Sunday, July 7, 2013

Look at Those Cheeks!!

Everyone, or at least 90% of everyone, who meets Molly comments on her amazing cheeks. She's a very happy girl, and she has very notable cheeks.
And now it's documented, for her to know forever.

Weighing on My Mind

My daughter is beautiful.

Sometimes I look at her and can't believe what a lovely girl she is. But I try not to tell her too often, cause I don't want her to get a complex. And I don't want it to define her. I do not want her to think someday that if she's not beautiful, it doesn't matter what else she is.

I want her to know that she's also funny, and silly, and smart, and strong, and that she can do anything she wants in this world.

And that she has a lot to offer, no matter what she looks like.

Still, I want her to feel good about her body, and to be comfortable in it. I'd like her always to love standing in front of a full-length mirror in a swimming suit watching herself make silly poses and pull strange faces.
 Okay, I'm not sure she has to love it, but I can tell you that this is an activity in which I would never engage. There would be a lot of scrutiny involved, but it wouldn't be a positive experience if I did something similar.

These days, I spend a substantial amount of time exercising. I've had two babies lately, and there's some weight I need to stop carrying around. Plus, I have so much more energy when I'm in good shape. And I want to set a good example for my kids. Of necessity, the kids are around when I'm doing yoga, returning from a run or doing a weight training workout. And they like to join in.

I'm very careful how I talk about it in front of them. I try really hard never to mention size or weight loss. I talk about getting stronger muscles, which Virginia genuinely needs to do, and about feeling good. I do weigh myself every day, and the kids know this too (they take turns playing on the scale after me). And it seems they've put some things together. Because a few weeks ago, Virginia decided she was going to do yoga on the scale.

Talk about watching the pounds melt off! Funny, but a little worrying.

I worried even more when, a few days later, she told me she was going to exersize and get skinny, really really skinny. And then she would be thin. I told her she already is thin (She is! This child has no hips.), but she claimed to be fat. I was horrified! She didn't get that from me, and I had a hard time not reacting strongly to it. And I had one of those moments where you realize that you can't protect your children from the messages they'll hear out there in the world.

She discovered princesses, even though we never really told her about them.

We didn't really discourage it (what would be the point?), but we didn't encourage either. And yet, she loves princess stories of all kinds. And I'm okay with that theoretically. I do wonder what she'll think about how she should look, though?

Does a princess need to be blonde?

And dress a certain way? In a certain color? Must she have curly hair to be beautiful?

Will she think that her most important job in life is to find, catch and marry a "prince," about whom she knows almost nothing, and spend the rest of her life waiting on him?

I have no problem with most of these activities, but I want there to be other appealing alternatives as well. Because if the princess story line doesn't work out, I think there are a lot of ways she can still enjoy her life just as much, maybe more.

How do I help her enjoy looking good, without obsessing over her looks? How do I exercise to lose weight without having her worry about her weight? How can she enjoy all the fun things about being a little girl, but still know that there are many versions of every fairy tale, and not every happy ending looks the same?

How do I help her to live in the world, with all its influences, and still be herself?!

For now, I think the answer is that I can't. I can be a good example as much as possible. I can tell her stories about women doing all sorts of things, and only some of them are princesses. I can value her for her looks, but also (and probably more) for her other qualities. And, most of all, I can talk to her and listen to her.

Hopefully then, when the day inevitably comes that when she feels ugly or stupid or that she's not any of the things she'd like to be in life, she and I can talk about it. And I can support her until she's happy and comfortable with herself again.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How it Feels

My children drink formula. My body refuses to make more than a few drops of breast milk at a time. It won't. It made slightly more for Thomas, but only an ounce per feeding. Whenever the doctor asks whether I "supplement" with formula, I admit that I actually supplement with breast milk. My children's primary source of nutrition is, and always will be, formula.

What does this mean for me? It means I feel a tremendous amount of sadness and guilt. Every time it comes up that my kids drink formula, I feel compelled to explain that I am unable to lactate. I explain it to friends, relatives, doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, checkout clerks, random strangers really. Whether it's psychologically healthy or not, I need people to know that I tried. And, yes, judgmental (as I would surely be too!) person who has the nerve to ask how long I "tried," I really did.

I spent two months trying to make more milk for Virginia. Two months of weekly visits to the doctor to check her weight and the lactation consultant to try something new. No bottles entered her mouth. Instead, I taped on tubes attached to what amounts to a prosthetic mammary glands and engaged in a feeding ritual that took two people, every time. By the time I fed the baby and pumped, it had been more than an hour, meaning that I had less than an hour to sleep before we did it all again.

Before Thomas was born, I read a book about stimulating milk production. And I saved up tips from others. I tried everything anyone ever told me worked, except for drinking beer. I took twenty-two pills every day, including some that tasted really awful and some that cost more per month than the baby's formula. I was extremely careful not to eat any of the foods that suppress lactation and to include in my diet as many galactagogues (foods that promote lactation) as I could. I drank Mother's Milk tea so much that I didn't even both to heat or sweeten it. I just drank it whenever I remembered to, then put on another cup to steep. Four times per day, I would put nasty drops onto my tongue and let them sit there, ordered not to drink anything for fifteen minutes after I took them. These drops made me smell like maple syrup, but they didn't get me to make more milk.

Trying to increase lactation means that you have to be very careful how you go about breastfeeding. I am quite adept at getting a perfect latch, but always have to spend a good deal of time teaching the baby how to latch well. Any feeding session necessarily involves a combination of things I do and things I get the baby to do to prime the pump, so to speak, and make sure everything is in optimal form for milk transfer. I have spent countless hours sitting on the couch in the middle of the night, counting breast compressions through 40-60 minute feedings and thinking really angry thoughts about women who hardly have to wake up but just lay it bed and feed their babies with little effort at all.

Then, of course, there are the lactation consultants. I've seen quite a number of the matronly, well-meaning "authorities," who seem to believe that if I try harder and think about milk more, I'll be successful. By the time I was in the hospital with Molly, I knew more about stimulating lactation than any of the consultants who stopped by to discourage me from using formula. I even gave one consultant some tips on where another of her patients could find pills to increase her milk supply. I've endured countless remarks from medical personnel about the shape and spacing of my breasts as well as the environment in which I grew up, each seeking an explanation for my inability to lactate. Of course there's nothing to do about it even if we do figure out why, but they do have a talent for contributing to my already secure knowledge that my breasts are inferior. After all this, the best lactation consultant of the pack looked at me one day and said, "I don't know what else to suggest for you."

At long last, with Virginia, I decided that I needed some time and energy left to be a mom. And when she was eight weeks old, I weaned her. But I felt guilty and questioned my decision for months. Thomas gave up after four months, deciding he wasn't getting enough at the breast to make it worth the effort and he wanted to cut straight to the bottle. With Molly, I brought all of my equipment to the hospital and felt very optimistic. I was taking all the teas and pills before the lactation consultant even showed up to check on me. Still, her weight dropped, and I had to start giving her formula in the hospital, with plenty of head shaking and tongue clucking by the doctors and nurses. After a two hour visit to the lactation consultant four days later, she announced that I had not transferred any measurable amount of liquid to the baby. Even knowing that I wasn't giving her anything, it still took two days and a lot of tears to resign myself to surrendering and switching exclusively to bottles. Molly still rooted around, looking for the breast, for months. And my heart ached every time.

So there, fair internet, is the story of why my children drink formula. It is not, I can assure you, because I want them to. But they do because otherwise, they would have nothing to drink. I've come to terms with it and accepted that this is the best way for me to nourish my children. Still, all of this experience is with me. It's with me every time someone complains about breast feeding, every time someone says they have low milk supply, every time the nursing shift at the hospital changes and I have to explain again that I really really do need to supplement. It's there every time someone gives me a look for pulling out formula, every time I don't go into the nursing mothers' lounge at church because I don't need it and don't belong to that club. It's there when I read well-meaning articles on how everyone can breast feed if they really want to. It's there when people ask me if I'm not also glad that I don't have to breast feed. It's there when friends talk about the gallons of extra milk they donated to the milk bank because their baby couldn't drink everything they made. It's there when women talk about how the pregnancy pounds have melted off because their baby is so hungry. It's there when my four year old asks why other babies drink from their mommies' breasts, but mine don't. It is always with me. It's mine to deal with and accept and cry about sometimes. And there's nothing I can do about it.

As a formula feeding mother, it falls to me to buy this much-disparaged substance for my children. And formula, it has to be said, is expensive. I consider it a sort of tax on my body's inferiority. I feel compelled to purchase the name brand formulas, which are even more expensive. How could I not? I've already failed at giving my kids what I consider the very best thing for them. Of course I want to give them the next best thing. So I buy formula that costs about $25 a can, which lasts less than a week.

Whenever you have a baby and the formula companies find out (I tell them, but I'm pretty sure that my doctor tells them too), they really want your business. So they send you coupons. Really good coupons. Coupons worth $5 each. And they're actually rebate checks, so you can use more than one at a time. In fact, you can combine them with store coupons. But you can only use one per can of formula, and they always expire within a few months. As a person of modest means who always has plenty of places to spend my money, I value these checks and take care to utilize them before they expire. They take a really long time for cashiers to process, and each must be processed individually, but I'm willing to wait an extra thirty seconds to save $5.

This past week, I noticed that I had twelve formula checks, all of which would expire at the end of the month. So I planned to head over to Target and stock up for a few months. The checks slow down as the baby gets older, so it's important to use them when you have them. I went on Wednesday and bought eight cans of formula with no trouble. Then yesterday, I went back to Target, and, among other things, bought four more cans of formula. Fortunately, it was a pretty slow time at the checkout stand because the cashier meticulously read over everything written on the check. She told me she wanted to be absolutely certain I was allowed to use more than one per transaction (the formula companies send them four at a time, so I'm not sure that they care). Then, she got on her little phone and called around to two different people to ask what the limit was on how many I could use at a time. Could I use all four? Eventually, a manager came over and approved the transaction. Meanwhile, someone had gotten in line behind me and eventually decided to switch to another line because it was clear I was going to be there a while. And, of course, the two children I had with me were busily pawing through the candy and toys that line the checkouts. As we were nearing the end of the transaction, the cashier decided she wanted to ID me as well. She asked to see my identification to know whether the name on the checks was my name. I dug through my wallet, which Thomas had recently rearranged for me, finally found my driver's license, and produced it. And after all that, she finally accepted my credit card for the (disheartening!) balance of what I owed and let me go on my way.

I really wanted to tell her this whole story. I wanted to tell her how hard I work for the money I use to buy the formula, and that the $20 I was saving really does mean a lot to me. More than that, though, I wanted to tell her how very very very much I did not want to be buying formula at all. But there I was, for an extra five minutes, feeling the shame of what I cannot do for my child, and feeling shamed that I was trying to save a few dollars while providing for her in the best way I possibly could. True, I don't know the other people who decided they couldn't wait for my eternal transaction. And I don't know this cashier who for some reason felt the need to put my poverty on display for a while. But I still felt disheartened and diminished by the fact that a transaction that is painful every time, and not just for my wallet, should be stretched into an inquisition.

As I collected my children and my new belongings and headed home, I thought about people who collect welfare. There are so many reasons that a person may come to need WIC or Food Stamps or subsidized housing, and I don't think any of them are pleasant. I would think those people would much rather pull out some cash than be reminded, in a rather public setting, that they can't provide food for their family and need it to come from somewhere else. Why would we make these people endure a drug test too? Why would we add another step of degradation and humiliation to what is already a rather demoralizing step? I know a lot of women who don't breast feed for a lot of reasons, ranging from medicines they have to take to the baby's anatomy not allowing it to the mother's emotional health necessitating that they stop. And I wouldn't wish the formula check inquisition on any one of them. Nor would I wish anything like it upon any person who finds themselves in need of something they'd like to provide on their own but can't. Just give the people their food and let them go home.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

In other news

 These two adore each other.

 I really can't believe how old she is! Or how much I love her when she's not asking me "why" just because she's bored.

We blessed Molly

 These people came. As did my parents, though they somehow escaped the pictures.
 Tommy got a new doll, cause he and Scout were fighting over hers all the time. She, of course, appropriated the new one and has let him have free reign with the older (nicer) doll.
 It's warm enough for the park most days, and Scout is much more adventuresome this year.
 Tommy still loves ice cream.
 And dancing and jewelry.
 Molly still sleeps, though not as much.
 She's super happy when she's awake.
 These two often wake me up in the morning, which is a good experience more than it isn't.
 He mostly likes to eat snacks at the park, though sometimes he climbs to the top of the slides and stare down them.
 She is STILL obsessed with Mary (and princesses).
 She now also loves missionaries. I think this is mostly because she secretly thinks Sister Erickson is a princess.

Once it was even warm enough to swim.

I just realized that... least two of my children are almost completely different people from who they were the last time I posted on my blog. 

He's much older....
 ...and she's much bigger.
The cuteness factor remains sky high. Some things never change.

Gone to Pieces

Five years ago, when I moved to Madison, I was lonely. I had had a hard time finding friends in Virginia since those I knew were in very different places from me and couldn't relate to my situation, a childless, married law student. In Madison I had little to do. I called my mom every single day. It was a hard time. But then, I started to meet people. And I finally found the people like me. It turns out there are a lot of them!

I found women who are educated, opinionated, intelligent, strong and so many other things that I am or hope to be. One Sunday afternoon our new acquaintances, Johnny and Sheena, invited us to their apartment where we meet the Prices, another couple who were relatively new to Madison. We all sat around and talked for hours as if we'd know each other for years. It was wonderful. When we got home I couldn't believe that we didn't separate our conversations according to gender and, in fact, it was mostly the women who talked. Jessica, Sheena and I had plenty to say about everything and husbands who weren't bothered by our pert opinions, as Jane Austen might call them.Over the next year I added many many friends who enriched my experience and made me come alive in ways I hadn't before.

But then, the hard part of being a grad student happened. My friends and their husbands started to graduate. And they moved away. All the permanent ward members told us how hard it is to make friends and see them go, but it really is really hard!

For the past few months I've felt a shift in my life as things become more and more about our little family and we increasingly spend time with just our kids and have less time for social engagements. I suppose it's a new phase of life as the number and needs of my children increase. I'm not sure I'll ever again have as many and as wonderful friends as I've had here, in part because I won't have time for them. I'm definitely enjoying so much wonderful family time. But at the same time I'm mourning the passing of my wonderful friendships.

There are so many things we love about Madison, but my favorite by far is the people I've met here. I know it will be hard for us to move when our time comes, but the truth is that some of Madison has been leaving me in small, slow pieces for several years now. 

I miss Jenn, who taught me not to fear childbirth and that my body is strong and knows what to do.
I miss Sheena, who taught me to say what I think and introduced me to the Hunger Games and Ingrid Michaelson..
I miss Brouge, who introduced me to genuine whole wheat bread.
I miss Bethany, who taught me to whine less, let things go and be strong.
I miss Tish, who taught me how to take care of a baby and the importance of shared sorrows.
I miss Becky, who gave me permission to do what's best for me and my family no matter what anyone else says.
I miss Chrystal who taught me to play real games and to make oreo truffles.

In the past ten days, two of the biggest pieces of my Madison circle of friends have left. And I tear up every time I think about it. I can't wrap my mind around them being gone. And with four more of my favorite people set to leave before the summer ends, I know the coming year is going to be long and lonely all over again. I have many wonderful friends still here, but my heart will ache for a long time over those who are not.

I know I'll someday join the slow exodus, but that only makes up a fraction of the difficulty of losing my friends. I know we'll always be friends, but the distance from here to Michigan, and Maine and New York and Delaware seems an eternity. I want so much to gather them all back here, sit them down in my living room and just enjoy being together. How much I wish I could piece back together my wonderful circle of friends and appreciate them for how wonderful they were before I realized how fleeting our time together would be.

Friday, February 22, 2013


I love Thomas's hair. It has been awesome his entire life (except those few months when it was plagued with cradle cap, but we're trying to block that from memory). Always cute, always looking like I did it on purpose. Sadly, those days reached their end. It was approaching the mullet stage, and getting in his eyes. So, haircut time came.

I was feeling fiercely independent and ridiculously cheap when things finally reached a head. Thus, I threw him in the tub after dinner one evening and took care of it myself.

It needs a little trimming still (haven't had the energy for Part II yet), but overall I'm pretty happy with the result.

Honestly, he's at such an adorable phase right now, I'm not sure I could screw it up if I tried. I spend way too much time admiring his cuteness. He may develop a complex.

Advice for a Newly at Home Mom

My cousin recently became a stay-at-home-mom and expressed her conflicted feelings at being at this point in her life (motherhood is not necessarily her first choice of careers). She asked for insight on how stay-at-home-moms and housewives maintain their sanity. This is my response:

1 - Be very careful not to confuse what you do with who you are. There are many things you do because they need to be done, but that doesn't define you. You can choose to be whomever you like, even if you have to do other things some of the time. Being a mom may be part of your identity. Maybe it's an important part, maybe it's a significant part, but it doesn't need to be (and really shouldn't be) all there is to you. If it becomes that way, I think you're doing yourself, your husband, and your children a disservice.

2 - Decide and defend who you are. Once you have that figured out, don't forget it. Don't get so lost in taking care of your husband and child(ren) that you lose yourself completely.
Our current society is largely into self-interested actions. Many people have encouraged me to live apart from my husband in order to further my own career and allow him to further his. Neither of us would have to make any professional sacrifice. Unfortunately, the quality of our marriage would be sacrificed instead. I don't believe that's a feasible solution. You can't make every decision in your life based on what's best for you. However, you shouldn't rule your own wants and needs out completely. Decide what you want and weigh that into your decisions. You'll need to make some sacrifices in order to be happy, I'd guess, but you don't need to sacrifice everything. Don't lose sight of who you are and what you want. Never lose that. If you feel like it's lost, take some time to yourself and find it again. Ask your husband, your close friends and the rest of your family to help you. If they love you, they'll support you in your need to be an individual with your own personal goals, needs and wants.

3 - Make an effort to develop yourself continually in ways you enjoy. For me, this can be learning new recipes or reading books I like. Some people take photography classes or exercise. One of my friends quilts. Have things that are yours that you do because you enjoy them (I happen to love cooking, so there is the byproduct of feeding others, but that's not why I do it). Take time for these things regularly. You need a break from parenthood sometimes. Regularly.

4 - Don't view yourself as inferior or subservient to your husband just because he's financially supporting the family. This one is really important. You've both chosen for you to stay home in order to save the family money. You're taking care of some things and he's taking care of others. He should NOT be ordering you around and you shouldn't be letting him just because he makes the money. Your roles are different. It's not like you're not doing work; you're just doing different work. Don't undervalue your contribution. And don't view yourself as subservient for any other reason either. Whatever you may have learned in Young Women or anywhere else, you are his equal and don't ever believe otherwise. Ever.

5 - Raise your daughter to view the world differently. Talk to her about college and her career and everything you wish you'd been told were possibilities. Protect her dreams about her future and don't let others take them away. If her Young Women experience is mirroring yours, voice your objection to her leaders. Living solely for marriage and motherhood is not doctrine.  Families are important and valued, but wedding dresses, baby names and choosing your wedding colors as a teenager are not. Those things really don't matter. They're fun for teenage girls to dream about, but they don't matter. There are so many resources available on how to raise a confident daughter. Be on the lookout for them and make conscious choices about the woman you'd like her to become.

6 - Reach out and be connected to the world. Establish a routine that includes you having time to read the news if that's important to you or read fashion magazines if that's what you prefer. Get in the habit of connecting with other adults. For the next two years your "play dates" are going to involve you bringing your baby to sit or play next to other babies and it won't matter to her at all whether the other children are there or not. But you need the adult conversation, so make it happen. Find other people who you like being around who have children or have time to hang out, and schedule time together regularly. You'll have more time as she gets into a sleeping and eating routine, and you have to prioritize time with other adults. It really will save your sanity in many ways. You can also join (or start) at book club, have people over to get their hair done, start a cooking group, or whatever other way you can dream up to get adults into your life for grown-up conversation. It takes more effort when you have a child, but it's so worth it to pursue adult conversations for yourself.

7 - Don't let anyone else (including me!) tell you who you need to be our how to run your life. Don't let anyone else define happiness for you. Part of the issue with the women in the Mona Lisa Smiles  era is that these women have to keep up the appearance of perfection. And that exists a lot in Mormon culture, particularly in Utah. You'll decide what's important to you. Maybe having a clean living room is worth the effort, but having a clean bedroom isn't. Maybe you want your daughter's hair done all the time but you don't care about whether her clothes are designer or hand-me-downs. Maybe you'll hand make all the decorations for all of her birthday parties, but most nights dinner will be from a box. That's fine. You're allowed to have your own priorities and make your own choices about how to spend your time and effort. Kirsten Dunst didn't want to be a SAHM. Julia Stiles did. Different people want different things, and that should be okay. You don't have complete freedom to choose what you want to do at this point, but you can make the most of the situation you have and choose what's going to be important enough to warrant your effort.

8 - Remember, nobody's life is as great as it looks on their blog. We present the best version of ourselves. But truly, everyone has problems, and most of them are pretty serious ones. So don't judge yourself by the tiny piece of other people's lives that you can see.

9 - Enjoy it. Being a housewife and a stay-at-home-mom is hard and it's not always fun. But, there are great moments and I think it helps to revel in those. Enjoy the various stages your daughter reaches. Enjoy your time with her. Take pleasure in the things you do enjoy (decorating your house? spending time with your husband?). Choose to be happy. There will be parts of your life you don't enjoy (changing poopy diapers, anyone?) and you'll probably never enjoy them because no one does. Or because they're just not your thing. But find parts of your routine that you do like and try to focus on enjoying those. It really does make things better. Spending all your time wishing things were different will make you unhappy very quickly. And, having a career probably isn't quite as great as it seems like it would be, just like staying at home probably isn't really as perfect as it looks to someone who can't.

10 - Know that this full-time mom who also has a full-time job is jealous that you're financially able to do just one or the other. I know it isn't what you pictured for yourself, but you are lucky to be able to do it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

iPhones are Fun: A Photographic Essay in Two Parts

Part I: Wait, if I push this button it will show me my face and take a picture of my face at the same time?! (pared down from well over 100 images)

 Part II: How do I do that again?
 Ah, yes.
 This really IS as fun as I remember.

 Okay, I'm over it.