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!]


  1. re: breast feeding
    I think you're more like the ladies in your online mom group than you think. It sounds like they're saying that you should at least try, and then if you can't for some reason it's ok as long as you tried. (although I'm not on board with the child abuse comment) You're saying basically the same thing: "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." What you're saying is if you tried to breastfeed but then it made you want to kill yourself or your child, it's ok if you didn't do it. I mean, wanting to throw a baby out a window seems like a "legit" psychological reason not to do it. And that's exactly what she (and your 'non-judgy' friend) are saying: you just gotta try. How do you know you'll want to slit your wrists from breastfeeding if you didn't try breastfeeding? The people that they're judging are the ones who, before they even were in labor, were like 'no way, way too inconvenient to nurse this little life form I'm growing in my belly.' I had another mom tell me she couldn't handle the 'mess' of breastfeeding. Because washing a million bottles a day was easier?
    Anyway, that's my 2 cents. Do what you will with it.

    1. The specific lines you quote are a reflection of my own personal experience, not an exhaustive list of "valid" reasons not to breastfeed. I think it's a very personal decision, and whatever your conclusion or how you arrived at it, I trust you're doing what's best for your family and it's not my business to second guess you.
      That makes 4 cents ;)