Wednesday 29 June 2011

7 Reasons Why Prenatal Classes are Bullshit

Before I had babies, thanks to TV,  I thought that the birthing process went something as follows:

With no warning, and usually when there is some kind of crisis, the expectant mother will drop several buckets of water onto the floor and confidently announce, "The baby is coming!"  The father will suddenly start freaking out and running around everywhere to try and get his wife to the hospital and with good reason.  He has about fifteen minutes to get there or else his wife will have to hilariously deliver their baby in any number of places: a taxi cab, church or sporting event for example.  As the mother stands there puffing her face up with the ridiculous and overly complicated breathing patterns she watches her husband grab everything, shove it into the car in record time (because of course they have been practicing with dry runs for months now) and then drive away without her.

Once he realizes what he's done he will return and get his wife who by now is screaming like a banshee.  She screams at him, "No way! There's no time! This baby is coming now!"  A bunch of people start boiling water while Dad lifts up his wife's skirt (because apparently all pregnant women wear dresses all the time) and magically delivers a six month old baby without even having to remove his wife's nylons and underwear.  Everybody is happy and healthy and the audience cheers.  Roll credits.

Clearly I was well-prepared with this helpful information but then my doctor told me that women who take prenatal classes are statistically less likely to need medical intervention during childbirth.  This sounded great to me because I am terrified of surgery.  How terrified am I?  I would rather squeeze that baby's melon through my pelvic cage the old-fashioned way.  Well it turns out that for all that the prenatal classes prepared me for childbirth I may as well have stuck to sitcoms.  Here is a list of the seven ways prenatal classes are total bullshit.

1)  Welcome to prenatal class.  We are totally bullshit.  Yup.  That was my first lesson.  The public health nurse, let's call her Joanna, stood up in front of us and owned that shit.  The very first thing she told us was that only about 10% of births take fifteen minutes through underwear barriers in the back of a cab.  She said that every birth was unique and that no matter what you did to prepare some crazy, unpredictable shit will go down to render all of your preparations completely fucking useless.   Well Joanna, I have to admit this does not inspire confidence.

At this point you may be wondering why I stayed long enough to graduate.  Mostly because they were free.  I skipped paying the $40 by lying about my age and enrolling myself into a prenatal class for single teens.  This worked because at the time Daddy was busy working two jobs in preparation for his new family and thus couldn't go to any of the classes with me.  Instead I went with Mummy Dearest.  Which brings me to my next point:

2) Your instructor may be a little out of touch.  I should have known I was in trouble when Mummy recognized Joanna as the public health nurse who taught the prenatal class she took when she was pregnant with me.  Yup.  The same woman who educated my mother about standard hospital births which at that time included: routine pubic shaving, routine enemas (because I guess the doctors didn't like it when women shit on the floor pushing out the baby) and routine episiotomies (or as a friend of mine calls it "butt-snipping").  This was one short generation from knocking the mother out with ether until it was all over. 

3)  Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural and free and best for your baby and might hurt like hellWait, what was that last part?  Umm...hello?  I didn't hear the last part!  Could you please repeat the last part!?!  Joanna?

4)  To save time let's just make stuff up.  After all, Joanna couldn't be bothered to check her facts or update them in any meaningful way, so she might just invent stories to make you feel better.  One fairytale I particularly resented was the bullshit story she made up about epidurals.  A lot of moms worry and feel guilty about the epidural.  Joanna decided that it was better to make you feel better about it rather than give you actually useful information.  She told us about some mythical thing called a "walking epidural".  "Oh no," she told us, "doctors like to only give enough of the epidural to take the edge off the pain.  You can still feel your contractions and feel like you are a part of the birthing process.  Also it allows you to be able to walk around during your labour so that gravity can help bring the baby sooner."  That sounds great!  Sign me up!

Flash forward.  I had been labouring in agony for about 16 hours when a nurse, tired of listening to my racket and after repeated requests to calm the fuck down (she was lovely) offered me the epidural.  Weak and exhausted I agreed knowing that I would get this magical walking epidural.  Two hours later I was lying flat on my back on a bed that could only be described as a table with a cot mattress on it, frozen solid from the tits down. When I asked about the walking epidural all they did was laugh at me.  Oh, and by the way that is how hospital staff answers any reasonable question:

Me:  Is it really necessary for me to lie flat on my back?  Isn't that bad for the baby?

Nurse: (laugh)

Me:  Well coudn't I just prop myself up with a pillow or something?  I'm feeling a little whoozy like this...

Nurse: (laugh)

Me:  How about just a little less anesthesia?  I'm kind of like a living corpse here.

Nurse: (laugh)

5)  When you are in labour you can bring snacks from home.  But you can't actually have any of those snacks.  Those popsicles and lollipops you thought would be so nice to have are now verboten especially if you were stupid enough to agree to the epidural.  Because maybe you might throw up a little bit.  And if there's anything that does not belong in a hospital it is vomit.

Me:  I haven't had anything to eat or drink in about 20 hours.  Could I have a popsicle, please?

Nurse: (laugh)

Me:  Seriously, I don't see the big deal, it's just frozen flavoured water, not a sandwich.

Nurse: (laugh)

6)  Let's talk about birth and labour positions.  We spent about two whole classes bouncing on exercise balls, leaning on chairs, standing on all fours.  My epidural rendered all of this bullshit for the reasons mentioned above, but even if it hadn't what I found out was that as soon as you are admitted into a birthing room they strap you with a great big belt that looks like one of those abdominal exercise devices you can wear that does your situps for you.  Not only is it tight and incredibly uncomfortable but when a woman is in labour, most often she cannot stand to have anything touching her belly.  When I was in labour I didn't want anyone touching me.  Period.  But there was nothing I could do about it because when I asked, well...

I found out later that this device is not really necessary.  It is because the hospital staff is too lazy busy to take your baby's heart rate every twenty minutes or so.  Believe me, if you are strapped to that thing you can kiss many of the positions you practiced in class goodbye.

7)  You can have whoever you like in the room with you.  But only if your doctor is cool with it.  It turns out that most doctors don't like having to work under conditions similar to a reality TV show.  They get really annoyed when there is a crowd of friends and relatives sporting video cameras and making bad jokes while they are trying to work.  I accidentally found a way out of this.

Having no idea yet how much Joanna had lied to us, I invited Daddy, Mummy, my best friend Liz, and of course "Grampa" Kitty.  It turns out that the success of this plan hinges on having a "Grampa" Kitty.  "Grampa" Kitty is one of Mummy's sisters with whom she was living at the time.  The joke was because Step-Dad lives in another country and Stu, well, was Stu, I didn't really have a proper grandfather to offer my baby.  And so we jokingly nicknamed Aunt Kitty as "Grampa".  When push came to shove, literally, the doctor gave a very annoyed look at all the people in the room, sighed, "Why not?  Hell, let them all come in." and went back to work.  What I later found out was that during my 36 hours of labour the hospital staff overheard us calling Aunt Kitty "Grampa" enough times that they took her to be one of my lesbian moms.  Apparently they did not want to deal with the possible repercussions of asking them to leave so they just let it slide.

(Dear Hospital Staff:  We were actually cool with you thinking my mother and her sister were lesbian life-partners but in the future you should know that gay couples do not have a designated "man-figure" and "woman-figure".  That is just something straight people need in order for gay couples to fit into their hetero-dominated stereotypical thinking.  I'm just saying when you have a lesbian couple having their baby at your hospital, resist your urge to congratulate the "dad".)

You can't really take any of the things written here as solid advice for what to expect for your birth experience.  It was ten years ago and I know that hospitals love to change the way they do things and then show proper, sneering disdain for the previous policies which must truly have been medieval by comparison.  When I had Frack I opted for mid-wife care and it was awesome because your midwife can bypass a lot of hospital procedures.  What you should take away from this is that your prenatal classes may very well be full of shit, every birth experience really is different and there may not be a hell of a lot you can do to prepare.

But as one last word of warning understand that if you do take the prenatal class they will force you at some point to listen to Enya.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

A Story Purely for Your Entertainment

Because it is true that we are influenced by the way we were raised, and because mine was not a typical upbringing, I thought it might be fun to share a little slightly made up family history with you.

It all starts with my great-grandmother, Gran MacCrappy.  Gran, or Ginny MacCrappy, was born to Jane and John MacCrappy around the end of WWI in Glasgow, Scotland.  The MacCrappy's had seven children and lived in abject poverty and so when she was 13, John MacCrappy decided to pack up the MacCrappy clan and move on to a better place; a "Land of Opportunity".  That land was Halifax.

When Gran was 14 she met a jaunty French Canadian, Guy LeMerde.  At 15 she was pregnant with their first child and when she was 16, just before that baby was born, they got married.  A few years later, having little opportunity in the "Land of Opportunity" that was Halifax, Guy and Gran moved to Anytown in southern Ontario, which is where the rest of the MacCrappy-LeMerde clan reside to this day.  By the time they arrived in Anytown, they got bitch-slapped by the Great Depression.

Gran raised 6 kids through that decade.  She used to tell me stories about feeding them a meal that consisted of a single potato or of Christmases where the whole family would get to enjoy the treat of a single orange.  Gran was a tough, tough lady.  She would have kicked ass on Survivor.  Not because she had any wilderness skills but for the sheer determination of her collective Scottish ancestry.  These were a people who learned to eke out a living on a windy, rainy rock in the Atlantic.  These were a people who had learned to live in dirt and make weapons out of rocks and logs. These were a people whose idea of a celebration involves getting blind drunk and then eating the guts of a sheep mixed up with oatmeal and stuffed into some more guts. 

Gran got a job working as a waitress in a club where famous people, mostly comedians and jazz musicians, would sometimes party after their performances.  She told me about showing the Marx brothers how to do the Highland fling or telling colourful jokes to Jack Benny.  Gran was tough but she was a lot of fun and, if you could get through her accent, she was very funny.  Having been born in Scotland and then moving to the only other part of the world with a pocket of Gaelic speaking people, Gran retained her heavy accent.  This meant that I grew up hearing such gems as:

"Ach, lass luikit'yer arse'n thaim knick'rrrs.  Eff et asn't sex ax'andos weyde."

Which, roughly translated means, "Your ass looks fat in those jeans."


"Ach, Lasseh!  Fer Chreisssseeek, pitoan eh grrrrrdl. Jaaaayziz!  At leeest sookin yer stummach summat. Huv ye nae preyde?"

Which, roughly translated means: "I see that you are in need of supportive undergarments."  This was a tirade she unleashed on my mother once as Gran was being introduced to her new boyfriend.  And of course when she objected out of sheer embarrassment Gran would just say:

"Bu' esss trew,  Till th'trewth 'n sheem th'de'ill"

(Something to the effect of "honesty is the best policy and to hell with tact.")

Like I said: hilarious.

Guy and Ginny got through the Great Depression in one piece with all six of their children alive.  After WWII my grandmother, Maggie LeMerde got a job as a waitress which was how she met a young man named Karl Badasz.  Karl was a world class art thief who worked freelance for the Hungarian Mob.  The HM, as we locals know them, deal mostly with fine works of art.  Also they were in the just-fell-off-the-truck black market.

With his dashing good looks and cat-like reflexes, Karl cut a most romantic figure and Maggie would never get over him.  They got married and quickly produced four daughters, one right after the other.  Unfortunately for Karl, his luck eventually ran out and he was arrested by Interpol trying to smuggle a lost Picasso through customs.  He was never seen or heard from again.  Maggie was left to raise their four girls alone.  She dated a little but never married.

Her oldest daughter, Lynn Badasz, or Mummy Dearest spent the early to mid '70's as a hippie.  Her summers consisted of working as a waitress by night and living on nudist hippie communes by day.  Canadian nudist hippie communes were, at that time, seasonal.  Since then they have put up more permanent establishments in which they have installed central heating.  She and her friends spent their days painting peoples' bodies, smoking from the communal hookah and living in a tree house.  They slept in hammocks and watched movies projected onto the shit-house walls that had been painted white for that purpose.

1975 was Mummy's summer of love; the summer she met my father, Stu.  Just "Stu"; no last name.  He had given up all the shackles of The Man.  She said she liked Stu for his long curly hair and his Afghan dog named "Omar".  At the end of the summer he gave her a turquoise ring and they made passionate love in their tree house to Van Morrison's "Moondance" album and that, my friends, is the magical TMI story my mother tells me of my own conception. 

Yes, it is true.  I am a bona fide, hippie love-child.  I still have the ring.  Also, I very narrowly escaped being named "Jello Biafra" through the sobering effects of natural child-birth.  Which is a good thing because there is nothing more annoying than choosing a unique baby name only to have someone else steal it from you just a few years later.  Let's just say they ended up with something along the lines of Jennifer Badasz.

Things didn't really work out between my parents but they're still cool.  My mom met someone else and so I grew up with my two step-brothers (I hate that word...for us it's a technicality.  They are my brothers.) and their dad.  Today Mummy and Step-Dad are living happily apart, in different countries.  Stu has an art store downtown, and he still has his long curly hair.  We hang out from time to time.  Omar died over twenty years ago.

And that is the mostly-true story of my not-so typical ancestry.  Some of it falls naturally under my 15% bullshit disclaimer but, I'll let you sort that out for yourselves.  The most important thing here is that you walk away slightly entertained.  After all, why let the truth stand in the way of a good story?

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Smug Dad

Remember back when you were in school and there was always this kid in your class who never really talked to you until after a test came back or something?  That kid would come up to you and feign interest saying, "So, how'd you do on the test?"  And no matter how you answer they always say, "Oh. Well, I did better than you."  Wasn't that kid a treat?  Well it turns out that kid grew up and became a parent and now his kid plays with mine. 


Frick met Preston in kindergarten.  At first I liked Preston because he favored quiet activities like drawing and puzzles when he came over to play.  For this reason he seemed to have a calming effect on Frick.  I even kind of liked Preston's parents at first.  They were young, hip and cool and most of the other parents we had met so far were at least a decade older than me and Daddy.  Those older parents seemed so smart and responsible that Daddy and I always felt juvenile and inadequate by comparison.  Maybe we would fit in better with parents who were younger like us and so we made the mistake of trying to socialize a little bit.

After a few conversations Daddy and I began to mutter to each other that there was something about Preston's Dad (let's call him Chet) that we didn't really like.  We couldn't really put our finger on it because Chet was always friendly and chatty but I noticed that Daddy would hide in the basement whenever Chet came to pick up Preston from a playdate.  There was just something about that dude that rubbed us the wrong way but we tried to ignore it because Preston was a pretty good friend to Frick and it's not like the little guy got to choose his parents. 

It wasn't until the track meet that I finally figured it out.

Frick's school participates in this city wide track meet involving all of the elementary schools.  At the age of six the boys would be participating in the race for the first time.  The kids who placed in the first twenty would go on to the semi-finals.  Frick was very excited because, like all little boys, he believed he had magic super-speed.  It was very disappointing to him to find out how wrong he was.  He was one of the last boys in his grade to cross the finish line.  He came to me after looking frustrated and disappointed with himself and as I was trying to comfort him with some speech about winning not being everything and doing better next year, Chet approached us with Preston.

"Hey Frick, how did you do?"

I was immediately on the defensive when I heard the tone of voice.  I recognized that tone of voice.  I should have been able to predict what he would say next.  When Frick answered him the reply was:

"Oh, well better luck next time.  Preston came in twelfth place, so he'll be going to the semi-finals.  Maybe he can help you with your running."

I stood there fuming at him as he walked away after having blithely destroyed my efforts to make Frick feel better about himself. 

What a dick! 

After that I started noticing just how much he pulled this shit.  How he would ask what extra-curricular activities Frick was enrolled in so he could brag about how much more Preston had on his plate.  How he would ask about Frick's plans for the summer so he could point out how very busy and unavailable Preston would be.  How he would go on and on about volunteer coaching Preston's soccer team to Daddy, who can't coach because he's too busy trying to pay the mortgage. 

And then there was the time we were at the park and Frick had a meltdown over whose turn it was to go down the slide.  When Frick has a tantrum it is truly atomic in proportion.  Apparently it is a symptom of his ADHD that he has a hard time regulating his emotions.

The only response when he's like this was to remove him as quickly as possible.  This however is easier said than done.  Frick was a strapping seven when this happened and I was pregnant with Frack so trying to get him to leave was no small effort.  As I fought and wrestled with my kid to get him into a standing position I could hear Chet saying:

"Preston, you should show Frick how a good boy behaves."

Oh man, them's fightin' words. 

I was literally shocked with rage.  This asshole was standing there all fucking superior because he really thinks he deserves credit for the fact that his kid happens to be super mellow.   I desperately wanted to punch him in his stupid smug face right then and there.  I prayed fervently that Preston would grow up into a juvenile delinquent and plague his parents with crime sprees and face tattoos.  And then I felt bad about that and asked God to just make him obnoxiously mouthy instead. 

Since then I notice the boys have grown apart.  Preston stopped inviting Frick over for playdates and birthday parties and Frick found other boys to pal around with.   I'm sorry Frick grew apart from his friend, especially since I liked him so much, but I have to admit I don't miss Chet. We've been lucky enough so far that Chet and his wife were the only friend's parents we haven't liked.  Since then we have learned not to make friends with people just because our kids happen to hang out. 

Monday 13 June 2011

The Ten Commandments of Mothering and How to Subvert Them

In this culture of mothering there are certain golden rules with which all the experts agree and for which there will be dire consequences if they go ignored.  Well a lot of this is pretentious bullshit and it's time we let ourselves off the hook for kowtowing to their inflated importance.

1)  Thou shalt breastfeed thy babyIf thou failest thy child will have sub-average intelligence and be hopelessly constipated for life.  I did breastfeed and I got a lot of approval for it but the thing is this commandment put a lot of pressure on me as well.  Breastfeeding was not easy and I needed to do it because we couldn't afford formula but worse than that I just couldn't face the possibility of failure.  I hated that!  I knew that once I admitted defeat there would be those who might gloat over my prenatal arrogance thinking I could pull this off.  I know this is ridiculous but that was how I felt.  For six weeks I dealt with cracked and bleeding nipples, two cases of mastitis, pumping, supplementing, crying, never sleeping and hating myself for being such a colossal failure.  I am extremely grateful for the cheering squad that my in-laws turned out to be on the subject, but it was my mother who said the words that ultimately led to my success.

"It's okay if you can't do this.  Seriously, if you're this miserable is it worth it?  Just quit, get some sleep and start enjoying your baby."  Having her tell me it was okay to quit gave me the resolve to keep trying because at any time I had the freedom to choose to stop and it would be okay.  Everyone had my back.  So now if asked on what is best (no one asks), I think I would say whichever one gives you and your baby happiness.  If breastfeeding makes you miserable just stop.  If it makes you happy do it until you get their college acceptance letter.  And if anyone else has an opinion on your choice choose the colourful response you like best and get on with your life.

2) Thou shalt not expose thy child to sex and violence in media.  If thou so doest thy child will become a criminally insane sex-offender.  By the time Frick was three he could lisp the names of the characters on Family Guy and would cuddle with us on the couch as Daddy and I watched CSI.  We would kid each other about how wrong it was and keep doing it because we just didn't care.  He was three and most of the material was over his head.  Other shows he either watched or was exposed to slightly while playing on the floor in front of the TV include: South Park, 24, House, Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show and of course various action movies because Daddy and I can't get enough of them.  As he got older we stopped allowing him near South Park, 24, and a couple of the action flicks because they were too much but the rest was still up for grabs and now Frack enjoys them as well.

It didn't really hit me how controversial this is until we were at a family dinner and one of the other moms there came over and informed me that there were people watching Family Guy on TV and that my kids were in the same room.  I almost laughed until I saw she was serious and remembered that she doesn't allow her kid to watch Curious George because she thinks the monkey is a "bad influence".  I actually felt pressured into having to make a choice between keeping my kids quiet and happy or stirring up a fuss so I can disingenuously try not to look like a bad parent.  I chose peace and quiet.  I regret nothing.

We watch most of this material with our kids and explain to our kids what is going on and answer their questions.  I don't like the idea of sheltering them.  I prefer to have open dialogue about this stuff so they can be influenced by me and my opinions before their peers cut off all communication between us.  Maybe this isn't right for everyone but it works for us and, having spent most of my early childhood watching horror movies with Mummy Dearest, I'm sure they'll turn out just fine.  Or close to it.

3) Thou shalt not use profanity in front of thy child.  If thou so doest thy child will repeat thy blasphemous words and reveal thee to be not a lady.  Believe it or not that is my only fear.  Not because I really am a "lady" but because my in-laws think I am and I'm in too deep now for them to find out I've been lying to them.  The thing is, as a self-styled writer I love and am passionate about words.  I have an extensive vocabulary and a post-secondary education but my favourite word of all is the F-word.  In fact I have such a deep respect for it that I will call it the F-word right now rather than say it directly because I prefer to save it for special impact.  Overuse of a thing renders it meaningless.

I don't think there are bad words, only bad connotations, and I think that we should be free to use all words.  I don't have a good reason to give my child as to why the F-word is somehow wrong.  My explanation goes as follows: "There is a time and a place for certain kinds of language.  When you are alone with your peers it is inappropriate to speak like a Rhodes scholar and when you are in church you shouldn't speak like a construction worker and as a  little kid people expect you not to swear at all.  As long as there are no grownups around use whatever words you like, I won't care."  Think what you like, this is how things end up anyway no matter what you do, unless you're a Mormon.  And probably Mormons swear, too.

4) Thou shalt eat only at the dinner table and never ever in front of the TV.  If thou so doest thy children will be condemned to a lifetime of morbid obesity and then choke to death on a bucket of chicken in front of American Idol.  The only time our family eats at a dinner table is when we visit our in-laws or go to McDonald's.  Two reasons: 1) We do not own a dinner table or a dining room in which to put said table and 2) we like watching TV and movies while we eat.  And, surprise! my kids aren't fat.  Because I know that TV dinners do not a fat person make.  My meals are (reasonably) healthy and portion-controlled and my boys burn lots of calories tearing up the neighbourhood and fighting over that spot on the couch.  And no, they do not begin salivating like Pavlovian dogs the minute we turn on the TV.  Like all other kids they are hungry every few hours unless you are serving meatloaf.  Not everyone can afford to live in a home where there is an eating area separate from the living area and so I find this commandment to be distinctly classist.  I just make myself happy with the fact that we are at eating together as a family and leave it at that.

5)  Thou shalt have control of thy emotions at all times.  After all, thou art the adult and so more is expected of thee than of a child.  This is impossible.  You can't.  I have tried and wasted so much time beating myself up for allowing my temper to flare, for screaming and yelling, for telling them to shut up....all things I swore I would never do before I had kids.  But that was also before I knew what it was like to live with them.  They are experts in psychological warfare and destroy everything they touch.  One night as I was berating myself yet again for losing my shit I began to question why this was so bad.  Getting angry is a natural response to most of the stuff they do and if they don't figure that out when they are still in your care they will go out into the world as complete assholes and won't understand why no one else can stand being around them.  Kids need to know about consequences.

6) Thou shalt never assign adjectives to thy child's person but only to their actions, lest they conceive of themselves as "bad".  You know what?  I spent about five years dancing around the words "good boy" and "bad boy".  I artfully (and somewhat awkwardly) reconstructed these words into phrases like "what you did was bad" and " you must be proud of yourself".  I knew that this careful use of language would convey to my child that he was loved and good and would only be judged by his actions.  I was an idiot.  What I learned is that kids have a remarkable capacity to make everything about them.  Every time I used these careful sentences all they ever heard was "good boy" and "bad boy".  Their brains just aren't developed enough to know the difference.  Seeing as how it made absolutely no difference what I said it seems to me I wasted a lot of time playing word games and then more time having to explain it all to them and they never ever got it anyway.   I try not to berate them too much when I hate the things they do but I also stopped thinking twice before giving them an enthusiastic "good boy!".  I do other terrible things to my kids like calling them both my favourite and telling them that I am proud of them instead of directing them to be proud of themselves.  I know.  I'm going to hell.

7)  Thou shalt not bribe thy child.  If thou so doest thou shalt create a greedy monster who will never perform without compensation.  When Frick was three he decided that toilet training was for suckers.  I tried every trick I could think of or find on the internet.  I was firmly locked in a power struggle with him and this was a power struggle I could not lose.  After sticker charts and yelling and begging and cheerios and story times and potty in front of the TV nothing was working.  All the while I knew that if I bribed him with the offer of candy he would use the toilet.  But no that would be breaking a holy commandment!  I would be spoiling my child forever and he would spend his entire adult life refusing to eliminate without the promise of gummi bears.  When I finally hit rock bottom, and was seriously considering admitting myself into a psych ward, I made the bribe.  It was magical.  I had seriously underestimated the power of gummi bears.  I still use gummi bears for various situations, my current favourite being to buy good behaviour from Frack at the grocery store.  Frick uses the toilet with no fanfare anymore and is fine with it and someday I believe Frack will be able to behave in public without candy bribes.  I call this commandment 100% bullshit.

8) Thou shalt only provide perfect nutrition for thy child, preferably organic, at all times.  If thou doest not thy child will be ridden with tumors for life.  Some moms like to brag about how their kids don't even know what white bread is or they say things like "Oh, Paisley doesn't even like soda.  She only ever drinks wheatgrass juice."  As if it is some kind of reflection on your awesome mothering that your kid is entirely ignorant or disdainful of whatever food you've deemed unfit.  It's normal for your kids to want to eat crap and that has nothing to do with what you have or have not fed them.  Like language there is a time and place for sugar and fat and I do not take personal pride in being the mother of the only kid at the birthday party who won't eat cake or drink gingerale like all the other kids.  I know from experience that kid is a pain in the ass because now the hostess mom is made to feel inadequate as she rummages through her fridge crammed with party treats for healthier alternatives she did not anticipate needing.  Besides I have personally known people who grew up in wheatgrass juice homes and they all now struggle with Coke addiction. (The cola).

9) Thou shalt place thy child in a bubble lest they come to any harm.   I'm no different from any other mother in that I am constantly terrified that harm will come to my children.  But I began to notice that no matter how fast they grow up it still takes a long time and I just can't handle constant fear.  After a while I kind of became desensitized to it.  This is a good coping mechanism in that it allows me to do things like let them out of my eyesight for a second.  I can appreciate how this must be difficult for some moms because it hasn't been a cakewalk for me either but we have to let go sometime.  I really wish those moms would realize this as they are giving me the stink-eye because I am not within arm's reach of my three year old on the playground equipment but sitting and reading on a park bench instead.  Frack is awesome at climbing, a kind of kinetic genius actually, but it gives me an aneurism every time I watch him attempt new feats.  He rarely falls and he seems to know what he's doing so I learned to trust him and I sit there keeping an eye out for predators instead.  As a child who was used to being kicked out of the house at the crack of dawn and not being allowed back in it until the streetlights had turned on I find it disturbing that the sight of a child playing uninhibited on a playground is actually cause for alarm. 

10)  However thy children turneth out, good bad or ugly, it will be all thy fault.  I know there is a lot to be said about the way a person's childhood can influence the adult they become but isn't it actually pretty arrogant to think that all the glory or all the blame can be laid at the feet of the mother?  When I was too stupid to know any better I dated a boy who was "damaged" and therefore "hot".  The relationship lasted about a working week.  He was so bad and so misunderstood but really he spent a lot of his time bitching and moaning about how his parents (who I met and who were perfectly nice) were ruining his life.  This was disgusting to me because all I could think was "So, what are you going to do about it?"  As an adult I can recognize the ways in which my parents shaped me but I don't give them credit for my accomplishments and I don't blame them for my failures.  Those are the things that I own.  They are mine because I am no one else's responsibility but my own.  So why is it that I can recognize that as a developmental necessity for being an adult but I can't recognize that the same goes for my kids?  If my kids grow up and find the cure for cancer or reverse global warming I can't go around saying :  "You see?  I made that!"  And so for the same reasons if they choose a life of crime or worse, end up on a reality TV show,  I can let myself off the hook saying, "I did the best I could.  The rest was up to them."

My  grandmother caught me agonizing over parenting styles and disciplines and everything else and offered me some unsolicited advice (as was her expertise).  She said:

"I noticed that most mums do the best they can with what they've got, at least the good ones do.  As long as they do that the kids turn out pretty much okay."

I think she's right.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Requiem of the Panda Mother: My Personal Evolution Through a Zoo of Parenting Styles

Before I had children (i.e. when I didn't know what the hell I was talking about) I dreamed of producing offspring who would be successful, productive, ambitious contributors to society.  Through my careful research of the best parenting books, optimization of crucial developmental periods and refusal to repeat the mistakes of my own mother (Sorry Mummy!) I was going to mother in a new generation of highly evolved prodigies.  And so, after the condom broke when I was blessed with my first child I went into the whole thing as a Tiger Mother.  I absolutely had to have the upper hand in every situation and he was going to grow up to be the best human being ever spawned on the planet or I would die trying.

Oh, the piss and vinegar of youth!

I didn't know what a Tiger Mother was back then but when I read some article on Amy Chua I recognized some of my younger self in there; back before Frick broke my spirit.  Because this is my secret blog I don't have to get all diplomatic about this woman.  I totally hate her but not in the way everyone else probably does.  It just really pisses me off when some bitch raises super kids and then thinks she owns the formula for perfect parenting.  Even worse is when she hawks her brand of bullshit like a commodity to other desperate moms (like myself) as the cure-all for our shitty kids.

Chua isn't smarter and she is not superior.  She is just lucky.  She happened to give birth to great, talented kids who were probably always destined for success regardless of parenting styles.  I would love, love, for her to take on just one of my kids for a week.  She wouldn't last an afternoon.  In all the excerpts I have read she really wants to convince us that her daughter Lulu was bad-ass.  No doubt, in Chua's eyes Lulu was a real handful.  But, compared to Frick and Frack, Lulu was a pussy.

Frick, like the Kamikaze, has no desire to live to fight another day.  In a face off with this kid nobody wins.  Ever.  Once you draw that line in the sand he will flash you a look of steely determination, dig in his heels, and settle down for the big fight.  In the end he is willing to destroy himself in as colossal a manner as he can contrive taking you and any innocent bystanders with him.  If I sent Frick outside in the cold and refused to let him in until he complied with my demands, he wouldn't just refuse, as bad little-Lulu did.  He would strip down to the core and freeze his little balls off screaming:

"There go your grandchildren!  Your move, biatch!"

Life as a Tiger Mother turned out to be a special kind of hell.  I hated my own existence and I couldn't sleep at night thinking about the fights of the day, considering the rarity of peace and happiness in our home.  It's one thing to go this route and have some measure of success at it.  It's quite another to do this to your kid with absolutely no pay off.   If anything Tiger mothering made things worse.  As it turns out, Frick has a very real learning and behavioural disorder.  Tiger mothering for kids with special needs is a recipe for disaster and even if it wasn't, there was no moment when I was acting like a Tiger that I wish I hadn't. Secretly I really respected Frick for his misguided refusal to back down.  I'm not sure I wanted to bully that quality out of him.  I didn't want to be a bully.  Period.

And so the next phase was my failed attempt at Elephant mothering.  I don't currently have some guru's name I can give you as expert on the subject because there are so damned many of them, and none of them stand out.  It's all this very bland, holistic, granola-mothering bullshit.  I'm not trashing this kind of mothering as a philosophy.  I actually can't think of anything to criticize about it except that, for about two weeks out of the month I turn into this:

This is not the face of a woman who wants to wear a baby while cooking organic, preservative-free meals (that her kids won't eat) and showering everyone with limitless affection.  In fact this probably shouldn't be anywhere near a baby or children. This is something that should probably be medicated and left alone in a dark room until the evil has subsided.  It isn't fair to expect the Wet Cat Mother to be capable of Elephant mothering.  It sets real moms up to fail.  When I am Wet Cat Mother I tend to fantasize about being the "Rabbenmutter".

The "Rabbenmutter" or Raven Mother, is the mother who "selfishly" abandons her nest in pursuit of her career.  (You see, when women pursue careers it's selfish but when men do it they are "providing for their families").  This could have been me.  Only two things stood in my way.  The bad decisions of my youth and the fact that this term is meant to be derogatory as a criticism of Swiss and German women who are ambitious, but who had the misfortune to get knocked up.  No thanks, I deal with enough criticism and scrutiny as it is without volunteering for more.

And so finally, here I am in my last incarnation as the Panda Mother.  Like the Panda, I have pretty much given up and now rely on government programs and charitable organizations to keep me going.  The fact that I have offspring is kind of a surprise to me and basically, if they survive long enough to pro-create I have done a successful job and can feel free to die.  Here I sing my requiem in order to raise awareness because, like Pandas, Panda Mothers have as infrequent mating opportunities and it would be really nice if as many people were that dedicated to our getting it on.