”.  I wheeled back around and yelled back “YES, I DO, AND FUCK YOU.” And then I full-tilt ran to my car, realizing I had just deliberately antagonized a guy who may or may not have been trying to do some uncool shit to me.  But you know what? Yes, fuck him. For approaching a strange woman alone at night and expecting any other reaction than “leave me alone”. Fuck him for making it about race. Fuck him for trying to shame me about it.

Someone I know and respect (a man) posted a link on Facebook to an article in favor of mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking abortions.  He added his own comment referencing people who “insist upon calling themselves Pro-Choice” and suggesting that such people should be in favor of women having “all the information” they can. Historically, my reaction would be to seethe, silently, and move on.  I do not typically take the bait in such cases.  This time, however…my brain exploded with repressed ire. I replied with a long vitriolic screed that ended with something like “WE’RE NOT IDIOTS, I’M PRETTY SURE WE KNOW THERE’S A BABY IN THERE THAT’S WHY WE WENT TO THE CLINIC IN THE FIRST PLACE OMG.” He had the grace not to reply, as the exchange surely would have deteriorated from that point.  But I just can’t STAND it, Amy.  The unmitigated NERVE of men who know nothing about what it means to have a uterus, the crippling (and, in my case, terrifying) responsibility of carrying and bearing a child, men who deign to make decisions for us, to presume that a woman is not VASTLY more knowledgeable about her own reproductive system than a male lawmaker (or just any random dude off the street) has driven me beyond my habitual coddling of other people’s sensitivities.  The sheer idiocy of female supporters who set back the cause of women’s rights by following along in this madness simply because the church and/or party line has dictated that they do so has turned me into a fiery mushroom cloud of personal relationship destruction.  Bottom line: do what you want with your own body, but don’t you dare tell me what to do with mine. This isn’t the 16th century and this isn’t a theocracy. Women get to be people now. This is what choice means. If you can’t agree with me on this point, then you’re a jerk and I just don’t care about your feelings anymore. I am a walking rage-face.

I mean, not you, Amy.  I care about your feelings.  Um, so…how are you?

Love,
Annie

Dear Annie,

Are you on your period or something? Take some Motrin and crawl into bed for a couple of days. It’s unbecoming to be out walking around the world in such a state. It’s a disservice to women, who should always have freshly blown-dry hair, and pleasant smiles, and a benevolent, bendable will. Women should be pretty and malleable and agreeable. They should take catcalls as compliments!

I don’t know, was that funny at all? I think the part about your period was. Maybe it ended there? I haven’t gotten my period in over a year now, so I’m not up on menstrual humor. I’ve been walking around for the last two days trying to figure out how to respond to this, and I’m still not sure. “I understand your rage” doesn’t seem like enough. And yet, I do. And yet, anger is not an emotion I feel all that much anymore. I don’t know how to identify it currently?

Generally speaking, as a new mom, I’m all smiling and cooing at my baby, smelling her baby head, going for walks, watching her watch the world with this newborn sense of wonder. I am looking at her look at trees, thinking about what she must think when she sees such things. I’m three weeks away from the end of my maternity leave, and I am grasping every last second of Babyland that I’ve been given.

And, of course, as the mom of a little girl, your letter is hard to respond to because it makes me want to shut down, think about something else, put my fingers in my ears and sing LA LA LA LA. To think of anyone pestering her on the street or telling her to do with her body…I don’t know what it does, because my brain shuts down in defense before I can get there. Baby head smells, baby carrier, trees.

Don’t get me started on all the BS currently happening with abortions. I’ve had it up to HERE with people calling pro-choice people pro-abortion, because, as far as I can tell, that’s just not what it is. I don’t know anyone who is like HOORAY ABORTION, but I know a whole bunch of people who believe that it’s a woman’s right to choose. And I am with those people. And I say this AS A MOTHER.

Otherwise, all is well here. I go back to work at the end of the month, and I’m currently trying to figure out how to cut my hours at work as much as possible while still being able to get all of our bills paid. This, for me, feels VERY radical. Jason continues to look for a teaching job. Violet is four months old this week, and she is impossibly sweet and has shifted every possible thing that could be shifted inside me.

Love,
Amy

On Small Steps

Dear Annie,

I write today from my couch. We’ve finally, after two months, moved out of the bedroom. My daughter is fast asleep in her swing two feet away from me. This is still new, and it still freaks me out, but we are trying it. For the last two months, Violet has been in some sort of human contact for about 23.5 hours a day. Napping in my arms, sleeping at night pressed against me, my chin on the top of her head, or forehead-to-forehead. Laying on the bed while I hover over her, waving toys in her face, watching her track, trying to get her to grip.

I read somewhere that you can’t spoil a baby in the first three months. That babies should be held and cuddled all the time, and that their every cry should be attended to, because at this age, babies don’t have WANTS, they only have NEEDS. Apparently, attending to every cry yields a more confident child, free of anxiety. This made sense to me, and so that’s what I’ve been doing. Lately, though, I’ve realized I’m doing it as much for me as for her.

It’s my maternity leave, so, as I see it, I’m SUPPOSED to be spending every second with the baby. Soon enough, I’ll have to go back to work, and I’m willing to bet, at that time, I’ll wish I could give ANYTHING — you name it — to hold my daughter as she naps on a Tuesday afternoon. Two weeks ago, I tried to get her to nap alone. I sat in the hallway and watched her and cried as she cried, and then, when she fell asleep, I cried because she’d fallen asleep without me. These are not rational thoughts. Motherhood is, above all else, not rational. It is not rational, it is loaded with cliches, and it is full of love, worry, love, worry, love, and worry.

Of course, any number of people think any number of different things. Google is my best friend and worst enemy. Every decision I’ve made, I’ve second-guessed at least a hundred times, and there have been at least ten opinions strongly backing up each avenue. Now there is a fear that she can’t sleep without me. I don’t want to shackle her with my own anxieties, my own irrational clinginess, developed the day she was born. I don’t want to be one of those helicopter parents. I don’t want to be a stage mom. But I am starting to understand the impulses behind such actions.

I’ve lost the ability to judge others, and in doing so, realized how very judgemental I was. Everyone does the best they can. When the worry overtakes me again, I tell myself that over and over: I am doing the best that I can. There is no doubt that this baby-pie is loved.

Two feet away from me, my daughter sways back and forth. It is a small step. Perhaps next week I will sit in the next room, perhaps the week after we’ll work on sleeping without motion, maybe even get her into the crib. Her face is — I can’t help it — ANGELIC. Joanna Newsom is on in the kitchen. From time to time, Violet’s hands raise up gracefully and she conducts, or casts another spell on me. I am flooded with an irrational amount of love, an irrational amount of worry. The screen grows wavy. I keep my fingers on the keyboard and resist the urge to pick her up.

What small steps have you taken lately, Annie?

Love,
Amy

 

Dear Amy,

2012 has so far been for me a year of little changes.  I’ve been taking a few small (and occasionally painful) steps toward happiness and self-improvement and general well being.  I’ve made some lists.  I’ve thought some thoughts.  I’ve taken some action.  I’ve purchased a gym membership (that’s the painful part).


This is an elliptical machine.  It is both my best friend and my worst enemy.

I think a lot about changing my scene, about what small and not-so-small steps I can take to make my life more of what I want it to be.  On the larger scale, I think about quitting my (fully decent) job and starting over some place new, some place where I don’t run into people I don’t want to run into, some place where I can go outside and not feel cold all the time.  (That’s not a metaphor, I mean it’s literally cold here like 70 percent of the year.)  I think about checking back in on old dreams I once had, to see if they feel any lighter than they last did.  Maybe this time, if I’m older, if I come at it from another angle, if I work harder, maybe I won’t be disappointed.  But these are all grand theoreticals, not actual steps to be taken.  These are the framework of steps, or maybe they are the forest, and the steps are the trees.

In terms of steps actually taken, I’ve been futzing with my body, trying to find the right combination of diet, exercise and medical care to bring it back under my control.  I have long ignored my health, “let myself go”, if you will, and my small steps this year are very much about getting back to feeling good, and strong, and young.  Hopefully this will lead me into an intrinsic happiness.  Mental health is a direct result of physical health, I have decided.  For me, at least.  I mean, I realize there are probably very miserable people out there in the world who are also very healthy but if I continue on in that line of thinking I’ll never accomplish anything.  So I’m taking small steps to get my systems in better shape.  It seems to be working, I’ve lost a bit of weight and I feel more alert and perhaps also less bored, because I spend some of that previously wasted mental energy planning meals and workouts and analyzing my carbohydrate intake and arguing with myself about dunking those girl scout cookies in a pint of Guinness and whether it’s worth it or not.  I actually feel sort of gross and unhappy when I eat something that I know is derailing my progress, which is a HUGE change for me.  I used to associate a bucket of fried chicken with completion and happiness and now I associate it with guilt and stomachaches (and still a little happiness).  The same goes with exercise: if I skip the gym (which I totally have this week) I feel tired, and like I’m wasting my opportunities.  It’s a pretty neat trick, like self-hypnosis.   

My mental and emotional health has also been part of the equation, and to this end there’s been a lot of weighing and measuring of friendships and social obligations and familial relationships, and consideration of how I use my time and my brain.  I realized I had stopped reading books the way I once had, so I’m spending more time in bookstores and coffeeshops, and less time sleeping in front of the tv.  I’ve noticed that certain personal interactions make me feel great, and others make me feel less-than-great, so I’ve tried to portion them out accordingly and soothe the beast inside who tells me that I must be loved by everyone everywhere all of the time.  I don’t love everyone everywhere all of the time.  I’m pretty sure this is okay.  I’m trying to write, and draw, and play the banjo.  These are things I’m pretty okay at, and could be better the more I practice.  I’m trying not to take unimportant things so seriously, and get serious about the things that ought to be serious.

I still have a long way to go, but I am optimistic.  I’m a person who needs horizons, I have to have something to look forward to or my mind becomes listless.  I suppose the next goal will be to figure out how to keep a horizon always in front of me.  I imagine that will take quite a long series of small steps.  Like you, I tell myself that I am doing the best that I can, and strive to keep believing it.

Love,
Annie

On Valentines

Dear Amy,

What can be said that already hasn’t been said about Valentines Day?  Yep, it’s a dumb made-up holiday, and yep, I say that partially because I’m defending my own feelings against the notion of a day that celebrates something I don’t have.  And I suppose, want, ultimately.  I’m certainly not as reactionary to Mothers Day or Fathers Day, but that could be because I’ve never much desired to be a parent.  I wonder if those who are childless but very much want not to be feel the same way about THOSE days as I do about Valentine’s Day: as a reminder of dreams deferred.  I think about when I was a kid, and Valentines Day was a bit more exciting and mysterious: everyone gave everyone else little cards, and the truly brave among us could use this opportunity to slip in a romantic overture.  I can dig on a day that’s about surprises and secret admirers.  I could live in anticipation of such a holiday.  But the grown-up version of Valentines Day seems to lack that element of surprise, at least when one is single and seemingly prospectless. For me, past-dweller that I am, it reminds me only of the last time I had a truly legitimate reason to be excited about Valentines Day, almost four years gone now.  Recalling the salad days of that particular relationship leads  fairly quickly into the loss of the relationship, and how cruddy and sad it all was, and who wants to be reminded of that?  So I join the ranks of the VDay haters, because no one likes to be reminded that they have failed at something they really hoped would succeed.

The thing that I hear over and over again from friends is that if I REALLY wanted to be in a relationship, I could be.  So, I don’t really want one, apparently?  Does this explain away the last four years?  I’ve had (if memory serves) maybe two or three real shots at making something casual into something serious, and each time there’s been a roadblock that has prevented anything lasting from forming.  Even the most lovely people can become bothersome, and I find it a terribly difficult obstacle to see around.  A more forgiving version of myself may have long ago been nicely boyfriended up with cats and a garden, if not for that.  But, I’m awfully particular, so I don’t know that anyone will ever pop up with the right combination of things I need, and, you know, ALSO live in the same state.  And be of a similar age.  And not already be in a couple, or an emotionally unavailable mess, or a secret lothario, or, saddest of all, nice but kind of lame.   I look around at my increasing number of well-coupled or married friends and equal number of divorced friends and I cannot see a formula to follow.

Do you ever watch Parks and Recreation?  Last year there was a wedding between two of the main characters, Andy, lovable doofus, and April, whose chief characteristic is that everything in the world annoys her.  April’s vows consisted of this one sentence: “I guess I kinda hate most things, but I never really seem to hate you.  So, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, is that cool?”

That is literally the most romantic thing I have ever heard in my life.

love,
Annie

Dear Annie,

I don’t know what to say about Valentine’s Day, because I don’t know what to say about much these days. I am deep in Babyland. I forget words, forget thoughts halfway through. I’ve subconsciously been shunning it, because I haven’t been able to come up with a good gift idea for my husband this year, and he surely deserves one. He’s like, Husband of the Year, remaining calm and patient as I sob uncontrollably about how sweet the baby is, or that I don’t want to go to back to work, or because SOME DAY SOME ONE is going to be mean to our baby. It’s…weird.

Mostly, I am fighting the notion of my Valentine’s Day present to Jason being something “from Violet.” This is part of Babyland. We have started calling each other Mommy and Daddy, despite having had an ACTUAL CONVERSATION where we vowed we wouldn’t, despite the fact that I strongly dislike the word “Mommy.” We stare at the baby. We talk about the baby. We talk FOR the baby. We make the baby do things, and then we talk about those things. When the baby naps, sometimes we show each other pictures of the baby we took on our phones, even though she’s LAYING RIGHT THERE IN OUR ARMS. More than once, we’ve delightedly watched video of the baby while she slept. It’s…weird.

I guess it’s human nature? It’s scientifically proven, my brain has shrunk. I think this is so I can JUST focus on the baby, which makes sense, but honestly, it’s a little…um, weird? (My vocabulary is, at most, a quarter the size it once was.)

It’s my hope — and I’m feeling pretty optimistic — that at some point I will be interested in something other than the baby. I’ll have my own thoughts and desires. I’ll be able to be separated from this little being. For now, I’m just rolling with it. Because, while, rationally (and certainly socially), it’s absurd and annoying, emotionally, it’s the better than the best thing I could ever think of. And it’s already going so fast.

So yeah, Valentine’s Day. Probably Jason and I will just do something totally disgusting, like pass the baby back and forth, saying “Happy Valentine’s Day” each time, each time making her MORE of a gift. And giggling. I’d hate us if I wasn’t so happy. Weird.

Love,
Amy