Thursday, March 17, 2016

How to Catch a GD Leprechaun

Okay you guys. I think I'm just being a big baby on behalf of my biggest baby but this made me so sad! I know I'm always saying "You Do You" and "Give Less Fucks" and "We Don't Need to Keep Up With No Stinking Joneses" and stealing my friend Claire's ban on "Shoulds," and that is all well and good when it comes to ourselves, but it is SO HARD when the brunt of this important life lesson falls on the little ones.

Last week Jackson Jay came home with a helpful flyer informing us that we needed to bring a "Leprechaun Trap" to school before St. Patrick's Day. I had never heard of such a thing before in my life, but luckily the flyer came with some sample photos, and I'm crafty enough, so I figured we got this. DM suggested we bring a box of Lucky Charms, but Jack was really into the engineering of the whole thing - he wanted some sort of mechanism, some pomp and circumstance, and a box of cereal wasn't going to cut it. Plus, I never pass up an opportunity to glue my fingers together, thrash the wood finish on the dining room table, or contract a mean case of glitter-lung (like black lung, with bling).

By the way, Leprechaun Traps are an actual thing, apparently, and I was late to the game, because Michael's was completely sold out of fake gold coins and all things green and rainbow. But I thought I had cobbled together a good enough plan that the kids could actually do.

So we made some traps. They loved it. There was a heated discussion about the existence of leprechauns (I did not receive the memo that this was another elaborate lie I would have to maintain for 5-7 years). It was ultimately decided that "Leprechauns are just Elves that wear green," ipso facto, they are as real as Chuck Ferry, our resident Elf on the Shelf. Jack also told me that, according to his teacher, leprechauns are naughty and make big fat messes like their trolling red-shirted elf-kin. However, if you're Irish, you're safe from their shenanigans and malarkey. Damn, Chauncey. Seems kinda racist. (P.S. If anyone invents Leprechaun on the Lawn, so help me God, I will end you.)

Anyway. The Boy was SO EXCITED to take his trap to school Monday morning. Before we got out of the car he said, "Wait, Mama, can you explain again exactly how the leprechaun is going to get trapped?" He wanted to have the "story" down pat so that he could explain the particulars to his friends. Once we ironed out our talking points, we headed inside.

The traps were not actually due until Wednesday, so for once we were actually ahead of the game. Only one other kid had brought hers in and the two were more or less matched in terms of effort and attention to detail. Jack was so proud of his, and relished giving hands-on demonstrations.

Fast-forward to Wednesday morning, the day the traps were due. The teacher had them all lined up, apparently from biggest and grandest to teeny-tiniest. And Jack's was at the very end of the line. As we walked in, one of his friends said, "I like your tiny little leprechaun trap, Jack!" Oh my gosh, you guys. Ouch. This kid cares SO MUCH about this exact kind of thing. He is so sensitive and so easily discouraged and so quick to compare himself to others and come up short. He is hyper-aware of the "currency of cool," even in kindergarten - from clothes and shoes and hair to reading levels, lunch contents, and extracurricular activities. I could see his sweet little face trying to pretend like he didn't care, his eyes tracking from his Lilliputian leprechaun trap to the behemoth boondoggle at the other end of the table that was apparently built to house a leprechaun the size of a small horse. What had, the day before, been a balloon full-to-bursting with pride, popped right in front of my eyes. I spent the whole drive to work with that cry-y feeling behind my eyeballs. I know it's a stupid thing. I know that teaching my kids to care about such petty displays of worth is the wrong lesson here. But it literally hurt my heart.

Also, I wish I had taken a picture so you guys could see what I'm dealing with here. A couple friends called me an overachiever when they saw what we made, but I knew what I was up against. These are the types of moms who actually DO the shit they find on Pinterest, as opposed to me (and I assume the rest of the civilized world), who pin 9,437,588 things and expect to complete them posthumously in heaven where I imagine there will be pre-assembled Martha Stewart craft storage, self-cleaning crock pots that run on the power of unicorn tears and angel's wings, and an endless supply of organic kale, quinoa, empty toilet paper rolls, and glitter glue (actually maybe this is hell?) Anyway, this clearly wasn't their first leprechaun rodeo.

Do you remember being a kid and getting something new - a book, a toy, a dress, a haircut, and thinking it was "Totally radical, dude!" Only to arrive at school to be tried by a jury of your peers and found utterly uncool? Ugh. My boy with the marshmallow soul :(

This is how stuff gets out of hand though, people! Because next year you can guarantee we are going to build the Empire State Building of leprechaun traps, which in turn is going to ruin some other kid's day. It's a vicious cycle of leprechaun one-uppery. And now I'm going to be part of the problem! Or maybe not. I have 364 days to turn this into a teaching moment. We shall see. It would be great if we could all just have a little pow wow and agree to substantially lower the bar. That would be ideal.

Also, if we could agree to let our kids to do their own projects? Because I know your child did not do that Frank Lloyd Mc'Wright shit by himself. I will be the first to admit I am an overbearing quality assurance manager but for the most part I try to let them do their own work even when it means shit is crooked and ugly and they put the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order which causes me physical pain.

I honestly don't even think this would be a thing with Colby. She does, to an extent, get caught up in the homogenizing popularity contest that starts, apparently, in preschool. Her love of jewelry and pink and princesses and "pretty things" and utter disdain for pants doesn't come from me. (Okay well maybe the pants thing is from me.) But for the most part, when it comes to other people's opinions of her, she doesn't have two fucks to rub together. I wish I could bottle up this imperviousness, this certitude, and sprinkle it on big brother's oatmeal every morning. As I've said here before, we don't worry too much about Colby Jean. She'll take life by the horns and head-butt it. But sometimes I wish I could just cover Jack in bubble-wrap until he's, oh, I don't know, 35 or so?

"Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." And to leave it stabbed and bleeding at the hands of the cruel world! (Elizabeth Stone)

And yes, I know, this is a textbook example of #firstworldproblems. Whatever. They're my specialty ;)

Friday, March 11, 2016

To Boob, or Not To Boob: That Is None Of Your Damn Business

[... Continued from F You and the Placenta-Fueled Kombucha Wagon You Rode In On.]

My personal relationship with breastfeeding was rather tumultuous. B.K. (Before Kids), I was already resistant to the the aggressive guerrilla warfare of the Breast is Best movement. When I got pregnant, I thought to myself, "If it works, great. If it doesn't, no biggie." Then, my son was born. We didn't get meaningful skin-on-skin time right away because they briefly whisked him off to the NICU for reasons I honestly can't even remember (and this is why I really should have written down my "birth story!") Then we were literally in, like, a closet, and doctors and residents and nurses and nurses-in-training and possibly janitors wearing scrubs (?) were parading in and out of my room every half-hour to manhandle various and sundry lady bits and it just wasn't the calm, nurturing environment I had hoped for.

It became apparent pretty early on that my god-given vehicles of earthly sustenance were lemons. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I have had two breast augmentation surgeries (judge away). However, one helpful lactation consultant informed me that my breastsesses were "defective" to begin with. If it hadn't been so physically and emotionally painful, the scenes from those early days would've been comedic. A nurse and a lactation consultant telling Daddy Mack to "squeeze it like this!" Literally six hands "on deck" while I angled the tiny mouth of my screeching, red-faced son to my nipple. It was a non-starter.

The hospital sent us home with formula and this weird syringe thingy but I had already internalized the "Breast is Best [and you are a failure as a woman and a mother if you can't make it work]" mantra. Dammit if I wasn't going to feed this child the way little baby infant Jesus intended. We had a private and pricey lactation consultant come to the house every day for a week. I rented an industrial-strength pump from the hospital. I pumped after every (unsuccessful) feeding, and between feedings too. I popped fenugreek like a junkie on oxycontin, and walked around smelling like IHOP for weeks. I don't know what, if anything, he was getting from my "love-sacs" but neither of us was feelin' the love. And there just wasn't much to give. I remember, once, I got almost two ounces of milk, and I was ELATED. Never before had I had such a bountiful breast-harvest. I was SO PROUD of my little milk-makers!

I remember that sad little container of watery, pale-blue milk sitting in the fridge. At this point, I had no idea that other people were stockpiling milk by the freezer-full, theirs yellow and creamy like half-n-half and mine more like fat-free.

In my defense, Jack didn't like any food. We tried everything. Boob. Weird syringe thing. Seventeen different types of bottles guaranteed to feel like "the real deal." Nada. He HATED eating, and usually spit it up shortly thereafter. We took him to the doctor who tossed some vague diagnoses our way: "tongue tie," "reflux," "colic" (a.k.a. your baby cries non-stop for four hours and there's really no medical explanation or solution).

In retrospect, I was clearly suffering from a case of the "baby blues" and I'm sure it was pretty obvious to everyone around me. My husband was probably trying to salvage my sanity as he encouraged me to go to a yoga class with my BFF while he and my mother-in-law watched Jackson Jay. I jumped at the opportunity to escape the den of my inadequacy.

I was readying myself to leave the house, trying to find pants that fit and sadly discovering that I hadn't lost 40 pounds upon delivery. My in-laws had just come back from Babies R Us with the latest arsenal of baby bottles to try. I was summarizing for my MIL the trials and tribulations we'd been through with respect to feeding in the short life of this small, hangry child. I gave her the litany of instructions necessary for my 45 minute absence. I asked her to exhaust my paltry little shot glass of milk before turning to formula. She said, sort of offhand, "Maybe it's your milk that's making him sick?"

I know she didn't say it to be hurtful. But the rage-heat rose from my toes to the tippy top of my skull in 4.3 seconds. Hot fiery pokers stabbed me in the chest. I was SO UPSET. It's one of the few instances in my life where, when I think about it, I can still FEEL the fire in me. This moment was symbolic of my failure at the most elemental level. This is literally what my body was MADE FOR, growing and sustaining a tiny human being, and I sucked at it.

I was actually objectively surprised at the tenacity with which I held onto this damn breastfeeding thing. It was like I was hovering outside myself, looking down, shaking my head and thinking, c'mon woman, let it go already, time to read the writing on the wall. I gave up not long after that, but not without a substantial helping of guilt and regret. It didn't help that days after I "quit," Similac recalled five million containers of formula because it was infested with beetle bits. I mean, seriously??? Those crazy ass breastfeeding Nazis weren't even wrong when they said formula was poison. I continued to kick myself, thinking "Maybe if I'd tried this? Maybe if I'd done that? *They* say anyone can do it. Hell, even women who weren't pregnant can create a milk supply, what is wrong with me?" "Well," I thought, "maybe next time."

Sorry baby. No superfood for you.
Fast forward to "next time." I had done my research. I ordered a "Supplemental Nursing System," which is this kooky contraption where you basically strap a bag of formula around your neck with this tiny tube attached to it, and then you tape the tube to your nipple, and then you have to wrangle the boob AND the tube into the hungry baby's miniscule mouth to feed. "Bring it on!" I thought.

Miss Colby Jean popped out and took right to the boob. In fact, she would happily hang out there for hours. And hours. And hours. No fighting. No crying. Well, no crying for her. It hurt ME like hell. I would sit there, gritting my teeth, tears running down my face. My nipples soon cracked and bled. I kept asking my friends, is it supposed to hurt THIS BAD??? But SHE was happy, and despite the searing pain, I was so excited that it seemed to be working this time.

Then I took her in for her one-week weigh-in and she had lost more than 10% of her body weight. The pediatrician sent me to a lactation consultant, whose reaction was, "Holy Mary Mother of God, what have you done to yourself?!?" My boobs were angry and bloody and raw. One nipple had been clamped and gnawed and cracked to the point where the sticky-outy-part was dangling halfway off. She confirmed that I had something called mammary gland hypoplasia, which basically means you don't have enough mammary tissue to produce milk. She also said the baby was "tongue-tied" and "lip-tied," but I later asked the pediatrician about getting that fixed and he said "That is not an actual thing." The consultant gave me some tips, but said that supplementing with formula was a necessity. She told me to stop on the way home for nipple shields, nipple cones, nipple cream, and a variety of other ministrations to try to nurse my not-so-fun bags back to the land of the living.

I gave it the ol' college try, but it never became easy or "natural." I gazed in awe at my friends whose babies effortlessly latched on, who could carry on a conversation, make eye contact, or move more than a millimeter while simultaneously feeding their child. It was always a struggle for me. I dreaded it, but still felt thankful that she didn't host a flat-out hunger strike like her big brother had. And it got to the point where I could do it without crying in pain, so that was a plus. Still, the more alert she got, the less compliant she became, and she did NOT like that damn plastic tube.

I wasn't ready to give up yet, though. Again, logically, I knew that I was going to somewhat ridiculous lengths for very little benefit. But when you're being assaulted with stuff like this, your judgment gets a little screwy:

To answer your question: No. Apparently, I am not.
Seven weeks in, I was pretty proud of myself because this was a week longer than I had lasted with Jack. I planned to keep it up until I went back to work at 12 weeks, but didn't hold any illusions that it would last any longer than that. My BFF Claire had her second baby a month before Colby was born. For Mother's Day, we decided to go to Vegas for 24 hours. Mothers of the Year, I know ;) We brought our pumps so we could "pump and dump," though mine was really just for show, as I never broke the 2 oz. high water mark from back in the Jack days. Claire pumped shortly after we arrived, and she produced like 12 ounces of milk. I was blown away. "Wait wait wait! Is THAT how boobs are SUPPOSED to work???"

I decided I was done right then and there, and only felt 43% guilty about it. I didn't have some painful weaning process because I wasn't really producing anything, anyway. I had been going through all of this rigmarole - the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder-boob-tube-thingy, the latch battles, pumping literally drops of milk, the fact that I had no hours in the day to spend with my original baby... and for what? An ounce of milk at most? And any nominal benefit was probably outweighed by the fact that she was consuming quadruple that in the toxic jet fuel that is formula. So, that was it. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

A week later, at Colby's two-month appointment, the pediatrician asked me if I was still breastfeeding (in a way that indicated there was only right answer). I lied and said yes. We had already been through a lot with that baby chile. She was born with a medical issue and they wanted a definitive diagnosis right away. She was poked and pricked and prodded from the moment she was born. Watching a nurse try, unsuccessfully, seven times to catheterize your infant isn't for the faint of heart. She's fine, now, and I know from our brief stints in the PICU and NICU that it could be so, so, SO much worse. We are very lucky. But I just didn't want this guy to think I wasn't doing everything I could for my poor, sickly baby.

A few months later, I brought her in for her six-month check-up. In the intervening time period, there had been a scary trip in an ambulance and a hospital stay. It was a minor miracle that she was doing so well despite a rough start. She was enormous - off the charts, and so healthy. The doctor was ecstatic. I was eating up his praise, as though the "luck of the gods" was my own, personal achievement. He then said, "You're still nursing her, right?" I came clean and told him no. His demeanor flipped on a dime. His face made me think about lying again and adding "Not exclusively." But I'm a pretty bad liar and figured he'd see right through me. He did, anyway. I anxiously started listing my excuses - work, life, toddler, supply problems due to a physiological defect... He put up his hand as if to say "Stop." I did. He said "We both know if you really wanted to do it, you could do it."

I should have told this self-righteous prick (who, PS, HAS NEVER PERSONALLY BREAST-FED A BABY BECAUSE HE DOESN'T HAVE ANY GODDAMN BREASTS), to kindly fuck off. I should have grabbed my happy, healthy, ginormous, formula-fed baby and walked out of that office then and there. But I didn't. I looked up, to keep the tears from spilling out of my eyes. I looked down, in shame.

The moral of the story is, fuck that guy.

Bottom line: I believe we're all doing the best we can with what we have, and that is enough.

A different kind of "Supplemental Nursing System," consisting of mimosa and a crazy straw.
Like I said, Mother of the Year, baby!
This post by Ashley at Pink Sky Serendipity was kind of the impetus for getting my own story down.

I also loved "My Struggle With Breastfeeding," by Ramblin' Mama:

"All I’m saying is that people choose not to breastfeed for a multitude of reasons. And of all the moms I know, not a single one of them stopped nursing out of convenience or vanity.... I’ve learned that life is too short and too precious to feel guilty about things we cannot change. All we can do is keep trying, keep learning, and give ourselves credit for all the things we get right along the way."

And in case you need some scholarly literature to mitigate your mommy guilt:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Kombucha Wagon

I belong to a few touchy-feely, no-judgment-zone mommy groups online. Mostly they're comprised of kind, thoughtful, well-meaning people, but I gotta say, there are always the outliers. Everybody has their pet issue, like, "I believe you should just be your best self, I don't judge, unless you [fill in the blank], in which case you are a terrible mother and I feel sorry for your children." And look, I'm not about to claim I'm Benevolent Queen Even Keel, doling out support, smiles and sunshine without assumptions or conclusions. I've come a long way, but I still catch myself formulating unfounded opinions about people I know nothing about (and people I know very well). I'm working on it.

To be clear, I'm talking about "judgment" per the modern mommy vernacular. Negative judgment. The snap decision that someone is "less-than" as a parent or a person because of the decisions they make, or their circumstances, or the way they look, act, speak, etc. Judgment in itself - the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions - is an indispensable tool. You're going to have a rough time without it.

As I've mentioned here before, I think even the nasty kind of judgyness is somewhat ingrained. We stick with "our kind," we understand them, we trust them, we feel safe with them, they "get" us, we can be ourselves. Conversely, we distance ourselves from "others." It think this is human nature, at least in part. Then again, so is cannibalism. And that's kind of what judgment is. Cannibalism of people's souls.

Just because we're hard-wired for a particular behavior doesn't mean it's right or good.

Honestly, I'm not even judging your judgyness. I totally get it. I always think I'm right. I have, hundreds of times, thought to myself, "Ugh, I just wish I could live that person's life for them because they are DOING IT WRONG! I would obviously do a way better job." But this approach is problematic for many reasons, including, but not limited to:

1) Even if someone is making a mistake, they need to figure that out for themselves. No one is really going to change unless it's their decision to do so. Maybe I just surround myself with stubborn mules, but I have never had someone say, "Wow, you know what Mackenzie? You are so right. I have seen the error of my ways. Thank you for showing me the light. Thank you, Oh Wise One, for guiding me to the path of righteousness." No. If we're being real, telling somebody they're doing it wrong is just a sure fire way to get them to dig in their heels and do it even wrong-er-er.

2) Obviously, if you're using yourself as the rubric for a straight-A report card in Life, everyone who is "not-you" is going to fail. (By the way, I am so not using myself as a rubric. Maybe "Me" circa 2007, or even 2013. Certainly not me now. I would say I am presently a solid C student at Life.) Anyway, you get my gist. People are going to fall short if you're expecting them to do exactly what you would do in any given situation. But guess what? You're not Jesus! Nobody cares "What You Would Do."

Probably the numero uno judgy issue among allegedly "supportive" parenting groups is breastfeeding. I kid you not, even the men get up in arms about it, which I find to be completely asinine. OF COURSE you "strongly believe" women should breastfeed their children! You're not the fucker whose nipples are getting gnawed off!!! How convenient for you!

This one mom literally said "I never judge other mothers for anything, except if they don't nurse their children, because that's basically child abuse." ERRRRRR. WRONG ANSWER. I mean are you kidding me with this shit? That actually dovetails nicely with a recent article on Scary Mommy titled, "If you don't breastfeed your baby, I'm judging you." Well you know what? Fuck you and the placenta-fueled kombucha wagon you rode in on. (Okay, see? I'm being judgy. But really just for comic effect. It's not my cup of tea, but more power to ya with your placenta-burger and your fermented bacterial beverage. I bet you feel really... fortified...? :))

I'm not even going to give credence to the "I'm judging you" post by linking to it here, but I'll give you the Clif notes: She says if you don't have a legit medical or psychological excuse not to breastfeed, and you still choose not to, you suck. One of my "non-judgy" mommy "friends" commented, "Well, she has a point. You should at least try." No. You're wrong. And here's why. I MADE this child. THIS BABY, AND THESE BOOBS, INCIDENTALLY, BELONG TO ME. So back the %&$# off.

We as a society place a great deal of worth on the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit. This is a monumental responsibility, of course, and it still kind of boggles my mind that we have to take a test to drive a car, or interview to work at McDonalds (which actually seems hard, by the way, especially if you're the person that has to talk and listen at the same time?!) but they just let us walk out of the hospital with these tiny humans and say, "Good luck with that!" However, we trust that (most) parents have their kids' best interests in mind, and they will do right by their kids whenever and however they can. Sure, we're going to screw 'em up a little along the way. But that's what makes us us such interesting, beautiful creatures. That's what makes us human.

I understand that "breast is [probably] best," from a purely nutritional standpoint. And of course we all want to do what's best for our children. But if breastfeeding makes you want to slit your wrists or throw your baby out the window... if it is, quite literally, making you crazy, the equation gets a little more complicated. Add the wracking weight of guilt that has been institutionalized by the freakin' American Medical Association, the abysmal state of paid parental leave in the United States, the fact that you're a social pariah if you DON'T breastfeed, but you're an amateur porn star if you do it in public, and a crunchy granola whackadoodle if you do it too long, etc etc etc, and we're talking some complex calculus and shit. It's just not as simple as "they" make it out to be.

In the wise words of JJ Keith, "You can't win at parenting or homemaking. If you think you're winning then everyone else thinks you're a dick." Anyone who denies making compromises and concessions is a dirty, rotten, liar-face. Maybe, like me, you failed at breastfeeding, and fed your kid Monsanto formula. After that, perhaps because of the internalized formula-guilt, you lovingly spoon-fed your littles nothing but homemade, organic baby food. Then, possibly, the pendulum swung back too far in the other direction, and your children's diet now consists primarily of pizza, dino nuggets, and things that are orange.

Maybe you exclusively breastfed your first child for four years, but your second survives solely on condiments and food he finds on the floor of the minivan. Maybe your child has never watched TV in her life, but you use - GASP - sunscreen with PARABENS in it. Maybe you home school your kids and they're fluent in three languages but they binge on Netflix every night (in Japanese). Maybe your munchkins are violin virtuosos but they wear inorganic poly-blend clothes made by tiny children in Bangladeshi sweatshops. Somethin's gotta give, you know? (Okay, seriously though, Bangladeshi sweatshops are effed up.)

Here's another funny example. The other day a friend posted a picture of giant vats of Ranch dressing and nacho cheese at Smart & Final. I sheepishly admitted that I was pretty sure that was the same size Ranch that we regularly cycle through at our house. "Plus," I said, "look at those verdant valleys on the label! It's obviously super healthy! Who doesn't want industrial-sized nutrition in a bottle with a handy, spill-proof cap?" Someone commented "You should really look at the ingredients, that stuff is crap!" My reply: "Ignorance is delicious ;)" She responded "Ignorance will land you 6 feet under!"

Listen. The world is full of potential threats to life and limb. There are things that might kill you quickly (planes, trains, automobiles, texting and driving, fucking sharks (I mean darn sharks, not sex with sharks, but both are probably lethal). Other things will kill you slowly (cigarettes, sleeping pills, not-sleeping, BPA, parabens, sulfates, nitrites, gluten). And let's be honest, we're probably all going to rot away from thumb cancer in thirty years anyway. I admit, Ranch is probably pickling our organs. But. Of all the terrible ways to die, Death by Ranch Dressing is not the worst. ;)

I feel like this is such an apt representation of online interactions in general. Not to be rude, but, why do you care that a stranger on the interwebs is eating Ranch? I mean, thanks for the concern, I guess, but, there have got to be more productive outlets for your time and energy.

Colby and Jack's fights are actually a tiny microcosm of the internet. Jack inherited his mom's pesky trait of perpetual right-ness, and we keep having to remind him that it doesn't [fucking] matter, dude. We're like, Buddy, how is it a personal affront to you if your sister believes that Leonardo is the purple Ninja Turtle?

(Side note: remember this nanny I interviewed that said Ranch dressing was toxic and suggested I make it from scratch? Lady. I haven't washed my hair in days. I am single-handedly supporting the market for dry shampoo. I don't think I've peed since Tuesday. My kid is eating something green! So what if it's floating in Ranch Soup? Cut me some slack!)

Anyway. Bottom line: You gotta do what works for you and your family. Nobody is winning all of the time. It's a juggling act and sometimes you drop some balls.

Why can't we just trust that we are all doing the best we can with what we have, and leave it at that?
Parenting Math
* Symptoms may vary.
[Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post. It was getting too long, even for me!]