Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Surf: Thanksgiving Edition

Since it's been a busy Thanksgiving weekend, my Sunday Surf this week is short and sweet.  I'm sure you've got more doorbuster sales to hit anyway, right?
  • My very favoritest (it can be a word, yes?) post of the week comes from the blog Mama Birth.  The post Humbling Moment #547: Women With More Than One Child Are Not Actually Crazy is an absolute laugh-out-loud, must-read about the things we learn when our family keeps growing.  There are plenty of days when I'm absolutely convinced that my second kid is hell-bent on making me lose my mind completely, so it's nice to hear that other moms have trouble keeping their shit together, too.  
  • The Healthy Food and Healthy Living blog by Dr. Ayala is always interesting, but her recent post On Happiness, and Being In the Moment was one that really resonated with me.  Our world is so busy and complicated and everyone always seems to be in a hurry and wanting to do and have more, more, more.  But a recent study shows that thinking less and living more in the moment might be the key to greater happiness.  I'm a big fan of simplifying my life, but I find it hard to live in the moment.  This post is a great reminder of why it is so important.
  • In The Darker Side of Back Friday, Mom-101 calls out the retailers who have gone too far with Black Friday sales that are now starting on Thanksgiving Day.  Would you like a side of rampant commercialism and blatant consumerism with your turkey? 
I'm sure there was much more on the web that I missed this week, but I'm off to put up my Christmas tree.  Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Surfing!      

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Santa Claus Is Not A Lie. He's A Belief System.

One of my favorite Christmas prints is by local St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit.  It's a simple picture of Santa Claus, with the word Believe printed above.

One word.


Easier said than done, I know.

When money is tight and jobs are scarce and loved ones are ill, it can be difficult to believe that things will be okay.  Sometimes, it can be difficult to believe that we can cope with the hardships that life keeps throwing at us. 

If we are religious, it can be difficult to believe that going to church and trusting in a God who  appears to have forsaken us is worthwhile.

Belief can be difficult to master.

"Faith," said Santa Claus in the classic Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, "is believing in things when common sense tells you not to."

In Valentine Davies book from which the movie was adapted, the quote reads a little differently: 

"Those who can accept nothing on faith will be forced to live a life dominated by doubt." 

Common sense tells us that Santa Claus is a myth.  As adults, we know that, in reality, there is no such person.  And there are some parents who struggle to teach their children about a man who for all intensive purposes is a big fat lie.

Is it a lie to perpetuate the myth of Santa to our children?

I don't think so. 

Santa Claus may not actually exist in the real world.  But when we teach our children about him, what we're really teaching them is how to believe in things that we cannot see.  We're teaching them that we can never know the complete truth of our existence, or understand all the wonders of our world.  We're teaching them that there is much that we can never understand. 

We're teaching them to imagine and to dream.  We're teaching them that life is about so much more than we can perceive from our limited point of view.  We're teaching them to believe in magic and generosity, and that the good in the world can always outshine the evil.   

We're teaching them to choose a life of belief and optimism over a life of pessimism and doubt.

Last night, my six year-old put her first tooth under her pillow and went to sleep with visions of a magical tooth fairy who would come in the night.  I might feel like I'm lying to her when I spin tales of this mysterious creature and then sneak in myself to stash the cash.  But I don't.

Instead, I feel like I'm teaching that we live in a world where life is full of possibilities and anything can happen.

In a world where a fat guy in a red suit can fly through the sky in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.  A world where a fairy can come in the night and leave money under your pillow.  Where a heart that has grown heavy from the hardships of life can be healed.  Where things will always get better.

I'm teaching her to believe. 

And I'm also reminding myself.

Check out the Mary Engelbreit store online if you're looking for some neat Christmas gifts.  She illustrates a variety of cards, calendars, posters, dishes, books, ornaments, etc.  There used to be an ME store at the St. Louis Galleria (and a long, long time ago at Union Station), but I don't think there are any around town anymore.  Her stuff is one-of-a-kind, though, so it's totally worth the shipping charges!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday Surfing on Monday: Medication, McDonalds, And Other Things Moms Talk About

I had a Sunday Surf post all prepared, but was sidelined by some weird form of head cold/stomach flu/ poisoning by Theraflu.  Whatever it was that I had, I never made it to the computer.  So we're Sunday Surfing on Monday.  What difference does it make, really?

  • Lisa Belkin, author of The New York Times Motherlode blog (and #1 on Babble's recent list of top mom bloggers) has an interesting post entitled Modern Mother's Little Helpers.  No, it isn't about the cute little toddlers who empty the silverware from the dishwasher and put the laundry into the dryer.  It's about the pills that so many moms pop in order to get through the day.  Belkin draws on a post from an anonymous blogger at The Elmo Wallpaper, who wonders what is going on when such large numbers of mothers are so overwhelmed and stressed out that they can't seem to function without the help of prescription meds. 
  • San Francisco can ban Happy Meal toys all day long, but according to two eye-opening posts over at Spoonfed, there are far more serious issues when it comes to McDonalds.  Check out both Forget Happy Meal toys. Let's ban McEducation and the follow-up post More McDonald's Madness for some interesting and educational reading.  
  • There was a beautiful post from Carrie at The Parenting Passageway about the times when breastfeeding doesn't work out.  She writes: "breastfeeding is wonderful, it provides an excellent start to infants and to families.  However, the way we connect to our children goes through all developmental stages, not just infancy, and not just through breastfeeding." 
  • And last but definitely not least, the Cool Mom Picks Holiday Guide is here!!!  Cool Mom Picks is an awesome website run by awesome mom bloggers, and every year they scope out the coolest holiday gift ideas so that you don't have to.  I love that their stuff is unique, and that I can find  handmade items from Etsy mixed in among all their holiday picks. 
Happy Surfing!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

STL Views and Reviews: Malcolm Terrace Park

I've lived in St. Louis for over twenty-five years, but until a good friend suggested that we meet for a playdate at Malcolm Terrace Park last week, I had never even heard of it. 

Boy, have I been missing out.

Personally, I always find it to be a bit of a struggle to find a really good park that the entire family can enjoy.  My elementary school-aged daughter likes playgrounds that challenge her physically and have "a lot to do," my toddler loves a park with lots of open space where he can run freely, and I love a place where they'll both be entertained and I can relax a bit and actually enjoy the fresh air and the scenery.

I also find that, as a mom to a toddler (who is rapidly evolving into a fearless and overly adventurous preschooler), I don't enjoy the sprawling playgrounds where your kids can disappear from your sight for what seems like hours on end, even if it's actually only about thirty seconds

Yes, I have helicopter-parent tendencies; I know this about myself and, quite frankly, I'm okay with it. 

The playground at Malcolm Terrace Park is small enough that parents like me can actually see what their little ones are up to, without having to follow them around like a puppy.  Maybe I'm lazy, but sometimes half the pleasure of taking my kids to the park is being able to sit on a bench nearby and just sit.

Maybe  it's like my stay-at-home mom version of "time to myself," because at home I can't sit down without somebody needing me to get up and do something the minute my ass makes contact with a cushion. 

It's like kids have radar -- oops, moms about to sit down and breathe, we better keep her moving . . .

So Malcolm Terrace Park is nice for lazy mothers who want to go somewhere where they won't have to chase a busy toddler.  But it's also really nice for older kids too.  The playground isn't one of those brand new shiny things with plastic astro-turf underneath it; it's more of an old-school, back-to-basics, good old-fashioned fun type of place. 

It has two swings, two baby swings, a curvy slide, a tunnel slide, and a straight slide, a swaying, creaky bridge, and a tunnel, some monkey bars, and some poles to climb.  And mulch on the ground.  Nothing fancy, but plenty of scope for the imagination.

And did I mention the trees?  This, I think, is why I and probably a lot of other people like this park so much.  Nestled amidst homes off of Mosley Road in Creve Coeur, Malcolm Terrace Park is quiet, serene, beautiful, and shady!!! 

Mature, fully grown trees surround the play area, keeping the slides cool even on the sunniest of days.   There's plenty of grassy area for running around or playing catch or picnicing on a fall day, and there's also a sand volleyball court for anybody whose up for a game, or who wants to bring sand toys and pretend it's a day at the beach . . .  

Also very important for parents of small children, both parking and restrooms are located within walking distance of the playground.

The park also has a small path of trails to walk through that makes for a great nature hike for kids who love to pick up sticks and admire rocks, and apparently The Riverfront Times even listed it as the best park for birdwatching in St. Louis.  There is a small rock creek that kids will enjoy, and a shady area full of trees and plants known as Serenity Grove where everyone can relax.

If you would like to see pictures of Malcolm Terrace Park, there is a great stream of Flickr photos at

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Post In Which I More Rationally Respond To Erica Jong's Mother Madness

The other day, I briefly responded to Erica Jong's Wall Street Journal article Mother Madness, in which she equates modern motherhood (and attachment parenting in particular) with prison.  The piece has caused quite the stir in the world of social media, and in case you couldn't tell from my previous post, I didn't like it.

In her article, Jong reiterates the same basic controversial premise that has brought notoriety to writers like Hannah Rosin and Elisabeth Badinter: that nurturing our babies and children by responding to their needs is the wrong way to mother because it's making us miserable.

That motherhood itself, or more specifically a particular kind of motherhood -- the kind where we are willing to devote much of our time and energy to our children -- is what is holding women back.

Jong goes on the attack against attachment parenting from the beginning, calling out Bill and Martha Sears and their popular Baby Book as one of the primary reasons women become sacrificial lambs on the altar of motherhood (as I imagine she might put it). 

What is so frustrating about her article, though, is that she clearly doesn't understand attachment parenting, and confuses a responsive style of mothering with an obsessive desire to raise the "perfect" child. 

She clearly doesn't realize that you can parent by attachment while working outside the home, or that attachment parenting does leave room for caregivers other than mom or dad in a child's life.  She also seems to think that attachment parenting means making your own baby food and using cloth diapers, and while many attachment parents may do these things, one has nothing to do with the other. 

I for one did neither, and my style of parenting is fairly attachment-oriented.

Erica Jong's Mother Madness is perfectly defined by writer and attachment parenting guru Katie Allison Granju in her response on The New York Times Motherlode blog as a "messy amalgam of multiple parenting cliches."  Granju debunks many of the attachment parenting myths promoted in Jong's article, and articulates the flaws in Jong's irrational assertions far better than I can.

Granju's is an article worth reading.  

Erica Jong is apparently a long-time feminist activist, but she is clearly out of her element when it comes to writing about a style of motherhood that she never embraced.  Her own daughter, Molly Jong-Fast wrote a response piece, in which she describes her childhood and her relationship with her mother, and very astutely concludes that her mother worked hard so that she as the daughter could have choices. 

Her defense of her mother is touching, and I wholeheartedly agree that there are a million different ways to be a good mother to your child.  I may not agree with Jong's choices, and they clearly wouldn't work for me, but I'm not going to deride it and publish an essay in a national publication telling her how she's done everything wrong. 

That's Erica Jong's style.  Not mine.

Lost in the mish-mosh of Mother Madness are some valid points.  Jong is correct that the media focuses on images of smiling celebrities with their children, but never shows the nannies.  She is correct that there are parents who get so caught up in the desire to do everything "right" who are overly susceptible to ideas and theories of what constitutes "good" parenting.

While I practice many of the principles of attachment parenting, I have long been frustrated by the label, because I don't believe that parents or parenting styles need to be categorized.  I agree that it's dangerous to give new mothers the idea that "this is what you should be doing." 

In fact, I also agree with Ms. Jong on one other very important point:  that modern motherhood desperately needs to be redefined.

Modern mothers are struggling under the weight of tremendous pressure, but the pressure to be an excellent mother is no greater than the pressure to function in society (and more importantly in the work place) as if you weren't a mother.  Yes, there are women who stay home to raise children for the wrong reasons and probably feel imprisoned.  But there are also women who leave their children and go to work because it is what is expected of them or because they must to provide for their family, and feel just as imprisoned there.

Attachment parenting may be a convenient scapegoat, but we have far greater cultural problems than arguing about whether moms should make their own baby food.  We need longer maternity leaves and an increased acceptance of leave for fathers as well.  We need laws protecting women's rights to pump at work and breastfeed in public.  We need fellow mothers who are willing to accept that there are ways of raising children that are different from their own.  We need far more support, and far fewer critics.

Motherhood isn't holding us back. 

But so-called feminists who insist on blaming motherhood for the undone work of the women's movement instead of fighting for the social change that mothers deserve just might be.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who The %$#&% Is Erica Jong?

I just have one question today.

Who the hell is Erica Jong and why should anybody care what she has to say?

This article from The Wall Street Journal is positively one of the most disturbing pieces of writing that I've ever read.  Not because I disagree with what she says (which I do), but because her thinking is completely illogical and the audacity with which she presumes to know what other women are feeling and experiencing is absolutely astounding.

Who is Erica Jong again?

Clearly not anybody I need to waste my time finding out about.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why This Stay-At-Home Mom Will Never Go "Back" To Work

From the moment you make the decision to stay at home, you start to hear the question.

"When will you go back to work?" 

I don't know if people are trying to be intentionally rude, and I doubt that they truly mean to convey the sort of condescension that accompanies the implication that every stay-at-home mom is really just biding her time at home with her kids until she can jump back into the world as a so-called real person again.

I happen to like the time that I spend with my children.  I place a high value on the time that I spend doing things for them (though I reserve the right to bitch and moan about said contributions to their general welfare whenever I please). 

And I have yet to meet a mother who doesn't "work" on a daily basis.

Apparently, though, work doesn't qualify as work unless somebody pays you to do it.

If I went to work in a daycare, I would get paid to play with children and keep them safe and prepare their meals and clean up their messes. 

If I went to work as a teacher, I would get paid to read with children and help them learn their ABC's and all sorts of other life lessons. 

If I went to work as a personal chef, I would get paid to shop and plan and prepare meals.

If I went to work as a chauffeur, I would get paid to drive people around all day.

In none of these situations would anybody ask me when I was going to go back to work.  They would consider what I was doing to be work, simply because I would be doing it for strangers and getting paid for it. 

Except, I don't get paid to do any of these jobs.  I do them for my own family out of the goodness of my  heart, so apparently they don't count as work.  But they are work.  Hard work.  And they count as work too. 

I will never go back to work because I never stopped working in the first place.    

I will, however, return to paid employment, which is what people actually mean (and what they should say) when they ask about going back to work. 

Language is a powerful tool.  Often, the words that we use convey far more than we mean.  By simply asking a mother when she plans to return to work, we automatically devalue the work that that woman does everyday taking care of her own family. 

I am actually in the process of returning to a paying job right now -- on a part-time, work from home basis -- but I don't consider it going back to work.  I consider it adding more work to the work that I'm already doing.      

The definition of "work" should encompass more than just work that is financially compensated.  Defining ourselves through our paid employment and not the many other aspects of our lives just doesn't make sense, because most of us are so much more than the things we do to pay our bills. 

And stay-at-home moms like myself might not be earning the big bucks or receiving compensation in any form other than sloppy kisses and crayon drawings, but our work is just as (if not more) important than anything else we might be doing.

We work. 

Every day. 

All day. 

And usually at night too.

We don't have to go "back" to work.  We're already here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas . . .

Yesterday, we celebrated Halloween at our house.  Just like millions of other families across the country.  We didn't do anything special -- just made the traditional Halloween chili and carved pumpkins and tossed black and orange balloons around the house with the kids. 

My six year-old was a go-go dancer, because when she spotted the multi-colored costume at Target she thought it was "the most beautiful dress I've ever seen." 

I never did look up what a go-go dancer actually is, and at the back of my mind I wonder if it's really an appropriate choice for a six year-old.  But her excitement over her costume stems purely from the fact that it's so fun and colorful and that she gets to dance while she wears it.  Where's the harm in that? 

My two year-old wore his pajamas.  After first declaring that he wanted to be a car, he changed his mind and decided that no costume would come within three feet of his body.  As it turns out, nobody really cared that the kid wasn't wearing a costume, and he came home with a bag full of candy that weighed at least as much as he does.

But what made Halloween special to me this year was the weather.  The fall weather.  The fact that it was cold enough last night that the kids had to wear long sleeves under their costumes and bring their jackets, cold enough that my daughter was complaining that she needed mittens. 

You can always count on St. Louis weather to turn cold just in time for Halloween.  October may bring plenty of unseasonably warm days, but by Halloween night, you can almost always feel the frost in the air. 

And that's as it should be.

I've spent Halloween in Florida for the past two years.  And I could never get acclimated to the fact that you had to worry about a kid getting too hot in their costume.  It's just plain weird that you can wear your bikini to the beach in the daytime and then go trick-or-treating at night.

So I enjoyed this Halloween a little too much.  I'm getting a big kick out of the changing leaves and the falling temperatures, and appreciating the good old Midwest a little more than I did before.  You can't eat chili or drink hot chocolate or apple cider (spiked of course) in the Florida heat.

Well, you can, but it just doesn't feel right.

And this is why I don't mind that Halloween hasn't even been over for 24 hours yet and Christmas is everywhere.  Stores are stocked and online promotions have begun.  Typically, I would be bitching about the holidays running together and wondering why the Christmas season no longer starts after Thanksgiving like it used to.

Not this year.  I can't wait to bundle up in my coat and mittens and hit the malls with the rest of the crazy people.  I can't wait for the first snow.  I can't wait to put up my Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols and watch It's A Wonderful Life

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  And I'm perfectly okay with that.

Photo credit: sociotard/ flickr

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fun Halloween Activities For St. Louis Kids

With Halloween just around the corner. St. Louis parents are on the lookout for fun, Halloween-themed activities to do with their kids.  Whether you're in the mood for super-scary or just some plain old fun with pumpkins, check out this list of can't-miss Halloween activities around St. Louis.

  • Visit the St. Louis Zoo for St. John's Mercy Children's Hospitals Boo at the Zoo Nights, which take place nightly from 5:30-8:30 through October 30.  For a small admission fee ($1 off for a child in costume), you can enjoy the zoo's "non-scary, kid-friendly Halloween experience."  Everything will be lit up and newly decorated, and there are tons of fun things to do.  You can go on a Night Hike, listen to Fireside Stories, enjoy Cackling Chicken Strips and Scary S'mores at Lakeside Cafe, and much, much more!
  • The Not-So-Haunted-House at the ever-popular Magic House in Kirkwood is also a great option for families of young ones who don't want anything too scary.  Storybook characters from more than 15 children's classic tales will "haunt" the museum, and a "Haunted Trail" will be set up for older boys and girls.  Costumes are encouraged and the event is free with regular admission ($8.75, 1 and above).  The Not-So-Haunted-House will be open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 29-31, and the Magic House will have special extended hours on all three of those days.
  • The Jumpin' Pumpkin Jamboree continues at Eckert's Family Farms this weekend October 30-31.  Ride a wagon out to the pumpkin patch to pick your own pumpkin, and enjoy live entertainment, pony rides, make-your-own-scarecrow, and plenty of other fun children's activities.  The Jamboree takes place at the Belleville, Millstadt, and Grafton Farms.
  • We are lucky in St. Louis to have lots of neat pumpkin patches to visit this time of year.  Rombach's Family Farm in Chesterfield has a great pumpkin patch, with no admission fee or fee for parking and lots to keep you busy and get you in the Halloween spirit.  Stuckmeyer's Farm in Fenton isn't quite as fancy and doesn't have as many pumpkins in it's fields, but they have a huge, fenced-in children's play area with playgrounds, tunnels, mazes, and all sorts of fall fun.  Again, no fee for parking or admission.  For a list of more area pumpkin patches, visit the (and scroll way, way down to the bottom of the page).
  • Many local cities and shopping districts are hosting their own Trick-or-Treat Walks in the upcoming week.  There will be a Halloween Walk in Downtown Kirkwood on Thursday night from 5-7, Trick or Treat on Main will take place on Historic Main Street in St. Charles on Friday from 3-5, and Trick or Treat in the Central West End will take place on Saturday with both trick-or-treating and a costume parade and contest.  Trick-or-treating events will also take place at many malls and libraries; check your local one for details.       
  • Fright Fest at Six Flags is always a scary, heart-pounding experience.  If amusement parks are your thing, you'll love this one.  In the daytime, younger visitors can bob for apples and have kid-friendly fun, but when the sun goes down the event is usually best for older kids who like to be frightened . . . 
  • There are lots of haunted houses around town too, but most are probably a little too scary for younger audiences.  Visit this link if you have older kids or or looking for some grown-up Halloween fun.
Happy Halloween!

Photo credit:  Flickr

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mary Fallin and More Mommy Wars: Does Motherhood Make You A Better Political Candidate?

I'm watching The View right now.  Yes, that's pretty much how I keep up with current events these days . . .

And a discussion of how sad it is that these contentious ladies are considered a credible news source by so many aside, they do have a habit of talking about topics that interest me.

Today, the topic up for discussion is Mary Fallin, the Republican candidate for governor of Oklahoma.  Fallin's Democratic opponent, Jari Askins, is also a woman, so the state of Oklahoma is poised to elect the first female governor in it's history in next Tuesday's election.

Usually, voters would be casting their votes based on their preferred political party, their conservative or liberal leanings, their understanding and assessment of the candidates' qualifications and experience. 

Unfortunately, this race seems to have been reduced to yet another battle in the mommy wars.

In a debate last Tuesday, Mary Fallin stated that her experience as a mother of six (four of whom are stepchildren) makes her more qualified to lead the state of Oklahoma than her unmarried, childless opponent.

It's a pretty simple statement.  I think that many women who have raised families or who are in the midst of caring for young children would agree that it is an exercise in patience, leadership, and compassion, and that you learn all sorts of things about time management, how to motivate people, how to handle delicate situations, how to broker peace agreements. etc. 

I could go on and on about the skills acquired in motherhood, and yes, I do personally believe that experience as a mother can be a valuable asset for a woman in other aspects of her life.   

But . . .

The fact that you learn a lot as a mother isn't really the issue here, nor is it the reason why Ms. Fallin's statement has received so much publicity.  By playing the "mom" card, and more specifically by saying that a woman who hasn't had children is less qualified, the Republican candidate has really put her foot in her mouth. 

Feminists are up in arms over the notion that in the year 2010 a woman's worth can still be defined in terms of her marital and reproductive status.  And even people who agree that motherhood provides her with valuable experience have trouble with her assertion that this experience is more valid than the outstanding (albeit childless) resume of her opponent Ms. Askins.

For me, I believe that bearing and raising children is an integral part of many women's identities.  Motherhood alters your life and changes your perspective.  It grounds you and knocks you on your ass simultaneously.  And unfortunately, it is often dismissed in our culture as less important and less valuable than so many of the other (most often paid) endeavors that women pursue.

Motherhood should be a valid point on a resume.  Raising and caring for our next generation is important work with the potential for huge long-term impact.  But just as women shouldn't be penalized for being mothers, we also shouldn't be penalized for not being a mother.  One isn't better than the other. 

Women are a diverse group, with different strengths, passions, and interests.  We are united by our ability to have children, but we don't need to be defined by it.

Ms. Fallin should be welcome to cite her experience raising her family as one small part of who she is and why she is a better candidate.  I disagree with feminists who claim that motherhood doesn't or shouldn't impact your professional identity at all.

But suggesting that Ms. Askins is lacking simply because she has never had children is taking it too far.  Life is full of choices and trade-offs, and women have come a long way in the past few decades in ensuring that we have the right to make our own choices and choose our own trade-offs. 

Fighting amongst ourselves over who has made the right or the best ones isn't going to help women anywhere. 

Fortunately, getting elected as Governor just might.  My best wishes for each of the two women, mother or not, as she heads into election night. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Talking With Children About Death

My father-in-law passed away a few weeks ago. 

We knew he was sick, but we were not prepared for the end to come so soon.  And really, who among us is ever prepared for the end to come at all for someone who has been such an integral part of our lives . . .

It isn't the first time that I've faced the death of a loved one.  But it is the first time that I've faced it with children, particularly one very astute six year-old who understands things far beyond her years.

So when we realized that the end was near, I knew that I had to talk to her, and explain to her, and answer any questions she might have.

This would have been easier had I known the answers myself . . .

As it stands, I decided to do a little research.  I googled "talking to kids about death" and came up with some obnoxiously self-righteous articles from psychotherapists who claim to know everything and expect every child to be the same.

There seemed to be way too much emphasis on what you shouldn't tell children.  I'm a pretty big fan of open lines of communication, and attached parenting in general. 

At four, my daughter knew how her baby brother was going to come out (and had a very vague idea of how he got in), so this didn't seem like the time to be holding back information. 

Like I'm going to take advice from these people about what to say to my child, a child they've never met.  None of their ideas and suggestions seemed relevant to our situation.

So being the huge fan of books that I am, I turned to Amazon.  I found a couple of children's books that looked decent (not too saccharine and not too dumbed down) and one for adults that at least appeared intelligent.  But in the midst of hospital visits and making sure my kids were cared for and preparing for a funeral in less than 48 hours, I never managed a trip to the bookstore.

And that turned out to be just fine.

I've always loved the saying that"you are the expert on your own child."  I like to read and do research and get ideas from other parents and even experts on all sorts of parenting issues, but in the end, only I know what is right for my family. 

This time was no different.

In the end, I just talked to her.  I told her honestly what I knew, and I told her that there was a lot I didn't know.  She had lots of questions, but none of them were the questions I expected. 

We as adults often seem to project our own grief and emotion and fear of death and the unknown onto our children, when they are processing the entire experience quite differently.  As in many situations, if we just ask them what they're feeling and follow their lead, parenting can be made quite a bit easier.

I've compiled a short list of what I've learned from my own experience in talking with my daughter, so that other parents can get some ideas to think about if this situation arises in your family.  Everything here may not work for you, but at least it's a place to start.
  1. Honesty is the best policy.  Children, even at very young ages, are a lot smarter than most of us give them credit for.  They can tell when mom and dad are sad, or when there is tension in the air.  Smiling and telling them that everything is okay will only confuse them more.  Be honest.  If you're facing the loss of a parent, tell them that you are sad and scared.  It's a normal human reaction for you, and an important learning experience for them. 
  2. Don't leave them in the dark.  When I started leaving my children with my mom, and spending a lot of time at the hospital with my husband, I knew it was time to explain what was going on.  Not telling kids doesn't protect them; it blindsides them.  You don't have to share every detail with them--you probably shouldn't--but show them respect, and acknowledge them as an important part of the family with feelings that matter just as much as the grown-ups.   
  3. Talk less, ask more.  Parents have a habit of talking too much.  Chances are, your children will have lots of questions.  Let those questions be your guide.  "What do you want to know?"  is an easy way to get the conversation started.  For example, my daughter was very interested in the details of the wake and the funeral, and wanted to know precisely what was going to happen and why.  We ended up talking a lot about rituals and customs and celebrating the circle of life, all things I probably wouldn't have brought up on my own.  She was also fascinated by the details of how and why he got sick, and what caused his body to stop working.  Her interest in the technical aspects of the situation instead of the emotional aspects intrigued me, as it gave me new insight into her personality and the way her mind works.   
  4. Avoid the sleep metaphor.  This one isn't mine--I read it somewhere--but I think it makes sense.  If you tell a child that the loved one in the coffin is "sleeping," they may be afraid to go to sleep for fear they'll never wake up.  This goes back to the issue of honesty; they aren't sleeping, so why tell children that they are . . .
  5. Be open to the wisdom of children.  In talking to my six year-old about the meaning of life and death, I found myself wondering who was learning from who.  Many of her questions astounded me, but what amazed me the most was her simple acceptance of death as a sad but necessary part of life.  
  6. Admit it when you don't know.  "Mommy," my daughter asked, "If his eyes stay in his body, how will he see us from heaven?"  Ummm . . . . I found out the hard way that it's quite difficult to explain the concept of bodies and souls to your child when your own belief system isn't clearly defined.  Death forces us as adults to confront issues that we push to the back of our minds in everyday life; children force us to admit when we ourselves are struggling to find the answers.  If you don't know, tell them you don't know.  But then involve them in your quest for answers.  For us, this means a renewed conviction to attend church regularly.  For you, it may be something very different.  Don't feel like you're supposed to always know the answers; instead make it a learning experience for both of you.
Have you faced the death of a loved one with your child?  How old were they?  How did you handle it?

Photo credit:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Return to the Sunday Surf: 9/12-9/25

I was hesitant to start doing a Sunday Surf in the first place because I just kept thinking about how then you have to, like, actually commit to having a post for every Sunday.  But then I remembered that:

a) it's my blog and I can do what I want and
b) very few people are reading anyway.

So chances are pretty good that, most Sundays, you'll find a Sunday Surf here.  And if I have a week like last week, you won't.  I'm pretty sure that, in those instances where I don't manage one, nobody is really going to care anyway . . .

This week, however, I have somehow managed to pull a few things together from the past few weeks on the web.
  • recall of many types of Similac infant fomula due to the possible presence of beetles and larvae has made big news in the parenting world.  In an article at The StirFormula Recall Brings Out the Mean in Breastfeeders, Julie Ryan Evans poses an interesting question about whether it's ever okay to use a moment like this to tell mothers that this is why they "should" have breastfed.  There are a lot of statements in the article that I don't care for -- because it's pretty obvious that all they're trying to "stir" up over there is controversy and web traffic -- but Evans' makes a valid point that catty and unproductive comments are "not really necessary when women are terrified about a product they may have given their baby that's making them sick."  This unfortunate incident does highlight the risks of formua feeding, but it also highlights the need for compassion for parents who have made choices different from our own. 
  • Apparently, Katy Perry is too hot for Sesame Street.  A segment that the popular singer taped for the show will not be broadcast on television due to complaints over her "skimpy" costume.  The outfit doesn't bother me at all, but I can see why some parents complained.  It's a cute clip and a catchy song if you want to check it out.  Though you may be a bad parent if you let your kids watch it . . .

  • A two-part discussion of separation anxiety at Secrets of Baby Behavior struck me as something a lot of new parents might be interested in.  (And if you're looking for some blog controversy on the issue of toddlers and separation, go back a few months and check out this post at the already controversial Peaceful Parenting blog, and then read this post post at Raising My Boychick).  The last two aren't new but they definitely provide food for thought, particularly if you're interested in attachment-style parenting. 
  • A recipe for Banana-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies that contain no sugar or butter at Weelicious.  I know the no-butter-or-sugar thing doesn't sound promising, but click on over and go look at the picture.  They look soooo good!  And the blog/website has a ton of great recipes for babies, toddlers, and older kids, plus daily lunch box pictures for those of us who struggle to know what to pack that's both healthy and fun day after day after day.
  • If you live in St. Louis, you don't want to miss Come Play! at COCA on Saturday, October 2 from 9-3.  Find out all about the free event from St. Louis Kids Magazine
  • Mom-101 always makes me smile, but I particularly enjoyed her post this week about the use of stars as a behavior/reward system in kindergarten.  Are you a star-parent or a no-star parent?  Clearly, lines have been drawn in the sand . . . 
  • Elita at Blacktating shared a link to an article called Why African Babies Don't Cry.  I always find it fascinating to see how our assumptions about what to expect when raising children are so heavily influenced by cultural norms.
  • The Business of Being BornA study of 253 California hospitals was released this month, showing that c-section rates are significantly higher at for-profit hospitals than they are at not-for-profit hospitals.  Um, duh.  Hospitals make a lot of money off of birth in general, and c-sections in particular.  That's why Ricki Lake's movie was called The Business of Being Born . . .
So now you've got lots to look into.  Be sure to check back next Sunday, when there may or may not be another Sunday Surf!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Putting The Smart Into St. Louis Smart Mama: How I Named My Blog and Why I Don't Like It

It's true.  I don't like the name of my blog at all.  Primarily because I tend to think that people who refer to themselves as "smart" are smug and, often, quite pretentious.

And that's not me.

But when you set up an account with Blogger, you have to have a name right away so that you can set up your web address.  And I for the life of me couldn't come up with one that I liked.

There are tons of cute and clever and witty blog titles out there.  I was convinced that if I thought hard enough and long enough then I could certainly come up with one too -- something short and catchy that would capture my essence and epitomize the funny and poignant things I hoped to write about.

As it turns out, I couldn't think of anything clever.  And I also haven't done any of the funny, poignant, earth-shatteringly good writing that I was hoping to do.

Which is kinda the very reason why my blog has the title that it does.

Because I used to be smart.  Back in the day, I did really well in school.  As in, like, I was the girl who was always reading and studying and who graduated from high school as the salutatorian with one of those ridiculously inflated GPA's. 

4.608 cumulative to be exact.  There was even one year when I had a 5.0.  Now, you can argue that that's only one kind of smart, and I'll be the first to agree that the system of class rank is a bad way to judge aptitude, and that my #2 ranking in no way means that I was really any smarter than the student who graduated at #3 or at #10 or at #500 for that matter.

But I do think that it's proof that I'm far from being an idiot.  I had so much AP credit from high school that I was able to graduate from a really good college in three years, instead of the typical four. 

I did very well in school because I was good at reading difficult texts and analyzing nuances and writing about deep and complicated issues in a clear and articulate way.  I once had a professor tell me that mine was "the best undergraduate paper he had ever read." 

I'm not writing this because I think you care.  I'm writing this to remind myself.

Because, now, I'm a stay-at-home mom.  It's been almost ten years since I saw the inside of a classroom, or wrote something that someone was going to read and grade.  And, let me tell you, I feel like I've been majorly "dumbed down."  Like my brain doesn't function the way it used to, and like I can neither comprehend nor articulate as I once could. 

People I went to school with are now getting PhD's, and I can barely think clearly enough to decide whether to serve chicken or tacos for dinner.

Why has this happened?  I don't know.  There's an interesting post over at Fertile Feminism that tackles the issue of "baby brain," and whether the phenomenon of mothers losing intellectual capacity actually exists.

"Is the psychology of motherhood subconsciously learned and culturally-ingrained or is it simply a case of biological design, wherein mothers are destined to expend more brain power on their offspring than on themselves or the world around them?"

I don't think my kids have made me "stupid," but I do think that they somehow manage to sap all of my energy.  It's hard to think clearly or do anything intellectual in nature when two small and very dependent people are always right beside you and always in need of something

Maybe other women have figured it out, and can combine childrearing and intellectual work. 

I clearly haven't.     

The fact remains that I just don't feel very smart anymore.  Right before I started blogging, my husband bought me a book called Buddhism: Plain and Simple.  The book is fascinating (as is Buddhism itself), but I found myself reading and re-reading passages three and four times trying to grasp the concepts that were being discussed.  I felt like I was back in Calculus class.  I felt like I shouldn't have to be thinking quite so hard in order to understand what the author was talking about. 

"Back in the day," I thought to myself, "I would have been smart enough to only have to read this once.  I used to be smarter than this."

I used to be smarter than this.

I used to be smarter than this.

The thought just wouldn't get out of my head.

And then I decided to start blogging.

St. Louis Smart Mama is the title I decided to use because it defines who I want to be -- and because I like the alliteration and couldn't think of anything better

I'm from St. Louis.  I'm a mom.  And I want to be smart, and have smart conversations about topics that really matter. 
So this blog is just me, trying to remind myself of how smart I used to be. 

And trying to convince myself that I can be that smart again.

Photo credit: Goodlad2       

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cleaning Out The Closets: 4 Great St. Louis Children's Resale Shops

With an economic crisis still looming over our heads, many families are living on a tight budget.  Often, this means shopping for back-to-school clothes at resale and consignment shops instead of buying everything new from the brand name stores at the mall.  These stores usually offer great deals on the same name brand items, and many of the clothes look practically new.

But resale shops are important for more than just a way to save some money on your purchases:  they are also a great way to actually put cash in your pocket.

By simply cleaning out your closets, you can simultaneously declutter your life and make a little extra money.  And here in St. Louis, we are lucky to have some great resale shops where we can do this!

  1. Kangaroo Kids.  Kangaroo Kids is dear to my heart because it doubles as both a resale shop and a maternity and breastfeeding support center.  At the locally-owned store, which is conveniently located on Manchester Road in Glendale, you can take in both children's and maternity clothes, and you will be paid either cash or store credit (your choice) for the items they choose to purchase.  No appointment necessary!
  2. Purple Cow Kids Resale.  I've never been to this store on Gravois Road in South County, but the name alone makes me want to go.  Like Kangaroo Kids, you get paid cash at Purple Cow for the items they choose to purchase.  It is also locally owned and operated by the daughter of the woman behind the Women's Closet Exchange, which is the #1 women's consignment shop in the country.  So I'm guessing these women know their stuff . . . 
  3. Kids Again.  If you live in Florissant, you might like to visit Kids Again.  It's a small space, but it's packed with great deals.  They'll go through your stuff while you wait and even have a play area where your kids are sure to be entertained while you browse.
  4. Once Upon A Child.  With several stores throughout the St. Louis area (and around the country), Once Upon A Child is a big name in children's resale.  All local stores are independently owned and operated, but they are also franchises within the larger system.  Which can be both good and bad.  I was frustrated a few years ago when I took some clothes from baby Gap (which were in excellent condition, and not out of style or season) into the Ballwin location and they didn't purchase them because they were more than two seasons old.  But they did take plenty of other stuff and I think I made about $60 bucks, so I can't complain.
With these great resale options, it should be easy to get that summer stuff moved out of your closets in time to make room for winter coats and sweaters.  And if you end up with items that none of the resale shops want to buy, you can always try to sell them yourself through craigslist or by having a garage sale.  Or consider donating the items to Goodwill or a local shelter.  Even if you don't get the cash, you'll still enjoy all that emtpty space in your closets!  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Surf 9/6-9/11

Once again, it's been a busy week on the web.  Here are some of the highlights that I think are worth checking out:
  • In an article for The Huffington Post, Assistant Professor of medical anthropology and reproductive health Melissa Cheyney questions why doctors and midwives can't seem to work together in order to improve birth outcomes for American women.  Did you know that the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates of any developed country?  Read Cheyney's article Why Home Births Are Worth Considering in order to find out more. 
  • Visit a peek inside the fishbowl to get the recipe for what appear to be the most famous granola bars on the web.  I'll be adding a healthy dose of semi-sweet chocolate chips to mine - because in our house we firmly believe that everything is better with chocolate!
  • The New York Times has officially announced that it will stop printing it's paper edition "someday."  As someone who absolutely hates her digital subscriptions and would much rather curl up in a cozy chair with a real magazine or newspaper and not a laptop, I'm disappointed.  Though I suppose it would be worse if I actually read The New York Times . . . 
  • Jake at Sustainable Mothering alerted me to an interesting post over at the blog Owning Pink entitled Want A Raise? Wash Your Vagina.  I'm not going to comment on this one -- I'll let you check it out for yourself and form your own opinions . . .    
Surf away - I'm off to watch a football game!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dining Out With Kids: Do Children Belong In Fancy Restaurants?


For a lot of parents, the prospect of an evening spent dining out in a fine restaurant prompts an automatic call to the babysitter.  Children get chicken nuggets or spaghettio's while mom and dad enjoy a delicious and peaceful meal.  It's a win-win situation.

Or is it?

There seems to be an unspoken rule in our culture that there are restaurants where "children don't belong." 

You know, the kind with fine china and white tablecloths and servers who seem to have nothing better to do than stand there and watch you eat and anticipate your every move -- I've been to Tony's exactly once, and I don't care how good their food is, if fine dining means ten pairs of eyes watching me spill spaghetti down my front, then I don't need it anyway.  I looooove good food, but I hate snobbish pretentiousness. 

But I'm digressing . . .

For some reason, we expect to see children in only a certain "type" of restaurant -- the type with a drive-thru window or a clown with balloons or a Kid's Eat Free promotion.  Basically, any restaurant with a kid's menu comprised of the obligatory chicken fingers, Kraft macaroni and cheese, or hot dog and french fries.

Oh, and toasted ravioli if you live here in St. Louis.

But what are we teaching our children about food if we never let them experience what "real" food tastes like?  And more importantly, what are we teaching them about their place in the world? 

That they count less just because they're young?  That they aren't big enough or important enough to deserve a place at a real table or to eat food that won't clog their arteries and contribute to scores of health problems in the future?

Or is it that we as adults are too busy or too lazy to take the time to teach them the things they need to know and the manners they need to have in order to dine out successfully?

Because, yes, I know that there are people who don't want children in nice restaurants.  Check out this YouTube clip about a restaurant owner who put up a No Screaming Children sign.  Be sure to listen to the discussion at the end, because it's a complicated issue and you'll hear some interesting opinions.

Now, I know that there are plenty of people who are annoyed by children in general.  I remember that old cliche about how children should be seen and not heard.  But children have to learn somehow.  And they aren't going to learn manners and proper social graces unless we teach them to them and then take them -- gasp, horror -- out in public to places where they can practice these manners.

I actually agree that screaming children and bad behavior don't belong in a nice restaurant (or in any restaurant for that matter - just because you're at McDonald's is no reason to let your kids run wild). 

But I also know that most parents are doing their best, and sometimes it just happens.  Sometimes, it's your child who starts screaming in the restaurant, and you're the one getting the stares and the can't-miss vibes that "that child shouldn't even be in here in the first place." 

Which is kind of ironic because if you're anything like me you were probably already thinking "Oh my God, I shouldn't have brought him in here in the first place."

"What really needs to be recognized about children," writes Renee at Womanist Musings in her post My Child Takes Up Space, "is that they don't have the capacity to act in the same way that adults do.  This does not make them lesser beings and we need to find a way to accommodate them, even when they make drinking a latte a less than comfortable thing."  She goes on to write:

"Quite frankly it is not your business and I don't care how much you spent on a meal at a restaurant.  My children are not going to grow up with the idea that going to McDonald's is eating out because you think that their presence detracts from the ambiance."

Jenny at The Nourished Kitchen also has a great post on this issue entitled Raising Real Food Kids:  10 Tips For Dining Out With Your Child in which she offers practical solutions for the real-life dilemmas that you may encounter when you try to take your little ones to nice restaurants.

Her suggestions include things like arriving early before the restaurant is too busy, bring small, quiet toys, sitting outside or near an exit in case you need to make a quick getaway, and discussing restaurant etiquette before leaving home.

Taking children to eat in nice restaurants requires effort and planning.  It requires that we as parents have an idea of what type of food will be on the menu and are reasonably certain that we will be able to find something our children will enjoy.  It requires that we know how long they will be able to sit still.  It requires that we know not to take them into a quiet place when it's late at night and they are both tired and hungry.  It requires patience. 

Like most other acts of parenting, it requires work.

And I totally get that sometimes it's work that we're too tired to do. 

Sometimes, it's harder with one child than another.  When my daughter was 2, we took her to restaurants like The Drunken Fish (excellent St. Louis sushi, by the way) quite often, and she was always well-behaved.  Now that my son is 2, I can't imagine taking him into a restaurant like that.  It would be way too much stress for all involved, because he just doesn't have the capability to sit still and talk quietly that my daughter had at that age. 

But, you can count on it that as soon as he's a little older and a little more mature, he'll be going with us.

Because while I believe that screaming children don't belong in restaurants, and that a good family restaurant has its place, and that a babysitter and a child-free meal are fine once in a while -- or hell, every Saturday night if you can swing it -- I also believe that we should introduce our children to good food and good restaurants as soon as we feel they are ready.

I believe that our children deserve better than McDonalds, and that if we really want to, we can offer them so much more.


Do you take your children to nice restaurants?  What are your favorite St. Louis restaurants for eating with your kids?  Are they all casual, or do you frequent some fancy places?  And what do you do when they can't behave? 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Can Children Teach Themselves?

I'm always fascinated by new and seemingly radical ideas about education.  This may explain why I was so intrigued when I came across this talk from education scientist Sugata Mitra.

Mitra's premise:  that children, if motivated by their own curiosity, can teach both themselves and others.

Watch his talk below.  What can we learn from his ideas and techniques to improve the educational system here in the United States? 

Would our children learn more if we offered guided instruction less?   

If you enjoyed the ideas in this video, or are interested in reading more from someone who questions the goals and values inherent within the American public school system, you might also like John Taylor Gatto's book Dumbing Us Down:  The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My First Sunday Surf: Real Food, Religion, Babble, and A Guest Post

It's been a busy week, complete with a toddler smashing his face in at Super Wal-Mart, a sister headed back to college, and, finally, today, the big move into our new home.

I had already forgotten how much work it is to unpack all your stuff and turn an empty house into a place that feels like home.

So I decided to take a break from deep thinking and just post some stuff that's already been posted.  Call me a slacker, I guess . . .

One of my favorite posts of the week came from Jenny at The Nourished Kitchen.  I've recently discovered Jenny's popular blog where she writes about real food and shares wholesome, traditional recipes, and her food philosophy intrigues me.  Probably because she believes that eating things like meat and butter, which I could never do without, can be part of a healthy diet. 

I don't know what my own food philosophy is right now, but Jenny's post 10 Tips For Real Food Newbies has me thinking that real food may be the way to go.

The story about the mother who revived her premature baby through physical touch after he had been declared dead has also made the rounds in the news this week, and Amy at Crunchy Domestic Goddess has a great post explaining both the story and the meaning and benefits of the term "kangaroo care."

I also really enjoyed the post Religion, The Things That Define Us, and Goodness over at Breastfeeding Moms Unite.  It's always impressive to me when bloggers share their personal thoughts and feelings because it automatically seems to make them more vulnerable to criticism and unsubscribing fans. 

Be sure to read the comments, too -- I was amazed by the intensity of the religious conviction held by so many of the people who responded, and also found the back-and-forth discussion of religious issues to be quite fascinating.

PhD in Parenting has a disappointing post at the moment -- not that I'm disappointed by the post itself, but I am disappointed that it had to be written.  In Similac and Babble Team Up To Dupe Breastfeeding Moms, Annie writes about the new Similac Breastfeeding Guide that is prominently displayed on the popuar parenting website. 

I realize that not all moms breastfeed, but don't those who do deserve to find reliable and accurate resources on any parenting website or in any parenting magazine that wants to be considered credible?  Formula companies aren't reliable breastfeeding resources.  They're just not.       

And if you're interested in birth stuff or have ever considered having a baby at home, check out my guest post over at Birth Activist on the subject of Husbands and Home Birth.  I talk about my own personal experience convicing my husband that home birth was a good choice for us, and offer my own personal theories -- which of course hold absolutely no scientific validity --  about why birth at home (and often birth in general) can be so terrifying for the men in our lives. 

Happy surfing!!!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Getting Sappy: Reflections of Motherhood Video From

Okay, maybe the following video is a little sappy, but I still like it and think it's worth sharing.  Since I find that I tend to get a little snarky on my here sometimes, it can't hurt to have something a little more positive and uplifting once in a while . . . asked moms what they would tell they're pre-baby selves if they could go back in time. 

These are their answers.

My personal favorite:

Google doesn't have children.

Which ones were your favorites?  What would you tell your pre-baby self if you had the opportunity?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How Super Wal-Mart Turned Me Into One Of THOSE Mothers!!!

It was an ugly scene.

Picture it. 

A young mother pushes her cart through Super Wal-Mart, struggling through the aisles, trying to finish her shopping with two tired, hungry, and rambunctious kids in tow.  A girl of about six dances alongside of her  -- narrowly missing a collision with a display of peaches -- and a boy of about two has climbed onto the end of the cart -- you know, the place where children are not supposed to ride but can't seem to resist.

The distressed mother is heading back to the produce section for that one final item, the broccoli that she forgot on her first trip down that aisle, when it happens.

The toddler turns to step off of the cart, trips, and SPLAT!!! is suddenly layed out face-first on the hard floor.  Screams of anguish ensue, annoyed shoppers turn to stare, and for a split second, the woman is convinced that the kid has probably broken every bone in his face. 

And, of course everyone is looking at her wondering "Why can't this woman control her kids?"

The horror of this story?

That it was me.

That I've become one of those mothers.

One of those mothers who does not always seem to have it all under control.  One of those mothers who doesn't always keep her children perfectly in-check.  One of those mothers who looks like she doesn't have a clue what she's doing.  One of those mothers who would probably bribe her children with candy from the checkout line if only she could fiish her shopping in peace.  One of those mothers who clearly doesn't care what she looks like as long as she can get throught this day in one piece.

One of those mothers who I used to swear I would never be.

As a new mom to a precious litte girl, I had high ideals and high standards.  And with one child, I was usually able to live up to them.  My rule at the grocery store was simple:  you don't get out of the cart.  It was the rule, and I meant it, and she knew I meant it. 

I also always came prepared;  I brought snacks and games and had all kinds of tricks up my sleeves for dealing with toddlers in the grocery store.  The combination of her fairly cooperative personality and my new mom energy and motivation to "get everything right" made for many mostly pleasant shopping experiences.

And then I had baby number two.

And he is different.  And I am different.  And when you put us together in a massively overwhelming place like Super Wal-Mart, we're like an atom bomb just waiting to explode.

Super Wal-Mart, by the way, didn't exist in St. Louis when my daughter was little.  Back then, in the good old days, I shopped at the regular-sized grocery stores, and thought I was in heaven when the miniature-sized Trader Joes moved into town.  I'm convinced that the new trend in "superstores" is a direct attempt by our society to literally send moms with small children over the edge . . .   

So, like I said baby #2 is different.  He's a boy -- which I know is just a social construct that I shouldn't use to describe him -- but his gender is thus far the only tangible way I can find to explain why he is so different from his sister.  He runs more, he jumps more, he aways seems like he's ready to physically explode.  He doesn't care what my rules are or how seriously I mean them.  He would gleefully run away from me in a store without ever looking back, and he's not averse to climbing out my cart and into the meat case the moment I'm not looking.    

And I'm different too.  I may only be a few years older, and only a few years more experienced as a mom, but I've already lost sight of that bright-eyed, new mom I used to be.  I don't have the energy to always come prepared with snacks.  I don't care if other shoppers look at me with judgement or question my methods with my kids.  I manage to get the groceries I need and keep everybody alive.  Good behavior entirely optional.

I have more simple goals these days.

Essentially, I've grown up a little bit.  I've become one of those mothers who knows that bad days happen to good mothers.  One of those mothers who knows that it doesn't matter what other people think about me and my kids and my choices.  One of those mothers who is doing her best but still always falling short of her ideals.

And, most importantly, one of those mothers who knows that falling short is sometimes okay.


Do you have any grocery store horror stories?  What are your best tips and tricks for shopping with kids?  Have you found that your mothering style and mentality has changed as your kids have gotten older and you've become more experienced?   


Friday, August 27, 2010

The Mom Who Never Has A Camera

Before the birth of my first baby, my doula suggested that I bring a camera to the hospital and think about designating someone to take pictures in the delivery room. 

"You may regret it someday if you don't have any pictures.  At least this way, you'll have them if you want them."

I didn't take the pictures.

But that's just who I am. 

I'm the mom who never has a camera.

Anywhere you go, moms seem to have cameras.  Other women seem obsessed with documenting the tiniest details of their children's lives, from delivery onward.  They compile albums, they scrapbook, they have memberships to portrait studios because they visit them so frequently. 

This is not to say that I have no pictures or that I see no value in capturing freeze frames of fleeting moments.  When I remember, or when the camera happens to find it's way into my purse or my car, I've snapped some beautiful, candid shots.  The walls of my home are covered with many of my favorite family photos, and they are among my most cherished possessions.  But most of them are pictures I came by randomly, and only a couple are from real "sittings" with a professional photographer.  I like it that way.  It feels real to me.  It feels like I'm living my life with my family and occasionally taking snapshots as reminders of the good times we've enjoyed, rather than studiously documenting every moment for posterity.

Yes, there are times when I've missed capturing special moments because I haven't had my camera with me.  There are certainly pictures that I don't have and have come to wish I had taken. 

But for the most part, I like my haphazard way of collecting pictures -- an occasional portrait sitting here, some candid shots there.  It isn't right for everybody; I know that there are lots of women who love scrapbooking, and I'm sure that somewhere there are some who have even scrapbooked their births . . . 

As for me, I still haven't come to regret my decision not to take those birth pictures.  Those images are instead among the many rich and vivid memories that are stored carefully away on the hard drive of my mind.

And that's a hard drive that can never be erased.


What kind of picture-taker are you?  Do you take tons of photos and schedule portrait sittings for every birthday?  Or do you always find yourself without a camera?  What kind of family photographs are important to you?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spreading the Word: Postpartum Depression, AOL, and Mothers Who Harm Their Children

I've never experienced postpartum depression. 

I've experienced some pretty dark moments as a mother, moments when sleep deprivation and anger and frustration and exhaustion and despair and the stresses of everyday life seem overwhelming. 

Moments when I've wished to be anywhere but here with this screaming, endlessly needy infant.

But I've never come close to experiencing postpartum depression.  I can't even imagine how truly terrifying it must be for a mother to endure.

And, like Annie at PhD in Parenting wrote, there are other women, women who have been there, whose voices need to be heard.

An article appeared on AOL today about the recent murder of two young South Carolina boys by their mother.  It included a comment made by a criminal profiler, a woman named Pat Brown who stated that postpartum depression is a "crock." 

And there are some very smart, very strong women who have been very pissed off by this blanket statement about what is a very real illness.

I don't know the specifics of the case in South Carolina, but, in this situation, they don't seem to matter.  Pat Brown wasn't just speaking specifically about this one case.  She was making a blanket statement about women everywhere.

If you're interested in this story, you can read the AOL article here.  Keep in mind, however, that it has already been edited to remove the controversial comments. 

If you're interested in some smart, serious discussions from women who have battled depression first-hand,  then here are the links that you really need to read.

Read this post from Postpartum Progress.

Or visit Catherine at Her Bad Mother and read her post The Monster In the Closet.

You can also read An Open Letter to Pat Brown (the profiler who made the offensive statement) at the Pretty Babies blog.  And the post has been updated to include Pat Brown's response.

These women, and women like them, are the experts.  They may not be professionals, and they may not  have all the answers, but they've been there.

They've been there.  In my mind, that gives them a very real right to a very valid opinion.

The criminal profiler?  Maybe, and that's a big maybe, she has a valid opinion in the specific case that she has been working on. 

But an opinion on postpartum depression in women everywhere?

No way in hell.

And AOL should know that.        

Saturday, August 14, 2010

True Mom Confessions: I Sent My Daughter to Kindergarten Because She Watches Too Much TV

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Is it really possible that many St. Louis students are headed back to school next week?  In the midst of this heat wave?  Isn't this one of those, oh, I don't know, really good reasons why school didn't used to start until after Labor Day?  And am I actually at a point where I'm old enough to start remembering back in the day? 

Just kill me now . . .

My own daughter isn't currently a part of the back-to-school fanfare and won't be headed to school next week -- because we're still finalizing details of where we'll be moving to for this school year, and because I'm still wrestling with my eternally conflicted feelings about home school vs. public school vs. the private schools that we can't afford. 

So I've decided to share a post that I wrote last year, about my decision to send my daughter to kindergarten in Florida.  It was a tough one, and not one that was reached lightly.  But, in the end, it was also a good one.  A really good one.  So I'm hoping that, by revisiting my thinking back then, I'll be inspired to give myself a much-needed kick in the rear, and will be able to make a decision one way or the other about what to do this year.  And then, you know, move on.

Or maybe not.  I guess we'll see . . .


I sent my daughter to kindergarten because she watches too much TV.

Okay, that's not entirely true . . .

But it's a little more true than I would like it to be . . .

I know that, for most people, you send your child to kindergarten because he or she has turned five by whatever randomly designated "cutoff date" your home state has decreed. 

Or you have your child "tested," determine that you have a genius on your hands, and send little Johnny off a year early, despite the fact that, no matter how smart he is, he is in no way developmentally ready for the unavoidable emotional stresses of school.

Yes, that is an unnecessary smart-ass remark.

I, unfortunately, am not one of those people who is content to do something just because someone else said I should. 

Especially Florida's Department of Education. 

Do you remember the 2000 election and the stellar role that the state of Florida played in that disaster?  That tends to make me even more squeamish about the idea of the state government having any sort of a say in my child's education.

I have serious qualms with the public school system in general, and Florida's full-day kindergarten program in particular.  And yet, last month, I turned my precious 5 year-old daughter over to that very kindergarten program.

Why, you might ask?

It wasn't because she just happened to turn 5 before September 1.  It wasn't because I thought she needed social interaction.  It wasn't because I expected her to learn a lot, or thought they might actually teach her something worthwhile.  It wasn't even because I needed a break and wanted to have some time away from her.

It was mostly because of the Disney channel.

We love the Disney channel in our house:  Hannah Montana, The Suite Life (at the Tipton or On Deck), Sonny With A Chance, Wizards of Waverly Place . . . you get the picture.

Photo credit alacoolk

And except for the morning (when there is Playhouse Disney, as some of you may know) the shows are on ALL DAY LONG!!!

Now, letting my daughter sit on the couch and watch the Disney channel all day long is in no way my idea of good mothering.  And I can honestly -- and I'm breathing a sigh of relief here -- say that there has never been a day when this has happened.

But recently, we've come way too close.  I can slowly feel myself morphing into the kind of mom who would let her kids watch TV all day, every day if it meant that I could get even a moment of peace.

So I decided that school just might be a better alternative right now. 

For both of us.

She can get out of the house and away from her grouchy, overly-stressed mother, and interact with adults who aren't, well, me.

And I can have six hours a day free from her constant chatter.  I wouldn't call it a break, since I'm still chasing a wildly energetic 15 month-old, but at least he doesn't talk yet, and there are moments when I can actually hear myself think.

They're fleeting, but they are there.

Yes, I feel guilty.  I feel like she's going to school for the wrong reasons.  I worry that I'm killing her creativity and ruining her life.  I think about homeschooling, which was (and still is) attractive to me in so many ways, not the least of which is the fact that I wouldn't have to drag my tired self out of bed at the crack of dawn every morning -- okay, okay, neither would she -- I'm supposed to be thinking about what's best for her, not me, I know.

And there's this awesome thing called unschooling where you as a parent don't really have to do anything except trust that they'll learn what they need to know when they need to know it.

This ALL appeals to me.

But, at the moment, she loves kindergarten.  She loves her teacher and her classmates and all the daily drama and excitement that comes with a room full of 5 year-olds. 

Kindergarten, as it turns out, is a lot more entertaining than I am.   

And even though I like to think that, if she were home during the day, I would do all sorts of fun, enriching activities, I know that it would never happen.  When you're at a point in your life where you're asking yourself what on earth made you decide that you had it together enough to actually try and raise other people, it just doesn't feel like the best time to take on more responsibility.

So, at least for the time being, I chose kindergarten over the Disney channel.  Was it the right choice?  I don't know. My hope is that the public school system will teach my daughter something more valuable than what she might learn from Miley Cyrus.

My fear is that it won't.


In case you were wondering, I'm at a much better place in my life now than I was when I wrote this a year ago . . .   

And, yes, my daughter did, in fact, learn more in kindergarten than she would have from Miley Cyrus -- and, given the year that Miley has had, I'm glad that I chose to separate them :)

But I still maintain my overall concerns with our public school system, whether in Florida or Missouri or any other state.  One positive experience, with one particular teacher, in one particular school, can't negate what is, overall, a very flawed system.

So now what?  

Now, I have some serious thinking to do.