What Are We Even Judging Each Other About?


When I decided to settle here once I left the military, I looked to the internet to find other parents so that I could build a social network of fellow parents for me, and their kids for the boys. There are a few websites I looked into: raisingthem, meetup, mommeetmom, etc. All have parenting groups, mom’s groups, play groups, or ways to link up to make them; they all amount to the same thing. I found several groups in my area, and most of these had its own niche: All natural, green parenting; parenting kids with special needs; working parents; “geeky” gamer parents; pagan parents; fundamentalist christian parents; “fitness” parents; and then a few groups that were just location based, some that specified they are open to anyone in the area joining, and that they “don’t judge” different parenting styles. Those groups all had a very inclusive message, and I figured they were basically for parents who weren’t fired up about any one interest.

My parenting style doesn’t really fully fit into any of the niche crowds. I like video games and own several gaming consoles, and I am definitely a fan of some geeky stuff (Yay sci-fi/fantasy games, books, movies, shows!), but I’m not into D&D or Magic:The Gathering, I’m not into LARPing (Live Action Role Play) and I’m not the type to keep up with the latest games the minute they come out. I’m not hard-core enough to be a geeky/gamer parent. When the price isn’t prohibitively higher I try to make pro-environment choices and opt for some organics. I even grow a small, very amateur, all-organic garden in my back yard, but I own an SUV and I’m definitely all about murdering the crap out of a bug if I find it in my house. Plus it doesn’t make me sad to drink water out of a plastic bottle, even though I usually use reusable ones just because I’m cheap. Again, I’m just not hard-core enough about being green, so I don’t think I fit into any nature-lover’s parenting group. My kids don’t have special needs, so that’s out. We aren’t religious, and while I have plenty of mildly religious friends, I’m way too liberal to belong a group of any kind of fundamentalists, whether they’re christian or otherwise. Even though I belong to a gym, I’m not in amazing shape, and I felt intimidated to attempt to join a group of moms who identify at fit. Even though I am a fan of working out regularly, and during my time in the military I have amassed a pretty comprehensive understanding of physical training, I’ll never be confused for a fitness trainer on sight alone. I worried that my fitness level wouldn’t be high enough to be welcome in one of those groups.

So the location based ones are it, right? The problem with a random group selected solely by location is that it’s a crap-shoot as to whether they’re at all socially compatible. There was no way to know whether you had anything else in common with any of them without just jumping in. I found that many groups were centered around a core set of moms that was very cliquish, and even without any purposeful rudeness, you knew you were not really “in.” Sometimes you just can’t break into a group that really isn’t interested in expanding, so some of those groups I just didn’t bother to make a real effort with. I tried out about a half dozen groups, and with every group I found that the initial few playdates went about the same: there was a warm reception, everyone was friendly, and it was like an awkward first date in that everyone makes polite inquiries about your life and background, while offering up a bit about themselves in exchange. Some of the groups had just started, and due to weak participation or schedules not lining up, the groups fizzled before they really even got going. With others, even when I didn’t feel excited about the group, I went to several events just to give it a real try. It’s almost impossible to get a realistic feel for the group in one meeting, unless it is dramatically wrong for you.

Once I did get to see more, I noticed that a lot of the moms would gossip and snipe about other moms in the group who weren’t present. There was a whole lot of judgement being slung around about any mom who exhibited any deviation from the group’s parenting norm. This phenomenon wasn’t exclusive to any one group. Some of the things I noticed being picked on in particular were moms who were too busy with their kids’ activities, who were too cautious about what they fed their kids, who worked especially hard on their fitness, or who were extra crafty and seemed like a “supermom.” I expected some amount of gossip, which I’ve found to be common amongst groups of men or women equally, but the thing that surprised me was that I didn’t expect it to be centered on things that are generally considered positive. Anything a mom was doing that took extra time and effort was on the table. It was as if every mom doing well was somehow doing those things only to show up every other. These women’s own insecure or inadequate feelings were eclipsing their ability to even acknowledge that making the extra effort could possibly be for the person’s own sense of accomplishment, or simply because they were doing what they considered to be best for their family. Anytime I didn’t weigh in against the behavior in question- especially if I disagreed that it was a problem, but even when I merely stayed silent- I felt like I was filed away into the same category alongside those other judged moms. I’ll admit there were times that I agreed with the group simply from a feeling of peer pressure. I’m no saint, and I don’t claim to be. Sometimes I just wanted to feel accepted, and I would nod, and give a bland, “Yeah, I know.” or “Weird.”

While on some level, I would feel a twinge of guilt at participating, on another I just liked having other moms to go out with and having kids for my boys to socialize with, and there was still a significant part of the time that no one was being insulting or hurtful. These people weren’t villains with one dimensional, petty jealousy summing them up. Some were very thoughtful and helpful, there was a genuine element of friendship developing at various levels amongst group members. There just happened to also be a lot of judgement about anything “other.”

I realized that most of those niche groups were likely formed not in an effort to exclude the people who weren’t hard core enough about their particular interests, but rather, to find a group who wouldn’t ostracize them for those interests. It gave me a whole different perspective about the type of moms that must make up these groups, and I saw that I shouldn’t automatically assume they’re one-dimensional, either.

Finding A Doll For A Boy


My kids are boys, and they happen to show curiosity and interest in toys of all kinds. Whether they’re labeled as boy toys or girl toys doesn’t have any real meaning in their young minds. When Dash was just a little baby, my Mom got him a baby doll. It was bald and had on a yellow dress, with a heart-shaped light on the chest that reminded me a bit of Iron Man, except that it was smaller. He had some minor interest, but it just never really caught his imagination. I re-gifted it, because I don’t want to waste a toy that could find a loving home elsewhere. As he’s grown, there have been numerous times he’s encountered dolls; at the children’s museum, at day care when another kid brought it in, and especially in the homes of other kids during play dates. He frequently has picked them up, played with them for a few minutes, and then lost interest. Some of the times he’s picked them up, other kids who were a bit older have pulled them away and told him, “That’s a girl toy!” When we’ve been in toy aisles, he’s pointed to dolls and showed interest in them, but then always dismisses them before an actual purchase is made. Nearly every time, he tells me in a disappointed tone, “Oh, it’s a girl.” He’s mainly ended up acting out care-taking role play with stuffed animals. He has a few teddy bears or  rabbits that he would cuddle, attempt to “feed,” and even use to pretend to change a diaper.

Now that Ozzie is old enough to show preference for some toys over others beyond just what is handy, he’s also been drawn to dolls a few times. He’s picked them up and given them kisses and hugs, and generally behaved in a way that shows he likes them. It’s very sweet, and yet, again, other children have chastised him against playing with a “girl toy.” Just as I did when this happened with Dash, I’ve always reminded them that there are no toys that a boy or girl can’t both play with, and that all toys are for all kids if they want them.

I pride myself in being pretty progressive, and pretty open and accepting of whatever, as long as my kids are getting something positive from it. I’m not going to push girl toys on my boys for the sake of training them to like girl stuff, but I also won’t ever try to steer them away from anything feminine nor drive them to more masculine items. But Dash at least, very specifically has asked for a boy doll. On store shelves it is just impossible (at least, wherever I’ve looked) to find a doll that is clearly a BOY doll, unless it is an “action figure,” generally about half the height of a barbie, made of hard plastic, and not very toddler friendly. Those hard dolls aren’t much good for cuddling, and they don’t have removable clothes that can be changed to allow for more imaginative play. They may have moveable arms and legs, but even that isn’t standard. What the heck, toy sellers? Why can’t my boys have a doll that isn’t wearing a dress, and that doesn’t force them to fight off stereotypes about what kind of boy he must be?

I had no choice but to look to the internet to find two boy dolls for my two boy kids. My standards were set pretty low. I was looking for a doll around a foot long, a bit more wouldn’t be a problem, but I didn’t want something so small that it’d be too small to hug. Something soft so they can take it to bed, and that can be tossed into the washing machine. Removable clothing would be a plus, and in that case, I would want to pick up a few outfits that they could change out.

So to sum it up: 1- at least a foot tall. 2- soft. 3- removable clothes and others to change into (not a deal breaker).

I actually found a very short list of options, and almost all of them were sold out and discontinued. I’d like to take a moment to ask, didn’t Amazon’s mom tell them it isn’t nice to tease? Why do they list items that are not only out of stock, but will never be back? Of the dolls I did find, no two different dolls were of similar build but with different clothes. I didn’t want identical dolls for the boys so that they wouldn’t fight over whose doll was whose, but there were so few options for variety! I thought of getting two of the same and just finding extra clothes so they’d look at least a little unique, but I couldn’t find ANY boy doll outfits unless they were for tiny dollhouse figures. I finally found one company that had two different boys, but one came with only shorts, and no shirt. WTF? who wants a half-clothed doll? But with no other good options, I actually ordered one set only to get an email telling me there was a mistake, and that I’d have to chose another doll in the fully clothed one’s place, and the other dolls were girls (but don’t worry, they had about a dozen of them to chose from). Seriously? No wonder you still have the naked boy. Give the poor kid a shirt and he’d probably sell a little better!

I ended up settling on two different dolls which were as similar in size as I could find, although sadly, I couldn’t find any separate clothes for them. Still, Dash and Ozzie are thrilled with “Asher” and “Johnny.”

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These dolls are their best buddies, they can’t get enough of them! They’re attached to them at the hip; their dolls have been driving dump trucks, climbing block “mountains,” exploring the darkest corners of forts, and snuggling up to watch a movie or to read a book. And the best part is that when other kids see them playing with these dolls, they can see that they are clearly boys, so my toddler and preschooler don’t have to navigate the murky and much too mature realm of gender-issues just to enjoy their toys.

 

 

 

‘Parenting’ and ‘Punctuality’ Do Not Go Together


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When I first became a parent I had no idea how I was ever going to be on-time again. I was in the Army, and punctuality was a big deal in my life. Prior to Dash coming along, I figured I would spend my time during my maternity leave peacefully cuddling my new bundle and that I’d just avoid going out of the house for a couple of days until I got the hang of things. You know, since it takes a couple of days to master the whole baby thing.

I’ll skip over the frantic first few weeks when I was just completely lost in a haze of sleep deprivation and constantly freezing mid-thought to listen again for a breath because is he breathing? During those days, I barely remember leaving because I was just so upside down. Even once I was slightly better at it, leaving the house was always a toss of the dice, because I found that babies have a special sense that tells them when you need to leave now or be late, and they take those opportunities to spit up all over themselves or audibly fill their diaper as if to say, “You didn’t think we were going yet, did you?”

In those early days, leaving involved an almost embarrassing amount of preparation. I had every item known to man along, but I felt like I was guaranteed to forget something, so I would frantically dig through the diaper bag and check and recheck that everything was where it should be. I was ready if it was sunny, if it was rainy, if it was very windy but somehow still warm. I was ready for everything short of a damned alien invasion. Sure, if anyone looked into the back of my hatchback, it looked like I lived in my car, but that was no big deal. All parents have a trunk space that’s teeming with baby stuff to the point that opening it turns into a crazy dance where you try to open it just so, so that you can get a hand in there to block everything before it falls,  right?

And yet with all that packed and ready to go, it seemed like I’d get just out of the garage, or even just down to the end of our street, and have to hurry to run back in because I suddenly realized the bottle was still in the refrigerator, or that my meticulously packed diaper bag was still sitting by the garage door.

I eventually felt like I had getting out of the house under control, just in time to have Ozzie come along and make me feel like I was back to square one, because there was a little team of children tag-teaming the task of making me late, and probably high-fiving behind my back or when I was looking away.

Over a year into the having-two thing, I still find myself either rushing out the door to make it anywhere on time. Of course, anytime I actually manage to leave early due to contingency planning, nothing throws us off, and I just have to sit and twiddle my thumbs in a parking lot, trying to keep my kids from turning into pumpkins while we’re waiting for it to be a reasonable time to go into our destination. So, perpetually early or perpetually late, but never on time. You just can’t win.

How to be a Horrible Human for Halloween


This story on USA Today (and probably picked up all over) is about an evil bitch in North Dakota who is all set to shame and exclude children she decides are “moderately obese” when they come to the door tomorrow.

here’s the whole letter:

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This woman is (poorly) disguising her venom as concern, but the reality is that she doesn’t know how healthy these kids are. There are plenty of kids who are going to plump up a bit and thin out naturally during the course of their childhood as they go through growth spurts. There are kids who are thin but badly malnourished and who probably need real, healthful food badly, who won’t benefit at all from that candy. There are heavy kids who are perfectly healthy, and for all she knows, their parents are going to make them eat only a few pieces of their haul and it’s going to last months. The point is, she isn’t these children’s doctor. She doesn’t know, nor is it her place to butt in about, their state of health.

This is just her chance to make a few kids feel terrible and excluded, and she thinks it’s perfectly okay to do that to them, because apparently she’s the boss of everyone and what their children are fed.  The only thing this will acconplish is to hurt people, and there is no way she could be so dense as to be oblivious to that simple fact. I’d go so far as to say that her true intention is to hurt feelings, because she would have taken a different route if it wasn’t.

If she felt true concern about children’s health and what they snack on, she could hand out boxes of raisins, or apples, or cranberries or whatever dried fruit she prefers. She could hand out toothbrushes or pennies, or stickers, or those lame little erasers that do an awful job of actually erasing anything, and that everyone throws away the next morning because they’re no longer relevant since the Halloween season is over. She could hand out crayons, or twisty straws, or pumpkin seeds. She could even include a note with her “treats” to declare that her alternatives to candy were given in the spirit of encouraging healthy habits for everyone, not just the heavier kids.

But the best choice of all? She could turn off her porch light and save people from having to deal with a terrible, horrible, real, live monster.

Just When I think I’ve Got This Down… I Don’t.


Occasionally I do things that my younger, much cooler self, would never believe she’d one day do. Domestic things, mostly, so get your mind out of the gutter.

Today, I decided to pre-make several meals to freeze ahead.  I discovered the magic of meal-swapping with a group of mom friends, where we each make a really big batch of something, portion out one meal for 2-3 people for each mom involved, and then trade. We all end up with several different meals to grab out of the freezer for an easy homemade dinner, yay! We have a planned meal exchange coming up later this month, and since I was feeling especially motivated (and didn’t know when that would happen again), I decided to knock it out. I always make a few extra portions to keep at home, so I was making 10 pans of lasagna. I dropped the boys off to their half-day of day care/pre school and got going cooking as soon as I got home. I was sauteing veggies and meat, mixing up the cheese and seasonings, making a few adjustments to the store-bought sauce to really make it mine; I was feeling like a domestic superhero! That feeling should have served as a warning.

Things were nearly done when I ran out of noodles to top the last layer, and I was cutting it close on sauce, so I ran to the grocery store on my way to pick up the boys, got them home and brought in the couple of bags of groceries, set them up with lunch and got back to my lasagnas. The hiccup with insufficient ingredients was smoothed over, everything was back on track, and even having the kids home while I was doing this wasn’t causing any problems! Woo hoo! Still doing a great job at being domestic!

I get all of the pans done and wrapped in foil, and now all that needs to happen is for me to get them into the freezer in the garage. I’m like a lasagna-cooking rock star! I grab the first two pans and head out, smiling a big smug smile, because I’ve got this shit down. My house is laid out in a stupid way so that I can’t go directly to the garage from the kitchen, I have to cross through the carpeted living room and dining room areas. So, having made these kinds of frozen meals before, I figured I should be able to stack them two high to carry them over and still have a hand free to open the garage and the freezer doors. I notice that the bottom pan is just barely beginning to leak, spilling just a few drops of red sauce on the carpet. I hurry to the garage door and rush to set the pans onto the shelf, where I unstack them and start to rearrange the other items in the freezer. Crap. If I can’t stack them because I’ve made them too saucy, I may not have room for them. Once they’re frozen, it’ll be fine and they can be stacked, but how do I get them to freeze first if they won’t fit?

The kids are finishing up lunch, and I have to pause my lasagna tetris to get them cleaned up. Once that’s done, I set them up with a few toys so that they won’t be as likely to wreak havoc in the next five minutes. Back out in the garage, I now know I’m on the clock, because Dash and Ozzie will only stay interested in one thing for a few minutes at a time. I go back to rearranging things, and place the last pan of lasagna up near the top on a few bags of frozen corn and peas. One last glimpse shows that something is dripping again. Damn. I’m checking the edges and feeling along the foil to see which pan is leaking when something becomes unstable. one of the pans starts to slide forward, and I grab it, but then another and another shift. Somehow everything in the freezer is no longer cooperating with the laws of physics, and it’s all trying to fly out.

Several scrambling moments later, I have shoved and scooted things back into what seems like a perfect arrangement, and I begin to close the door. Just then, a pan starts to fall and I fling open the door to catch it, but instead I just catch the edge and it flips against me, then sort of slides down the front of my shirt and falls top-down on the garage floor. The pan may as well have been covered in sunshine and happy thoughts, because the foil managed to hold nothing back. I am covered in cold, gooey red sauce, meat, and cheese. Somehow this meal that would have looked delicious and impressive if it had been properly presented hot from the oven, looks like half-processed barf on my self and my garage floor.

I walk back into the house, trying to keep from spreading the mess covering me to anything else, and Dash says, “Ozzie is playing in the toilet.”

So much for being a domestic superhero.