Monday, September 14, 2015

When Our Kids Inherit Our Own Insecurities: My Daughter Hates Her Curly Hair

I was getting my daughter Bina ready for preschool the other morning, when she burst into tears. “I don’t like my hair,” she said. “I want it to be straight like Ava’s!” Ava, my boyfriend’s seven-year-old daughter, has enviably straight and thick hair, the kind any woman would love to have. Any woman, including my four-year-old.

“Your hair is beautiful!” I responded in what I hoped was a natural voice. “I love your curls!” But my daughter, who already has a no-bullshit stance on life, was not having it that day.

“Well I don’t like them!” she responded. “When can I make my hair straight?” I looked at her, with her hopeful eyes, and sighed.

“You can make your hair straight when you’re older, in a few years,” I said, hoping that answer would suffice as I put a bow in her hair. And for that morning, it did.

This wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation. The topic comes up regularly, usually in the mornings when I am doing her hair for school. Without warning, she’ll start crying or complaining about her hair, asking me when she can straighten it like I do. In response to this, I’ve intentionally started wearing my naturally curly hair in its own texture more often, and I repeatedly point it out to her, saying, “Look at us, we are two curly girls!” with a smile on my face. Does she see through me? I don’t know. She’s only four, but she’s wise, her soul is old. There’s no fooling her.

A little while ago, after months of her crying and begging, I actually caved and straightened her hair for her one evening. She was so happy, and I was speechless and confused. On one hand, I’d brought a lot of joy to a little girl who is unhappy with her appearance. On the other, I felt like I was feeding into her insecurities by agreeing to do it. When I told her that we didn’t need to straighten her hair again because her curls were so beautiful, she looked at me and said, “But you straighten your hair.” What could I say? She had me. How could I tell her to enjoy the natural texture of her hair when I don’t do so myself? But something in me did not feel right about straightening her hair at such a young age, and I vowed not to do it again until she is older. I can’t help but want her to remain an innocent child, unaware of the world’s judgments, for just a little longer.

The thing is that when my daughter tells me she doesn’t like her hair, it hits close to home, because I know exactly how she feels. My own curly hair has been a constant source of distress to me for as long as I can remember. I know how that sounds (“source of distress,” how dramatic), but hair matters to girls. We see it every day, we carry it with us, and to look in the mirror every day and not like what you see is nothing unimportant. There is an entire hair industry out there based on the premise that women do not like the hair they were born with. And this importance that is placed on a woman’s hair is something that is clearly communicated to our daughters from a very young age, via their dolls, characters in movies and television shows, and most importantly, through the examples their mothers, stepmothers, older sisters, and other female role models set for them.

I can remember hating my hair as young as first or second grade. Already at that age, I had accepted that I had “bad hair.” I suffered from major hair envy, and I dreamt of having long, straight, blonde locks, rather than the curly mass of brown hair I had inherited from my Russian ancestors. Over the years, I’ve learned how to manage my hair (somewhat), both in its curly state and by straightening it. I’ve also dyed it many different colors, worn many different cuts, tried different products and hair treatments, and in general have sunk a lot of time and money into something that should be trivial.

My hair. It has finally begun to approach becoming a feature that I am sometimes happy with. And just in time. Because my beautiful daughter has inherited this hair, and while everyone else loves her curls, she decidedly does not.

And so, in addition to choosing not to straighten her hair for school, I have begun to make a concerted effort to not only not speak disparagingly about my hair in front of her, but to also be more aware of the way in which I talk about myself in general. Where will she learn to love and accept herself, if not from her mother? As terrifying a thought as it is, I know that so much of my daughter’s self esteem is wrapped up in her interactions with me, and I am the person who is likely to make the greatest impact on the woman she is to become. It is my responsibility to teach her to love herself, curls and all. And one day, when she’s older, if she still wants it, I’ve promised to buy her a straightener, a good one like mine. And I’ll teach her how to use it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Attack of the Judgy Moms: Five Things Moms Get Judged On by Other Moms Every Day

If you’re a parent with an Internet connection, you’ve probably read the recent story about David Beckham and his four-year-old daughter’s pacifier. Earlier this month, Beckham was photographed out with his little girl, who had a pacifier in her mouth at the time. The UK’s Daily Mail then published a story in which “experts” criticized him for this parenting decision, saying that she may end up with “speech or dental issues” as a result of the pacifier use. They added that as a celebrity he is a role model, and people seeing the pictures will think that this is normal behavior when it’s not.

In a real-life move that I applaud wholeheartedly, Beckham took to Instagram to respond, defending himself and slamming the paper with the following statement:

“Why do people feel they have the right to criticize a parent about their own children without having any facts?? Everybody who has children knows that when they aren’t feeling well or have a fever you do what comforts them best and most of the time it’s a pacifier so those who criticize think twice about what you say about other people’s children because actually you have no right to criticize me as a parent…”

While I personally would not give my four-year-old a pacifier (we finally said goodbye to the paci when she was about two and a half), I am very much of the mindset that unless you suspect that the child is being abused, if it’s not your kid, you should mind your own damn business. There are so many ways to be a good parent, and unless you are living their life, there is no way to know the particulars. For example, we know that if a four-year-old uses a pacifier regularly it can cause dental issues and speech delay, and understandably, allowing that behavior could be perceived by some as neglectful. But how do we know how often Beckham’s daughter uses it? We don’t! Because she is not our child, and that is not our family.

But this kind of behavior -- judging other moms and dads on their parenting decisions -- is not exactly uncommon. As a mom I see it everyday, at work, among my friends and acquaintances, and of course online. The judging never stops, and the irony is that the majority of the judgement comes from other mothers. Why we beat each other down when we are all out there working the most difficult and essential job there is, I don’t know, but I see it play out in front of me on social media nearly every day. The following are five things I constantly see moms getting judged on by other moms.

1. Epidural vs. “natural birth”: Did you have an epidural? Be prepared to defend yourself! I mean, was it really worth putting your unborn child at risk for your own selfish reasons? Like what, you couldn’t handle a little pain when women have been having babies without drugs for centuries?

2. Breast vs. bottle: Do you bottle-feed your child? If so, you will almost certainly be called selfish, especially if it isn’t required by medical necessity. Meanwhile, if you breastfeed you will be judged on how long you nurse (too short and you don’t have the baby’s best interests at heart, too long and you’re a freak), and whether you do so in public rather than hide in a bathroom.

3. Store-bought baby food vs. homemade: Do you make your own baby food for your little one? If not, you obviously don’t care about your baby’s health and nutrition. And if so, well, you clearly have a lot of time on your hands.

4. Cry-it-out vs. co-sleeping: Did you use the cry-it-out method to help your baby learn to sleep through the night? You’re freakin evil and have caused your baby mental and emotional scars from which they will never recover! But if you co-sleep with your baby, you’re a crunchy-granola who’s raising a future leech on society.

5. Work-outside-the-home vs. SAHM: Do you have another job in addition to being a mom? Well, you’re selfish to put your career first when your priority should be your child. Double that if you choose to pursue your career ambitions even though you don’t “have” to -- how nice for you that you get to spend time with adults! And if you stay at home with your kiddos and choose not to work an additional job? Well what do you do every day, ya lazy ass? That must be the life!

How many of these have you experienced, mamas? What did I miss?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

5 Ways to Stay Zen at the Playground: My new piece for!

Heading to the playground with your little one? Check out my new piece for 5 Ways to Stay Zen at the Playground! And have fun out there!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Yoga Hacks for Moms: Check Out My New Piece for MyYogaWorks on YOGAANONYMOUS.COM!

Hey ladies!

The piece I wrote for MyYogaWorks is now up on YOGAANONYMOUS.COM! Yoga Hacks for Moms!

Please feel free to share with all your stressed-out mama friends. Namaste!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

50 Reasons Why My Child Won’t Go To Sleep Tonight

One of the most amusing and amazing things about watching my four-year-old daughter grow is witnessing her become better and better at making excuses. And when it comes to making excuses, bedtime is her specialty. If tonight is like most other nights in my mom-life, bedtime will be a struggle. Here’s 50 reasons why my child won’t go to sleep tonight:

1. It’s too hot.
2. It’s too cold.
3. She needs water.
4. She needs more water.
5. It’s too dark in her room.
6. The nightlight is too bright.
7. The door is closed too much.
8. The tv is too loud because I opened the door a little more.
9. She doesn’t have enough blankets.
10. She has too many blankets.
11. Her blanket is facing the wrong way and she can’t see Rainbow Dash.
12. She wants to read another book.
13. She needs a snack.
14. She thinks she forgot to eat her vitamin.
15. Her tummy hurts.
16. Her foot hurts.
17. Her ear hurts.
18. She needs to tell me something.
19. She needs me.
20. She doesn’t have anyone to sleep in her bed with her.
21. She doesn’t have her stuffed animal friend in her bed.
22. She doesn’t have the right stuffed animal friend in her bed.
23. She has too many stuffed animal friends in her bed.
24. She wants to watch the iPad.
25. She wants to watch my phone.
26. She wants to sing “Let it Go” with me.
27. She wants to play “10 in the Bed.”
28. She needs to go potty.
29. False alarm that time, but this time it’s for real.
30. She wants to take off her pajamas.
31. She’s too cold now, and wants to put them back on.
32. She wants to know if she has school tomorrow.
33. She wants to know if tomorrow is sharing day at school.
34. She wants to know what I’m going to give her for lunch.
35. She wants to ask me if I’ll please include a pudding.
36. She wants to talk about when she was a baby.
37. She wants me to remind her when her birthday is.
38. She wants to know if next year she’ll be five. And after that, six?
39. She wants to know “what number I am.”
40. She wants to know if I’ll lay down with her.
41. She wants to know if I’ll lay down with her some more.
42. She wants me to tickle her back.
43. She thinks she sees a spider.
44. Never mind, it’s an ant.
45. On second thought, there’s no bug, but is that a monster in the corner?!
46. There’s no monster, but she’s upset now, and wants me to “hold her like a baby.”
47. She wants to know why grown-ups get to go to sleep late.
48. She wants me to know that it’s NOT FAIR.
49. She wants me to know that I’m a mean mama.
50. She’s NOT TIRED!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Happy Fourth of July: A Mother’s Wish for Her Daughter on Independence Day

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a special relationship with the Fourth of July. My parents tried to make the holiday fun for me and my siblings -- they always made a special effort. And now as an adult, while other people might stress about what they’re going to do on New Year’s, I care more about where I’m going to barbecue on the Fourth, and how I’m going to make it the perfect day.

This year, I will be celebrating by enjoying a barbecue with my boyfriend’s family and each of our daughters, so I know I’ll have a great time. But lately I’ve found myself thinking about the holiday in a way that goes beyond barbecues and fireworks. Perhaps because my plans are set, or because my daughter is getting older, or maybe because of everything that is happening in our country right now, I’m thinking about what it means to celebrate the fact that we are Americans, and what I wish for my daughter’s future here.

I have always had a strong personal connection to this country in a historical sense, because of my ancestry. On my father’s side I have ancestors who arrived on the boat after the Mayflower, two Presidents, and a member of my family has served in nearly every war into which this country has entered. On my mother’s side I descend from Russian and Hungarian Jews who took a chance and came to this country for better economic conditions, religious freedom, and to escape the violence of the pogroms.

But lately I’ve been thinking more about what it means for me to be American now, in the year 2015, and what it means to raise my daughter in this country. As a liberal who grew up in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, I have always struggled with the conflict between my internal beliefs and those to which I was asked to subscribe. I have always believed in civil rights for all people, I have always believed that the rich have a moral responsibility to do what they can for those with less, I have always been anti-war and pro two-state-solution, and I have always believed that everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue higher education, not just those with wealthy parents, or those who are willing and able to incur significant student loan debt (like me).

And lately we have begun to see some glimmers of change in this country. We currently have our first African American President of the United States, and we have both a woman and a Jew campaigning as strong contenders for the next presidency. A win for either would be another first for a country that up until very recently only elected white, Christian men to that office. This June, the Supreme Court ruled once again in favor of the Affordable Care Act in a decision that will prevent millions of Americans from losing their health insurance, and handed down a landmark victory ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. I’m still in disbelief that we have come so far as a country. My daughter will grow up knowing that love wins -- that we are all born equal in the eyes of the law. And if my personal favorite Senator Bernie Sanders wins the next election, my daughter may even be able to attend college free of charge. Change is coming. Slowly, but it’s coming.

And so this year, on our Independence Day, I wish for my daughter to grow up to be proud to be an American. I wish for her to continue to witness more love than hate, more equality than discrimination, more hope and less uncertainty, and more progress for all Americans. I wish for her to grow up to be happy. To feel safe. To know that she comes from hearty stock, people who fought both literally and figuratively to be American. I wish for her to grow up to be free. I wish for her peace.

Happy Fourth of July to you all.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Five Steps to the Best Disneyland Family Vacation Ever

My boyfriend and I just got back from two days at Disneyland with our daughters. We planned the trip in celebration of their birthdays, which are just a few weeks apart at the beginning of the summer, thinking that rather than buy them a bunch of stuff, this year we would give them an experience they could enjoy together and maybe even remember.

That’s the funny thing about being a parent: everything sounds so awesome and doable in theory, and then reality spits up in your face. While the girls loved our Disneyland vacation, and we all had a lot of fun, it was not without its challenges. With that in mind, I present to you my five real-life, tried-and-true steps to the best Disneyland family vacation ever. You can thank me later.

1. Leave the kids at home. Seriously, they’ll be fine, and if you bring them with you they’ll just slow you down, like a lot.

2. No, but really, accept that this trip is for the kids. You did not go to Disneyland to frolic through the park and ride Space Mountain. Your Disney vacation will consist of a grueling stream of rides that move at about one mile per hour, for about two minutes total, for which you will wait in line for an hour or more. Your partner or helpful friend or family member will hopefully be along to help pass the time, unless they're sitting on a bench for an hour with the other child who doesn't want to ride the ferris wheel. Just expect to spend a lot of time waiting. Pretend you are a movie star. Or to be more realistic, a movie star’s assistant. Cuz sister, you’re not getting any special treatment at the Magic Kingdom. You’re just one of many thousands of disgruntled parents catering to their child's every want and need, and if anyone’s getting special treatment, it’s probably that mom over there with the tight, white jeans and admirable rack.

3. Bring money. A LOT of money. This one seems obvious, duh, but what will really kill you in the end is not the price of the tickets or the hotel room fees -- it’s the $4 pretzels, water bottles, and ice creams (Mickey Mouse and Olaf); the shuttle fees; the food at the park (it’s like living at the movie theater for a few days, ugh, except the kids won’t eat anything); the parking; the balloon-animal merchant that springs up out of nowhere (our guy made the girls amazing Elsa dolls and was hilarious though, so I’m not complaining on that one!) and the worst money-suck of all, the gift shops.

4. On second thought, don’t just bring money -- bring everything. Like, everything. I thought I had it covered when I brought the Disney Princess Band-Aids and the girls’ hair detangler spray, but I was clearly just a naive young (young, damn it!) mother and I didn’t know. I didn’t know that fireworks are too loud and that we would need child-sized earplugs. I didn’t know that normally sunny Southern California would be blanketed in fog until mid-afternoon both days we were there. And I definitely didn’t know that the hotel shampoo would be deemed unacceptable by two very particular young girls who really are after my own heart (“this soap is no good”). Like I told the girls, we learned a lot from this first trip to Disneyland together... like never to come back again! Juuuuust kidding.

5. Which brings me to my last point. What’s the key ingredient for the best Disneyland family vacation ever? Make sure you go with a partner or friend who makes you laugh and can keep you smiling through the lines, the noise, the whining children, aching feet, and rapidly depleting checking account. My boyfriend prank-called me from the hotel lobby saying, “Ms. Brookes, your children are being too loud.” Those were the moments that made it all ok.

See, some people are the type to go to Disneyland as adults, without kids, and they love it. I’ll probably never be one of those people. I lack patience. I don’t like crowds or strangers touching me or twenty-somethings calling me ma’am. And I’m not a big fan of germs. I DO enjoy those hand-dipped corn-dogs on Main Street, but I'm usually only willing to put up with pushy throngs of hungry teenagers like the ones in that line when I'm going to In-N-Out.

But I digress. Go to Disneyland, take the kids. The Soarin' Over California ride in California Adventure is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a Small World is as charming as ever. The girls had a wonderful time and I know we will be back soon, probably next summer. Because childhood is so short, and adulthood can be so long. So we do it for the kids.