Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Mother's Sacrifice

Thursday, May 8, 2014

There’s No One to Buy Me Flowers this Mother’s Day, and that’s Okay: Mother’s Day as a single mom

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and mothers across the country will celebrate with their families in a grand show of appreciation to the women who bring us into the world, raise us to adulthood, and continue to nurture us even once we have children of our own. 

This Sunday, mothers will receive flowers, cards, gifts, and jewelry, and some will even eat breakfast in bed courtesy of their spouses and children, who will be well-meaning if not successful in their cooking attempts. While there are some mothers who choose to opt out of this holiday for various reasons, on the whole, this Mother’s Day most of America will find a way to show their wives and mothers just how much they appreciate them.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Mother’s Day given my complicated relationship with my mother, and I always hoped that one day I would have children, and we would create our own Mother’s Day traditions. I told myself that I would reinvent Mother’s Day for myself once I would be the mother, and not the child. 

But the truth is, that when I was imagining all of the wonderful Mother’s Days I would have with my own children, I never pictured myself as a single mother. There was always a husband, a father, there to help the kids make brunch, or surprise me with flowers, or help the little ones write their names on the cards. In fact, in pretty much every advertisement you see, there is a husband there (or assumed to be there) to help coordinate the day. Why, considering the abundance of single moms out there now? Because young children don’t know how to purchase gifts and flowers and orchestrate meals by themselves -- that’s the dad’s job, at least until the kids get older.

When I left my marriage I became a single mom, something I had never anticipated or imagined. It has been almost two years now, and I have never regretted my decision, but I would be lying if I said being a single mom is anything other than extremely difficult. I have my daughter full-time, which means that I don’t get a break unless I get a babysitter, which I have started to do more and more now that she is getting a little older. I work my ass off at work every day to support us both and give her the best childhood that I possibly can, and then I come home and spend as much time with her as possible before she goes to bed and we do the whole thing all over again. And I am not alone... there are so many women like me out there, who struggle to be both mom and dad to their children, and do so with a smile, so the kids never notice our exhaustion or frustration. 

The irony is that these moms -- single moms like me with young children -- are the least likely to be showered with appreciation on Mother’s Day. There’s no one to buy me flowers or cook me breakfast, and my daughter is too young to understand the significance of the day. While she might make me a card at school, the reality is that if we do anything to celebrate Mother’s Day, it will have to be planned by me. If I want flowers for Mother’s Day, I will probably have to buy them myself. 

And you know what? That’s okay. In time, my daughter will get older, and will know it’s Mother’s Day (the media will never let her forget!), and we will celebrate our mutual unconditional love with traditions that we will develop for ourselves. And maybe I’ll get married again and have more children, and we will have a more “traditional” Mother’s Day celebration like in the advertisements. Either way, for now, I will continue to reap the rewards of being a mother on a daily basis, and put less importance on the significance of one day. 

And as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. I was on the train the other day thinking about Mother’s Day, and I started to feel a little sad and sorry for myself, and -- I can admit it -- a little bitter. I started thinking the kind of thoughts that I never allow myself to think... like where are my flowers? And why are other moms somehow more worthy of appreciation than I am?

And then I stopped, made my mind go silent, and asked myself if I was happier now, as a single mom, than I was when I was in my marriage. The answer? Yes, no question. Did I feel loved by my daughter? Yes, the truest love I had ever known. And finally, when it came to my personal identity as me, Ariana, had becoming a mother changed me for the better? 

And that’s when I realized that the day my daughter was born was the day everything stopped spinning in my head. She brought me clarity, a sense of everlasting purpose, so much so that I finally had the courage to face my life head-on and make some difficult changes. Becoming a mother brought me an inner calm that I had been searching for my entire life. And becoming a single mother has brought out a deep strength from the core of my being, and has shown me what I am capable of as a mother and as a woman in all aspects of my life.

So while I will not be showered with attention this Mother’s Day, and I may feel a little sad about “missing out”, I know that the benefits of motherhood are not wrapped up in a consumer holiday called Mother’s Day. Every day I reap the benefits through a true sense of purpose, a deep sense of being needed in this world, and the pure love that exists between me and my child. And hey, you know what? Maybe I’ll buy myself some flowers this Mother’s Day. I know which ones I like!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! You are wonderful!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Boys Have a Penis, Girls Have a Vagina: Explaining gender differences to my toddler

When it happened, she caught me completely off guard. For a few seconds, all I could think of was that scene in Kindergarten Cop, when the little boy stands up in front of his class and proudly proclaims, “Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina!” much to the amusement of the other children. 

My daughter was sitting on the toilet, when out of nowhere she started to imitate the way little boys hold themselves when they pee. 

“Mommy,” she said, “this is how Dylan goes pee pee at school.” 

I nodded, and said, “Yes, baby, that’s because Dylan is a boy. Boys have a penis, and girls have a vagina. Dylan is a boy, and you’re a...” I waited for her response. 

“Girl!” she shouted. But it didn’t end there. “Mommy,” she said, “I want one.” 

“You want what,” I said in shock, “a penis?”

“Yes, Mommy. Me have one when I get bigger?” she asked hopefully, her face as sweet and eager as a kid on Christmas morning.

“No, baby, you will never have a penis,” I said with as serious a face as I could muster. “Mommy doesn’t have a penis, either,” I explained, “and neither do your aunties.” 

“And me neither?” she asked.

“That’s right,” I said, with a sigh of relief that the conversation was over. As amusing as it had been, I was not mentally prepared to expound any further.

One day the conversation won’t end this easily, and she won’t be satisfied with so simple of an answer, but for now I feel like I’ve taught her the basics, as they say in Kindergarten Cop, and I survived the conversation. One day I’ll have to talk to her about sex, about birth control, about waiting. And one day I might have to answer questions that are much more difficult to answer, questions about myself, the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned. That is if she even comes to me with those kind of problems in ten, fifteen years. And I hope she does, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for both of us, at first. I hope she will trust me to guide her, and to love her unconditionally when she makes mistakes, or comes home broken-hearted. 

And if all else fails, and there comes a time when she no longer shares those kind of secrets with me, I hope that she keeps in mind the conversations we’ve had and the self-love I've tried to instill in her. 

Because she’s going to go out there and kiss boys, and go on dates, and maybe even say and do things with boys that she will wish she could take back. And I won’t always be able to make everything better, no matter how much I want to. 

In the meantime, we’ll stick to the basics. Boys have a penis, and girls have a vagina. I only hope she doesn’t start saying that to strangers on the street. We do live in hipsterville Oakland where anything goes, but there’s a time and a place for everything.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I Tell My Daughter that She’s Pretty Every Day

I make a point of telling of my two-year-old daughter that she’s pretty every day. 

I don’t want her to think that her worth is based on her appearance -- and I tell her that she’s smart and funny every day, too -- but I make a special point of telling her that she’s pretty. Because while I frequently heard that I was smart when I was a kid, I very rarely heard that I was pretty, and I developed a complex about my appearance that to a certain degree still persists to this day. Not only was I rarely complemented on my looks (even though photos prove that I was in fact a very cute kid!), but I rarely heard adult females close to me saying anything positive about their own appearances, either. In short, I had no role models for healthy female body image, and as a child and teenager I spent a lot of time wishing I looked like someone else -- preferably someone blonde with  tan legs, small breasts and an overall Kelly from 90210-type look. 

The fact that I grew up very religious, with strict modesty laws dictating my appearance, didn’t help either. As a teenager in the mid 90’s, I felt insecure about my unstylish attire and conservative appearance, and I certainly never felt attractive.  At that time, teen fashion was heavily influenced by movies like Clueless and Empire Records, films in which the girls wore very short skirts, but I was stuck wearing skirts past the knee and sleeves to the elbow. To me, everything I saw in movies and on t.v. reinforced the fact that I was dressed wrong, that I didn’t look cool enough, or have the right body. 

For all of these reasons, I entered adulthood feeling extremely insecure, and looking back, I can see how that was reflected in the men I chose to date at that time. I was 27 the first time someone told me that I was pretty and I actually believed them. My boyfriend at the time and I were driving down the street in Los Angeles, and when we stopped at a light, I noticed that the man in the car next to us was staring at me. Confused, I told my boyfriend, who was not confused at all. “He’s looking at you because you’re pretty,” he said. When I tried to refute this, he went into this very logical and annoying mode that he was prone to, and proceeded to prove to me that I did not see myself the way others saw me. 

I wouldn’t go as far as to call it body dysmorphic disorder, but at this point I can admit that I have always been my own worst critic, especially when it comes to my looks. Now, at 33 and as the mother of another female, I finally feel like I know who I am, and while there are still things about my appearance that I don’t love, in general I am happy with myself. I try to show that to my daughter by saying things like “we look good!” and by being careful not to criticize my appearance in front of her. I don’t even wear makeup anymore most days. I used to wear a lot, but now I only wear it if I’m going to an event, or out at night, and the best part about that is it’s not just me -- a lot of women in the Bay Area don’t wear makeup on the day to day. 

I’m happy that I’m raising my daughter in a city where fashion and physical beauty is less of a priority. Coming from L.A., and having lived in NYC and Las Vegas, I was used to people constantly dressing to impress, and it took me awhile to adjust to the different mentality up here. It has been a year now since we moved to the Bay, and I feel like I am finally starting to feel really comfortable and in my groove here. The prevalent values here reflect my own, and it feels good to know that I am encouraging my daughter to be an open-minded, nonjudgmental, free-spirited individual, and that she will grow up surrounded by similar-minded children and parents. 

If society’s beauty standards were intimidating back in the 90’s, today’s images -- so much more prevalent due to the Internet -- portray a nearly impossible to achieve physical ideal to young girls and grown women. As adults, we can often look at an image and know when it’s been Photoshopped, but little girls only see a Hollywood ideal on the cover of a magazine. It is up to us as parents to tell our daughters that they are pretty, so that they grow up with a certain confidence about their looks that comes from having never doubted that they were good enough.

If we are to be the loudest voice in their heads, if we are to be heard over the t.v. shows and movies and magazines and album covers that tell girls that they need to be thinner, prettier, and more fashionable to be valued, then we must begin to reinforce this positive perception when they are very young. Even a two-year-old likes being told that she is beautiful. Her whole face lights up.

And that is why every day I make a point of telling my daughter that she is smart and pretty. If you ask her “who’s pretty?” she’ll say “me!” And that’s good, I want her to go out into the world with that uber confidence as her armor, because society, other people, and the images and messages she absorbs will gradually pick away at it, and I want her to be left with something when all is said and done. I want her to come of age knowing that she’s good enough -- she’s beautiful.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ten Things No One Told Me About Potty Training

When my daughter and I embarked on our potty training adventure back in December, I thought I was prepared. Being me, I had done my fair share of reading on the subject, and I had spoken to several moms who had already been through the process at least once. I knew which potty seat to buy, I had already purchased a couple of picture books on the subject, and I felt like I had a solid plan of action. But, as with so many things in life, potty training turned out to be one of those experiences that is impossible to truly comprehend until you are in the thick of it. That said, here are ten things that no one told me about potty training so now you can’t say no one warned you.

10. The worth of a pull-up is dependent on the cartoon character it features. Minnie Mouse name brand pull-ups (as in Minnie Mouse from “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” not old school Minnie Mouse--this is important) are my daughter’s ideal choice, but if she’s run through all of those already, she will also accept  “monsters” (Sully and Mike Wazowski from “Monsters, Inc.”). Meanwhile she wants nothing to do with the more affordable Target brand pull-ups, which feature rather sad-looking flowers and frogs.

9. Public restrooms are terrifying places. Not that this is any secret, but unlike us established potty-users, toddlers have not yet built up a tolerance to them. Between the filth, strangers, big toilets, and loud flushing sounds, public restrooms are the last place any potty-training toddler wants to be. Nothing is getting my daughter on a public toilet; even promises of candy hold no influence. The other day I was forced to use a public restroom at the beach (the worst kind!), and as my daughter watched me squat over the disgusting toilet like a raver at a warehouse party, her face scrunched up and she burst into tears. Not that I blame her--I’m sure it wasn’t a pretty sight.

8. Peer pressure is your best friend. My daughter first got on the potty when she saw her friend use it at school, and felt peer-pressured into doing the same. She had just turned two and a half, and I hadn’t even realized that she was ready yet. I took that as my cue to begin potty training her in earnest, and immediately went out and bought a potty seat--a Minnie Mouse one, of course. Since then, she loves to give me the run down of which kids used the potty at school, and which did not. She doesn’t have older siblings at home to set the example for her, so I’m very thankful that she has the other children at school to keep her on the potty training straight and narrow. 

7. The sound of your child’s pee hitting the inside of the toilet bowl will fill you with the truest, purest happiness you’ve ever felt. It is indeed the most beautiful sound, on par with Mozart’s symphonies and “Yesterday” by the Beatles. There is no greater feeling of accomplishment than knowing that your child has one more pee pee on the potty under her belt, and is well on her way to being done with diapers, oh please god. 

6. The sight of you peeing will fascinate your child to no end. And she will take every opportunity to watch you, staring without blinking as you freeze up with stage fright and your pee crawls back up into your body. Then, when you finally unclench and let it go, she will burst into applause, and excitedly tell you that you now deserve a sticker. Eventually though, of course, you get used to having company in the bathroom, which brings me to...

5. Going to the bathroom becomes a communal activity. Recognize that you will never pee alone at home again, and accept it. Those days are over now. The one act in life that has always been truly private will now be the time when your child comes to you to whine, request food, ask forty different questions that begin with the word “why,” and so on. You see, on some level they know that going to the bathroom forces you to pause for a minute--and they take full advantage of their captive audience.
4. You will see sights so disgusting that you will have to find a way to make yourself forget them just so you can continue to look your child in the eyes. No need to elaborate here. You’ll see for yourself soon enough, if you haven’t already.
3. It doesn’t always happen in a week, or even two. In fact, sometimes it takes months to completely transition. I had this idea in my head that once we got started, the whole thing would be over and done with in a few weeks. And for some children that’s true, but not all. By far. Bina learned how to use the potty back in December, but she’s still in pull-ups three month later as she is not yet above peeing in her pants if it means she can avoid missing two minutes of “Doc McStuffins.”

2. Reward charts, stickers, prizes, candy, etc. only go so far. If your child isn’t ready, no amount of bribery is going to produce consistent results. My daughter likes rewards and prizes, sure, but she doesn’t like them more than getting her  way. And if she doesn’t feel like going pee pee on the potty, she’s not going to do it come hell or high water. Which leads me to the number one thing that no one told me about potty training

1. You have to accept that to a large degree, it is out of your control. As much as I want to speed up the process and be done with diapers already (I would say be done wiping butts, but that doesn’t end once they are potty trained), by now I have accepted that it is largely out of my control. I can teach her, encourage her, and reward her progress and success, but I cannot force her to be ready to make the leap. When she is ready, she will stop having so many “accidents” and will fully transition. And until then, I will continue to pay the nice people at Huggies the big bucks for pull-ups with Minnie Mouse. Frogs and flowers pull-ups need not apply.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I Never Intended to be a Co-sleeper: How my daughter has taken up residence in my bed

My daughter and I are going through a phase right now. At least, I hope it’s a phase. For the last month she has refused to sleep in her own bed. Sometimes I win, and she starts out in her own room--usually on the floor--but she almost always ends up in my bed in the middle of the night. And because I need my sleep too much to fight with her, she almost always stays there until morning. 

She has cried every night for the last month in the hopes that exhausted, I’ll give in and allow her to sleep in my bed. Some nights I have caved, and then sat bitterly in the living room, exiled from my bedroom. Other nights I let her cry, bringing her back to her bedroom over and over again until she finally passes out at 10:30 or 11pm. When I asked her why she doesn’t want to sleep in her bed anymore, she said that there are monsters under her bed. I did a thorough examination, getting down on my knees and peering under the bed in an effort to prove to her that there were no monsters whatsoever. Sadly, it did not work, and a month into this she is still holding firm.

It is at this point that my attachment-parenting readers might wonder why I don’t just allow my young daughter to sleep in my bed until she is ready to return to her own. My answer is two-fold. First, I live in a small, urban apartment, and as such my desk is in my bedroom. If my daughter goes to sleep in my bedroom, I cannot work in there. And while I do have a laptop, I am most comfortable and most productive when working at my desk. Second, I am not the type of person who is cut out to be a co-sleeper. I’m a highly sensitive sleeper, in that I need conditions to be just right for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. And because life is funny that way, my daughter is an extremely restless sleeper, and tosses and turns throughout the night. The truth is that in general, I sleep better alone, and because I know this about myself, I never planned to co-sleep with my daughter.

Up until recently, it had never been an issue. When my daughter was an infant, she slept in the room with my ex-husband and me, in a little bassinet at the foot of my bed. There were a few times when I fell asleep nursing her in my bed in the middle of the night, but other than that she slept in her bassinet. When she was about four months, we moved her into a crib in her own room, and when she was seven months, we did a modified version of sleep training (I let her cry, but I went into her room to comfort her), and in two days she was sleeping through the night. Over the last couple years she has slept in my bed a handful of times--usually when she was sick. Overall, she has been a dream when it comes to her sleeping habits, and I have always been extremely grateful for that.

Then last month we both came down with bad colds which turned into sinus infections, and she came down with an ear infection to boot. She ended up sleeping in my bed for the week or so that it took for her to start feeling like herself again, but I didn’t worry too much, assuming that she would return to her bed and sleep soundly like she always had. But by then my daughter had experienced a taste of la dolce vita, and was not about to sleep all alone again in the toddler bed in her room. 

Since then we have been battling, and bedtime is now frequently a two-hour ordeal. In an attempt to put some structure around my bribery, I recently purchased a Melissa & Doug responsibilities chart, which I am using to reward positive behavior, including sleeping in her own room. (Stay tuned for a post about how I am using it to implement a new reward system!) So far I have had mixed results in terms of it motivating her to stay in her bed all night, but I have decided to reward her as long as she falls asleep in her own room, so even if she later migrates to my bed, she still gets a sticker on the chart. And I have started to notice an improvement, in that she cries and whines for a shorter amount of time before she lays down and goes to sleep.

Slowly slowly we are working our way back to her sleeping independently in her room. It’s a gradual process. As the parent, I take responsibility for having allowed her to sleep in my bed for several nights in a row in the first place, and for having not been consistent since then. She is two, and of course she wants to sleep in bed with her mommy. And as she put it, “Mommy’s bed is nice.” But I also know that co-sleeping is not a good long-term option for us. 

And so I persevere, laying her down over and over in the evening, and making room for her and her stuffed-animal entourage at night. I know we’ll get there eventually. Teenagers love their bedrooms, right?