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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Personal Goals for the New Year

Not a fan of the whole New Year's Resolutions business. I wouldn't even be doing this now if I hadn't seen it now. If I saw it 6 months ago, I would've done it then. I like it, I'm doing it. I don't, however, need a date on a calendar to tell me when things need to change.

via Pinterest (original source unknown)

All that being said, I present to you my personal goals for the upcoming year.


A bad habit I'm going to break: chewing my cuticles
A new skill I'd like to learn: sewing (CHECK!)
A person I hope to be more like: my son
A good deed I'm going to do: anonymously hire a cleaning service for my mother-in-law (we'll just ignore this, since my mother-in-law has refused help and doesn't wish to live in anything other than her hoard) make a quilt out of the clothes of her daughter who passed away for my friend (CHECK!)
A place I'd like to visit: New Mexico
A book I'd like to read: A Game of Thrones
A letter I'm going to write: a love letter to my husband on our 5th anniversary (CHECK! You can even read it here.)
A new food I'd like to try: portobello mushrooms
I'm going to do better at: running

I'll keep myself accountable and keep you updated on my progress as the year goes on.

Do you make resolutions at the beginning of the year? What are yours?

UPDATE - One Year Later
As of December 29, 2014, exactly one year after first writing this post, here's where I landed:

My cuticles are still a wreck. I'll be honest - I didn't even try with this one. I'm not even going to put it on next year's to-do list, because I know it's just not a reality. Why set myself up for failure when it's not even that important to me?

My sewing is getting better and better AND I even picked up a second new skill: crochet. My favorite things to make are gifts and items for charity. I've made about a dozen preemie hats for charity, a scarf for a child in a Mexican orphanage, and am already starting on next year's Christmas gifts. Two skills - that has to make up for something I didn't do, right?

I'm OK on the good deed front. Like I said, I enjoy few things more than doing things for others, so I'm not sweating this one. Of course, you can only help those who want it. Lesson learned.

We didn't hit New Mexico for the hot air balloon extravaganza this year. This year, our car has been paid off and we're pulling in a little more money, so travel is in our future. Huzzah!

I didn't get to Game of Thrones. My husband stole the first book and barreled through the entire series before I could blink. I couldn't wait for him to finish, so I was on to other books. GoT is on the shelf, though, so I'll get to it. In the meantime, I HAVE started WRITING my own book, so, you know, that's something!

I wrote my love letter. If you followed along, you can read it above. He's a keeper.

Portobello mushrooms. Sigh. I just couldn't bring myself to eat fungus. I mean, I wouldn't eat the stuff between my uncle's toes, so why would I do this? Yes, I still eat like a four year old. I've learned to accept it.

Running was both a great joy and a great disappointment for me. I started the Couch to 5K program and fell in love instantly. It was so exhilarating and satisfying! Then I got injured. I cried. I knew myself well enough to know that by the time I healed, my motivation would be lost. I was right. I couldn't find it again. I cried.
I did decide to follow a longtime dream of joining a roller derby league, though. Then the reality of the expenses set it and that had to be put on hold. I cried again.
These goals will remain on the list for the future. I shall meet these. I shall.

Overall, I may not have met all of my goals, but I'm mostly OK with that. It's been a good year full of health, happiness, and more love than I ever knew I could give or receive. I'd call that a success. Yes, 2014 was a success.

How was YOUR year?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

(Possibly) Good Advice I Just Won't Take

People I love post, say, and do hurtful, dangerously ill-informed, mean, or terrifically offensive things. We all have those people in our lives and in our newsfeeds. Shoot, more than once, I've been that person.

Once, several years ago, I posted a joke meme about Aspergers. I didn't even think twice. It seemed funny to me. Thankfully, a friend of mine was courageous enough to stand up to me, stand up for what was right, stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. I immediately saw the error of my ways, apologized profusely, did my best to right my wrong, and sat down to think really critically about what is funny and what is not. I was changed by that interaction. And I found myself with a deep admiration and respect for that friend, because it is far more difficult to confront someone you know and care about than it is to sit behind a keyboard and throw epithets in all caps at a stranger on a random Facebook page. How courageous of her to do what was right as opposed to what was easy.

I am now that courageous person. Generally, I pick my battles. If I went after every HUA* post, comment, or action I saw or heard, I'd have no other time in my day. There are those things, though, that I simply cannot let go. Typically, those include touting the benefits of abusing one's child (spanking, shaming, name-calling, circumcising, etc.), waxing poetic about those who are so disgustingly LGBTQIA, blatant misogyny, and making fun of those with special needs. I don't have many people on my FB friends list who I don't know personally, but those I don't know in real life, have many of the same beliefs that I do, so I do not find myself with any real need to confront any of the aforementioned situations. It's always the people I know and love. It's generally a former student (young adults I'm still close to, still care deeply about) or a close family member. And aren't those the toughest cases?

So, I'm repeatedly told by those who care about me (and sometimes about both parties) that I should stop commenting, hide the person, delete the person altogether. Maybe that's good advice. I don't know, but I know I won't take heed. There are people behind those hurtful things, lives that are affected, damage that is done and they're not there or not able to stand up at that moment and say, "Hey, that isn't right. Please stop." I am. I'm there. So I do it on their behalf. I hope someone else would do the same for me, especially when it's hard to do, because that's when it's really needed.

I get it. I do. I get advising me to avoid the things that will prove hurtful. I get advising me to avoid confrontation for the sake of keeping placid waters in the relationship. For the most part, I get it. That would, indeed, be the easy thing to do. It's just that nagging part of me that says, "But what about the people who are hurting and cannot stick up for themselves? What about them?" that I cannot silence.

So, perhaps I'm not actually the courageous person I thought I was. Perhaps, to you, I'm the stupid person - the glutton for punishment. Whatever you call me, this is who I am and I'm pleased with this part of me. I'm pleased that I'll choose right over easy in this case. So, thank you for the (unsolicited) advice, but I'll pass on it this time.

*head up ass

Monday, November 18, 2013

Santa Claus and Elf on the Shelf - Not in Our Home

We don't "do" Santa Claus. We don't "do" Elf on the Shelf. I know, I know, I'm taking all the magic out of Christmas and essentially making my son's life a broken misery. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's go on to the meat of the issue:

"The Elf on the Shelf® is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus..."

So, basically, he's the tattle-tale for the big guy. Oh goody. As if Santa's whole naughty and nice list weren't manipulative enough, now he needs a helper in his quest to control and manipulate? I think not.

I don't seek to control or manipulate my son at any time of the year, least of all during the Christmas season when we're especially focused on the kindness, generosity, and loved ones. This is one of the myriad reasons we don't lie to him about the existence of Santa Claus. We both grew up with Santa. We both loved him. We both have fond memories of those years. That doesn't mean the jelly-belly wasn't open to scrutiny when working out our parenting ideals. The fact is that Santa Claus is a lie. We can debate all day long about the definition of "lie," but I'm not looking to have a Bill Clinton-esque conversation here. We can further debate the egregiousness of certain lies over others, but to me, someone who values honesty above most else, a lie is a lie is a lie. I never want my son to doubt my veracity, so I'll never lie to him. I make it simple for him to trust me.

Of course, then, Elf on the Shelf isn't a "thing" in our home. Now, I grew up with them around, but they were mere decoration in my great-aunt's and grandmother's homes - they didn't dabble in shady dealings in the dark, they didn't tattle, they didn't animate at all - they were decorative Christmas decorations only. It wasn't until I was older that I found out about their intended purpose. It was like someone stopped the record. Uh, no. We'll not be doing that with our son.

I'm not up for telling him that he has to be "good" or someone or something is going to punish him. I don't do that to him, so why would I let some other fictional folk do it? We know punishments don't work anyway. I don't want my son to obey me or Santa or some elf with a penchant for destruction and mayhem. I want him to do what he needs to do based on his own judgement and self-control. He's a person. He's got this. And when he doesn't "got this," I am there to listen, empathize, help, and hug. I'm not there to say, "Do this or else..." nor are a couple of dudes with sugar addictions and long records of breaking and entering.

Look, I'm not trying to convince anyone to do things my way. I see why people like the Santa myth. I see why people enjoy the Elf on the Shelf kooky nocturnal antics. I'm simply asking you to consider the bottom line to these, as with all other choices that affect our children.

(for no other reason than this movie flingin'-flangin' cracks me up and I thought we needed levity)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Today, I Grieve

Today, for the very first time, I grieved for the loss of my son's twin. Didn't know he even had a twin? That's by design. I never talk about it. Precious few people even in my personal life know he did. Yep. He did. And I imagined, but never knew, that it was a girl - his little sister that he would wrap up tightly in his arms in the womb.

We went through IVF to get pregnant, as some of you may know, so to find we were going to have a baby at all was the greatest joy in our lives up to that point. When we found out there were TWO, we were over the moon! We had dreamed of having twins, because we knew it was likely our one shot to have kids at all. Then our dream was a reality. We immediately had the same lovely image of twin babes inside of me, occupying space together, getting to know each other intimately, forging an unbreakable and lifetime bond - one boy and one girl, one was more protective, one more antagonistic, both the closest of friends.

Then, one day, "she" was no longer. My husband grieved immediately. He cried all the way home. He mourned for some time. I never did. I never shed a tear, I never seemed affected at all...even to myself. I kept my sights focused on the one babe I still had and after he was born my attention was on the present.

Today, I saw this video

and all of a sudden the grief was upon me. I said to my son, "That could've been you" and it hit me. My heart sank and an almost overwhelming sadness came upon me. I felt (still feel, as I write this) an emptiness in my chest and I could burst into heaving sobs at any moment. It's a feeling I've never felt and know now why I stuffed it so many years ago - it hurts indescribably.

If she had been a girl as we imagined her, she would've been named Ellison, "Ellie" for short. She would've shared a wardrobe with her brother. She would've snuggled with him in our big bed. She would've held hands with him while they breastfed together. They would've laughed, cried, fought, and played together. There's so much...and I can't write it all down right now, because right now I'm grieving and am struggling to find a way to express all of the feelings.

All I know is that today, I grieve.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mammals Breastfeed - What I Thought Was Totally Obvious

I recently got this comment: "Breastfeeding is weird" and when I asked for an explanation, I got, "you don't see that something that is supposed to be a higher form of life has the same processes as a cow. #PeopleUdders"


Let's review. People are mammals. Cows are mammals. It never occurred to me that I would need to state this OR define the word, but it seems I do (given the rest of the mind-melting conversation), so here goes:

mammal (noun) any of a class (Mammalia) of warm-blooded higher vertebrates (as placentals, marsupials, or monotremes) that nourish their young with milk secreted by mammary glands, have the skin usually more or less covered with hair, and include humans (courtesy Merriam-Webster)

The very word "mammal" comes from the fact that we have mammary glands from which we nourish our young. If that's weird, wrong, gross, or any number of other negative slurs we all regularly hear and read, I don't want to be normal, right, prim, or any number of other positive adjectives used to describe those who do things "properly."

Cows make perfect food for baby cows, dolphins make perfect food for baby dolphins, cats make perfect food for baby cats, baboons make perfect food for baby baboons, and human mothers make perfect food for young humans. It's quite a simple concept.

Can we all move on now?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why We Need Lactivism

Without any sort of doctoring, tricks of the trade, or even expectation, THIS is what I found when researching this blog post and I believe it speaks for itself.

Any questions?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Bucket List

I'm not yet middle-aged (hopefully not even close), but, you know, I might as well start figuring out all the cool things I want to do before I keel over now, right?

So, here goes (in no particular order):

- travel to all the continents
- travel to all 50 states in the U.S.
- swim in every ocean
- take singing lessons and perform without hiding (I can sing...well...but I generally hide away when I do it, because I don't like all eyes on me)
- learn to play a musical instrument

- hike the Appalachian trail (at least part of it)
- visit every national park
- go on a scenic train trip
- road trip the entire PCH (CA highway 1)
- write a book (hey, that one is in the works...sweet!)
- take son to where we eloped and honeymooned
- visit all towns called Bray in Europe (my maiden name)
- trace genealogy on paper and then travel to all the places my ancestors lived
- own a bookstore
- see the Northern Lights
- visit all the wonders of the world
- send a message in a bottle containing a deep, dark secret
- give Zen Husband a Christmas with every gift he ever wanted as a kid (he wasn't allowed to get excited on Christmas morning as a kid and it's my job to right that wrong for him)
- learn to quilt, sew, and crochet then make memory items for Zen Son
- visit every home I ever lived in
- build my dream home
- spend the summer in an RV traveling with absolutely no plan of action
- and more as inspiration hits me!

Hopefully, Zen Son and Zen Husband will be along on a great many of these adventures. Although, life with them has been the greatest adventure of all. Even if I never accomplish a thing on this list, I will have had the best life imaginable.

What's on YOUR bucket list?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Zen Son's 3rd Birthday Party

(Update: Napkins.com awarded me their "Best Decorations" award for August 2014. I am so honored!)

What Zen Husband and I had planned: a trip to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

What Zen Son said he wanted: "books"

Books it was, then!

I set off to research ideas for a children's book party. While I was perusing Pinterest, my son caught sight of a Mr. Bump and Little Miss Giggles cake and was immediately smitten. Mr. Bump is his favorite of the Mr. Men/Little Miss books. Everything else fell into place from there.

Cake (hot chocolate flavor with marshmallow filling - Zen Son's choice) - Pixy Cakes - $70 (including tax)

Custom Mr. Bump Pinata - You Buy It You Break It on Etsy - $58 (including shipping)

All decor and finishing touches (chosen by Zen Son) - Target

Guest List - only those requested by Zen Son
- his Mammy and Papa
- his godmother and her girlfriend
- his favorite (great-)aunt and great-grandma
- his three cousins were invited, but were unable to attend

Time Capsule - Michael's - $5 (not including cost of paint - color chosen by Zen Son)

Mr. Men and Little Miss inspired food
- "bookworms" (gummy worms)
- NYPD Pizza with happy face pepperoni (Mr. Happy)
- Laffy Taffy (Little Miss Giggles)
- white Airheads cut into bandage strips (Mr. Bump)
- 100 Grand minis (Mr. Greedy)
- Nutella tea sandwiches (Little Miss Neat)
- Sun Chips (Little Miss Sunshine)
- animal crackers (Mr. Funny who cheers up all the zoo animals)
- licorice ropes (Mr. Brave who walks the tightrope)
- Crunch Crisp minis (Mr. Noisy)

Bunting - handmade by me from old books he no longer read and ribbon

Badass pirate/bibliophile/Karate Kid - all him.

All in all, it was a fantastic day for him (and the rest of us, too!). He had fun, he was with those he loves most and who love him right back - it was truly his day, just as it should be.

Here's to another amazing year, baby. Mama loves your guts out!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Quit Acting Like Such a Girl!"

I have a couple unusual phobias and more unusual fears that are not quite phobic-status, but still rank right up there and the list of things that make me squirm.

I am completely phobic about crawl spaces, vast meadows surrounded by mountains (I cannot ever protect my back - old law enforcement-y phobia), and bugs, reptiles, or animals that move quickly and unpredictably (small lizards, moths, snakes, mice, etc.). They're irrational, I'm aware, which is what makes them phobias. My brain tells me one thing, but my instincts take over and cause intense reactions that I feel nearly powerless to control. These reactions, however, have NOTHING to do with the fact that I am a woman.

Of course, whenever I am in the midst of a phobic reaction, someone along the way tells me to "quit acting like such a girl!" You know, if you want to snap me out of said reaction, if only for a moment, that's the way. Not because it shakes me back to the reality that I'm acting ridiculous (which is what "acting like a girl" means, of course), but because my desire to smack you temporarily supersedes my intense fear.

First of all, way to dismiss my feelings and experience. Secondly, that's some really awesome dig you're taking at all women there. You're just rad all around.

How do girls act anyway? When one of my step-nieces was young, she walked around the corner of the house saying, "Ouch. Ouch. Ouch" over and over, very calmly and matter-of-factly. As she approached, we saw she had in her hand a little reptile that kept biting her finger. She loved it, so couldn't be stifled by the fact that it was hurting her. After she was finished with the lizard (or whatever it was, because you KNOW I wasn't getting close enough to check it out!), she traipsed off to play house with her dolls. That's how one girl acts.

One of my good friends grew up with livestock. She could help a cow give birth after she helped inseminate it, wipe her hands on her jeans, and then go in and bake brownies. That's how one girl acts.

My mom is one of the most athletic people I know. I'd pit her against anyone (male or female) on any field, court, or other athletic venue. She is regularly sought after by the top men in her sports to team up. This has been the case since she was a girl in school to now when she competes in the Senior Olympics. She also has a jewelry box almost as tall as I am chock-full of baubles that she wears all the time. That's how one girl acts.

I can fix or fashion most anything. Cars, home repair, refurbishing of all types, you name it, I can usually do it. And I love it! My garage walls are covered with pegboard full of tools - MY tools. Sometimes, I go out there just to gaze at them and imagine what I'll do with them next. I also scream and cry when I find a lizard in my home. That's how one girl acts.

How is any of this different from how any boy acts, pray tell? My husband has a debilitating fear of clowns. My brother used to have recurring nightmares about attack dogs and snakes. My step-dad would never sit with his back to the door of a restaurant. My son is afraid of the dark. They're men and boys. They're acting like men and boys, because they ARE men and boys. Just like no matter how I'm acting, I'm acting like a woman, because I AM a woman - not just any woman, though...I'm acting like ME.

I grew up with the understanding that "acting like a girl" was a negative. As such, it was a huge insult to me. I took great pride in being "a guy's girl" and unlike all the "other" girls. Why? Because society says girls and women are inferior. Patriarchy says men are superior, thus we should all strive to be as like them as possible. Men must be the manliest. Women must either know their place as demure, inferior dolls or ditch their femininity in order to be taken seriously by their male counterparts. And, of course, I was as entrenched as most in our patriarchal society, that I didn't even know what I was doing or why.

I know now. I have no shame in being a woman. I am proud of who I am. I am a teacher, mother, writer, wife, handy-person, woman, great driver, feminist-in-training, human rights advocate, and so much more. I also have phobias. It's just one part of who I am that has absolutely nothing to do with me being a woman.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Postpartum Visitors (How to Be a Good One...and a Bad One)

As you may know, I planned a homebirth, but 20 hours into labor I transferred to the hospital and 14 hours later had a c-section. (You can read more about it here.) I did NOT have a smooth recovery, to say the least. And we didn't have an easy time breastfeeding. (Read more about that here.) Basically, the first couple of weeks was a mix of pure bliss and pure struggle.

To add to the bliss, one week postpartum, my sister-in-law dropped everything to drive four hours to our place and take care of us. She did laundry, dishes, took a nap with our son while I took my first shower in the whole week. She swooned over him, was the perfect mixture of helpful and out of the way, was just everything I could've ever wanted in a visitor. I have never loved and appreciated her more than I did that week and will always be indebted to her.

In stark contrast and to add to the struggle, was my mother-in-law. She came in the same day as my sister-in-law, but she did it uninvited. I never would've asked her to be there (well, I never would've asked her to come period, but...) a week after I'd just had a new babe and major surgery. She arrived, declared she was on vacation, stayed for an entire week, never once lifted a finger to help with ANYthing, made messes in my kitchen with the junk food she brought for herself to snack on, held our son only two or three times, refused to look at me as I breastfed, never spoke to me, and sat in one of my two favorite breastfeeding chairs every single time she came in. In short, she was a nightmare.

My mother came two or three weeks later, after consulting with us on when would be a good time. She brought groceries. She made dinner. She cried over the sight of her new grandchild. She stayed at a hotel nearby so as to not overwhelm us. She did more laundry (it's amazing how much the laundry piles up when you have a new child...I had no idea!). She kissed his little head as he breastfed. She told me how proud she was of me. She, like my sister-in-law, was the perfect visitor.

Folks, when you visit a new parent, here are some guidelines:
1) ASK first.
2) Bring food.
3) Do chores.
4) Love the babe and the new parents.
5) Don't overstay your welcome.
It's just that simple.

Partners, when someone visits and finds themselves in violation of any of these guidelines, YOU get to run interference. And by "get to" I mean MUST. I don't care if it's your little ol' granny...you take care of your partner and new babe first and foremost. In hindsight, one of my husband's big regrets is that he allowed all of that to take place with his mother. Whatever small fissure there was between me and my mother-in-law before that "vacation," has now widened to one beyond repair. Don't let that happen in your home.

In short, helpful guests are good, unhelpful guests are bad. I would've thought this went without saying, but, clearly, it does not. Learn a lesson from these three women. Take the good, dismiss the bad. Next time you find yourself in a position to visit someone postpartum, be a good visitor, a helpful one, a conscientious one - if you can't, please, for the sake of the new parents, stay home and send a lovely greeting card instead, maybe even include a gift card for the grocery story or something helpful like that.

New babies are miraculous. Everyone wants a look, a chance to ogle the new life. It's important to remember, though, that while this is an amazing time for the new family, it can also be a stressful time and adding to the stress is, obviously, not helpful. Follow my simple guidelines for being a good visitor and you should be on your way to having a perfectly lovely visit with that perfectly lovely family about whom you care so deeply, I'm sure.

(Note: I would've added a picture of my mother-in-law holding our son, but we only have one from the few times she actually did hold him and it's this odd hold where he's kind of just laying across her lap as if he were a blanket for her cold legs instead of a child being snuggled, so I left it out.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Are You Flipping Kidding Me? (My 6th 30 Day Block)

You know you're severely sexually repressed when even the insinuation of a penis in this picture of my son (covered in Nutella) offends you enough to report it:

As a result, Facebook has blocked me for another 30 days (my 6th such block, for anyone counting). It is, however, my first block for anything on my personal page. All others were as a result of some tight-asses on my former Zen Parenting FB page. It's taken me 36 hours or so to even write about this, because by the 6th 30-dayer I'm just exhausted. Exhausted. This was one of the myriad reasons I removed ZP from Facebook. I would've removed myself completely, but I work for my mother's real estate company as her social media person and am writing What to Expect Naturally, so am needed for that. Facebook sucks and as soon as I can get out completely, I will do so and never look back.

Alas, I'm there now (well, not NOW, because of the block...the SIXTH freaking 30 day block!), so I live as I've always lived. My profile is private. I make public several posts that I don't mind sharing, but the default is to keep everything between friends. One of those "friends" decided that the mere knowledge that my son has a penis is just too much for them, thus they reported it to FB and, being the champs that they are, the FB gods took action against me...again.

In fairness, it may not have been one of my friends. Both my husband and mom were tagged in the photo (that's my non-FB-having pops in the background, so I tagged her to show him), so one of their friends could've reported it. Yes, both their profiles are private, also, so the photo wasn't out there for the masses. Objectively, it was likely one of my mom's friends who reported it, as those on her page are decidedly more conservative than those on mine and my husband's.

Regardless of who it was, though, it was a bullshit move by both the reporting party and the illustrious Facebook team.
1) It violates NO policy. We all know FB has no beef with male nipples (female nipples are a completely different story, to which a couple of my other blocks can attest). There is no genitalia showing. NO policy violation.
2) Evidently, the person who reported it is simply freaked out by knowing that there is a penis present on the body in the photograph. I got news for you sexually repressed coward, he has a penis. No matter what picture you see of him, he always has a penis. Unless he chooses to make it otherwise as an adult, he's always going to have a penis. Let's see some other pictures of him in which it is certain he has a penis, even though you cannot see it, shall we? If you're offended easily, you may want to shield your eyes.

                                                         There's a penis in that diaper!

                                     Look at him all not caring about the fact that he has a penis -
                                             just DARING you to report his penis-having self.

                                               Attack of the naked baby photo!  The horror!
                   There's a penis down there (you know, where you aren't able to see).  Noooooooo!!!

                                                         *gasp* *shudder* *REPORT!*
         Two penises (not featured in the photo, but they're there...lurking...being all penisy and such) together
                                      AND male on male kissing.  That's it, we're all going to hell.

                                    PENIS!  You know it's there, just taunting you, offending you,
                                   insinuating that we should all be unashamed of our bodies.  Pfft...

                             Naked child with his penis out and free and there's photographic proof!
              Well, not really, since you can't SEE the offending organ, but it's there damn it...it's there...

I'll tell you what, dear reporter, next time you see a picture of ANYone, you should notify Facebook immediately.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, because they're in there...in every one of those pictures, there's some kind of genitalia lurking just around the corner and we simply cannot have that!

Or, you know, you could grow up, get some therapy, and get stay the hell away from my family and me.  Ya, ya, that's the one...I choose that one.

Swim Spray: A Review

Recently, the water in my city became contaminated with E.coli. In order to treat it, they flushed the system with overwhelming amounts of chlorine. Among other issues with that, one of my problems is that I am allergic to chlorine, so showering and bathing became nearly unbearable. I would only do it when the backs of my ears started smelling like Parmesan cheese. Don't judge. You don't know.

I happened to whine about it as What to Expect Naturally on Twitter one thankfully, I was contacted shortly thereafter by the good folk at Swim Spray. They shipped me out some product and here I am telling you what I think of it.

Swim Spray is just vitamin C and water in a spray bottle. Sprayed on the skin, it'll stave off any allergic reaction from chlorine one may experience on the skin as well as any of those ugly chemical effects the chlorine has on the hair. I was at once optimistic but skeptical. It couldn't be that simple - spray on, shower, goodbye negative shower experience. Nah.

I tried the spray four different times, in four different ways to ensure I wasn't imagining anything or dismissing anything else.

First bath: Sprayed on both feet (the place on my body that is always most irritated by the chlorine), entire body, hair.
- Result: Didn't work (at least not on my feet). Frustration and disappointment ensued as I slathered my dogs in hydrocortisone cream and covered them in socks.

Honestly, I almost chucked the whole experiment then, because making myself the guinea pig for this particular assignment with these particular potential results seemed more than I could take. I'm no quitter, though! (Or, perhaps, I'm just that much a masochist.)

Second shower: Sprayed on both feet. Sprayed more than I did the time before and left it on for longer before showering.
- Result: MUCH less itching on my feet. I did still have some between my toes, but I began to think I had possibly not covered those crevices thoroughly enough. I was willing to keep trying!

Third bath: Sprayed on both feet. Completely saturated those puppies. Every nook and cranny was soaked with Swim Spray. I also let it stay on for a couple minutes before hopping in the tub.
- Result: Success! Absolutely no itching whatsoever. Hallelujah!

Now, I do realize that the amount of chlorine in the water may be decreasing at this point, so I experiment one last time.

Fourth bath: Sprayed on one foot only. Completely saturated it again. Let it stay on for a bit before immersing myself.
- Result: Sprayed food was golden. Nekked foot was not hydrocortisone-itchy (thank goodness!), but was noticeably itchier than the other.

Conclusion: Spray good. Chlorine bad.

1) It took a LOT of spray to cover just my feet. After just those four times, I went through almost an entire big bottle of the Swim Spray - $13 for 4 oz.
2) If I didn't do it JUST so, it was ineffective. Especially busy parents do not generally have the luxury of all the time it takes to fully saturate every single speck of skin and hair BEFORE getting in the shower that they don't generally have the time to take.
3) Cost. (See Downside #1.)
4) Seems to be not as effective against super-high levels of chlorine, which is when it's needed most.

Final Call:
If you have the time and money, I recommend it without reservation. I mean, there's no denying that it does have its merits. Being as I don't swim often, I'd certainly have a bottle on hand for those times when we go to the pool.

I don't honestly know what else one should do for such an allergy except get an expensive filter (also, a cost issue, obviously) or avoid chlorinated water altogether (not really feasible for most). Unfortunately, I cannot afford $13 for a bottle that only lasts me four showers, nor can I afford the time it takes in prepping for said showers. So, I'm left with itching after my quickie showers, longing for a cure that is sure to be just over the horizon. I mean, if Swim Spray can get this close, I'm sure they're on the cusp of something even more fantastic.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?

I long ago gave up the hopes of being popular. My rather kid-centric views don't hold a lot of water in our very adult-centric world. Eh. I'll live. As such, I'm here with another unpopular view: kids' birthday parties...they should be for kids.

Let me clarify for a moment. I see no reason to invite your friends, unless they are close to the child whose birthday it is (and by 'close' I mean close - not that they spend a lot of time with you and in the same vicinity as your child, but really don't know about anything that is important to said kid). I see no reason to have alcohol. I see no reason to make it about you or anyone else other than the birthday girl or boy, because it's NOT about you or anyone else. It's a child's birthday and subsequent party. The kid doesn't have a birthday to give you an excuse to party, show off, and make it your day.

Let me put it another way. Is your child allowed to invite his or her friends to your birthday bashes? Do you provide special food, beverage, entertainment, activities for your son or daughter for them to celebrate your big day? Perhaps, but probably not. Your child can't drink, so why have available drink that has nothing to do with the child whose day it is? Your child doesn't care about your business contacts, so why are they there? Your college roommate who just moved back into town - don't invite her. You may want to see her, but it's not your day.

Whose day is it? Why not let your child be in charge of the guest list, menu, theme, decorations, cake, music, EVERYTHING? It is their special day, after all.

Just another perspective to think on and a few different examples of differing perspectives to illustrate the good, the bad, and the ugly of birthday parties (you choose which is which):

Addendum (9/30/13): After conversing with a few friends on this post, it has been brought to my attention that I have perhaps been unclear. This post is not to say that NO adults should be at a kid's party. It is not to say that NO restrictions should be put on a kid's party while they get to have whatever they want. The point is, it's their party. Their party. Not yours. Theirs. If they want great-grandma at the party, then great-grandma should be invited. If they want an 80s hair band costume party and its within your ability to do so, they should be to choose that. If they want a full-blown circus in the backyard and that's not in the budget, talk to them about why that's not feasible and try to compromise with a circus theme if that's what they want. Alcohol, no, I still vote not on that. If my 14 year old son is a vegetarian and I choose carnivorous fare simply for the guests, I find that to be disrespectful to my son whose birthday party it is. He can't drink alcohol yet. Is it a huge sacrifice to not drink for a couple hours at a kids' gathering?
I hope that clears things up.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Expert Advice on "Breastfeeding" Without Controversy (or Quotation Marks)

I was recently more than a little irked by some "I support breastfeeding, BUT..." comments, which, as we all know, means they do not support breastfeeding. They were in response to the piece I wrote on the topic (click here to read it). As a result, I went looking for more on the harm of Modesty Doctrine on breastfeeding. I found some good stuff. Then I found this: Expert Advice on "Breastfeeding" Without Controversy. I immediately thought, "Oh, this has GOT to be satire. I mean, quotes around breastfeeding and everything!" It read on. It wasn't. I about lost my lunch and peed from hysterical laughter all at once. It seems to need some slight dramatic complete revision, so I've taken on the task. You're welcome, Ms. Trasancos.

Nursing doesn’t have to be controversial. Too often the conflicts over breastfeeding in public turn into a debate about whether the woman has a right to expose herself in public or not. One side says it’s natural and the woman is justified, the other side says she isn’t because, frankly, it makes people uncomfortable.

Ok, so, maybe not COMPLETE revision. This part is fine.

When I was younger, I was in the first category, a me-first mentality and the media seems to encourage that mindset. “Look what a great mom I am!” For me, that need to show-off was a compensation for the compromises and insecurities of trying to appear liberated. As I nurse this seventh child now, I realize my approach to nursing has changed, drastically. Age? Experience? Faith? (Exhaustion?) A lot of reasons.

Um, treading dangerously close to some very ugly territory, but as she's only just speaking of her own feelings, I'll let it slide...for now.

First, that compulsion to prove myself vanished. I’m happy, confident, and proud in my home, and if I must go somewhere, then I am prepared to find an enclave. Nursing, like it or not, is private, and a woman is not oppressed if she has to excuse herself to feed her child. It’s a considerate gesture, an act of propriety, to acknowledge those around you — basic good manners.

Ok, ok, ok...let the revisions begin!
Actually, I'll go back to that last paragraph just for kicks.

When I was younger, I was in the first category, a me-first mentality. While the selfish mentality has long gone (thankfully!), I have maintained my place in this category. In fact, I have solidified that place and I realize my approach to breastfeeding is all about my son's needs. My insecurities with my body have all but disappeared, I have to make no compromises for society's odd hang-ups about the human breast, I am completely liberated, as is my son. The reasons: age, experience, faith in my son and myself, exhaustion in attempting to conform to social norms that are both outdated and anti-woman and child...a lot of reasons.

First, that compulsion to prove myself vanished. I'm happy, confident, and proud in my home. I'm just as happy, confident, and proud outside of my home. If I must go somewhere (the homebody that I am sees most outings as a 'must'), I am prepared to breastfeed wherever we are. Breastfeeding, like it or not, is normal and natural, and a woman must not be oppressed into finding somewhere else to feed her child. Expecting someone to do so is inconsiderate, an act of impropriety, a dismissal of the rights of the mother and child in favor of the squeamish wants of those around them - basic bad manners.

Moving on.

Second, because it will happen, when I have no choice but to nurse in front of other people, I do it discretely. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, and a woman’s attitude can put others at ease. Cover up with a blanket, focus on the baby, and do what needs to be done. This may seem insignificant, but refraining from eye contact will do much to maintain a little private bubble. [3] Chances are, no one will even notice, and your mini-withdrawal will put them at ease if they do. Once the baby’s situated, carry on. People don’t mind knowing you are nursing, it’s the risk of exposure that makes them nervous. Understandably so. Nursing is intimate.

No, no, no. This will never do.

Second, because it will happen, when I have no choice but to breastfeed in front of other people (again, the introverted homebody in me makes my first choice to be with only my husband and son), I do it (and I spell it correctly). It isn't a big deal. My attitude of it being a non-issue puts others at ease. I covered once. It sucked. It was a hassle, an extra and unnecessary step, and prevented me from making eye contact with my son. Never again. Now, I just do what needs to be done. This may seem insignificant, but making eye contact with not only your babe, but those around you will, again, show others that what you're doing is a non-issue and put them at ease with you. Keeping yourself in a little private bubble is alienating yourself from the world and showing others that what you're doing is something of which to be ashamed or embarrassed. Chances are, no one will even care that you're breastfeeding unless you make a big deal of it by hauling out the cover and getting yourself and your babe all situated. Keep calm and breastfeed on. People don't care and those who get nervous have a personal problem that is none of your concern. Breastfeeding is no biggie.

Much better.

Third, I simply let myself enjoy it. It’s not a competition and babies grow too fast anyway. These are precious moments. So what if you have to make temporary sacrifices? So what if you have to learn, by sometimes failing, to navigate uncomfortable scenarios graciously?

Third, I simply let myself enjoy it. I refuse to teach my son, as he is growing all-too-quickly, that he must bend and sacrifice based on senseless social stigma.


Last, using a more appropriate word helped me orient my thinking. “Breastfeeding” sounds so utilitarian. I prefer to call it “nursing” which implies loving care. Moms nurse the child in the womb, and into adulthood. Every stage comes with its challenges and joys, so let the first years be intimately special, and leave the controversy for another day.

Last, I choose to purposely call it breastfeeding (no quotation marks) as opposed to nursing. Nursing, in some countries, means the simple act of holding someone lovingly. I prefer to call a spade a spade and not downplay the importance of that terrifying word - breast [*gasp*] - in the act. However, call it what you want. It's no skin off my nose. Just do it. No controversy. It's your legal right and your babe's human right. There's a special finger reserved for those who try to debate the issue any other way.

This is shaping up quite nicely!

In other words, lighten up. You don’t need publicly published professional photography to capture the moment and rankle a non-issue.

In other words, lighten up. You don't need to hide yourself away from crowds, gatherings, or the camera on the off chance someone might be rankled by such a non-issue.


Finito! I don't know who your original editor was, Ms. Trasancos, but clearly they were having an off day or were distracted by their own breastfeeding babe, because they did a terrible job. Never fear, though, I fixed it all up for you. You're quite welcome. It was my profound pleasure.

(Photo: mother breastfeeding babe uncovered while speaking to and making eye contact with the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Child Car Seat Safety Starts with You

Imagine running as fast as you can - into a wall. Do you think you could stop yourself if the wall suddenly loomed up when you were two feet away? This is exactly the situation you face when the front of your car hits something at only 15 mph. That's bad enough, but at 30 mph you hit the wall four times as hard or with the same impact you'd feel as if you fell three stories. Now picture that every time you get into a car without buckling up or doing so properly.

We are our kids' greatest examples. As such, it stands to reason that if we're not doing as we should in the car, they won't either. Why should they? You don't see it as important and you're the wisest person they know, according to them.

A bit of information, then, on proper seat belt usage. First, my credentials:

- 1998-2002, driving instructor at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (EVOC)
- first female instructor
- still youngest instructor ever
- lead instructor for Teen Survival Driving Skills and Advanced Defensive Driving
- instructed Ambulance Driving Skills
- certified for academy instruction in basic emergency vehicle operations and 4x4 off-road

In other words, you can trust me.

The standard three-point seatbelt is meant to support your body over its strongest parts - hips, chest, and shoulders. If you wear your seatbelt properly, your shoulder strap will be halfway between the crook of your neck and the end of your shoulder, diagonally down over your sternum (not off to one side or the other of your breasts), and over your hips (not on your belly).

The seatbelt must be snug and flat. A twisted seatbelt can act as a knife slicing through you in the event of a crash. A seatbelt under your arm is no longer on a strong part of your body and can easily crush ribs and cause serious internal injuries or death. A seatbelt placed behind your head and body is not protecting your upper body at all. If you crash going 50 miles per hour, your upper body is still going to travel 50 miles an hour until it is stopped by something or someone, again causing serious injury or death. You'd be surprised how much your body can bend at those speeds. Obviously, no seat belt at all is completely irresponsible and sends the message to your child(ren) that they, too, are invincible. I mean, it's never happened before and you're a good driver, so.........

Cornell University once did an analysis on what happens when a car and driver traveling 55 mph crashes into a solid tree. Picture this:
During the first tenth of a second, the front bumper and grill collapse.
In the second tenth of a second, your hood crumples, rises, and strikes the windshield. Spinning rear wheels rise from the ground. Fenders begin wrapping themselves around the tree. The car frame is effectively braked, but your body is still moving at 55 mph. Instinctively, you stiffen your legs for the jolt, but they snap at the knee joint.
During the next tenth, your torso catapults from the seat. Broken knees ram into the dashboard. The steering wheel begins to collapse and the steering column drives toward your chest.
In the fourth deadly tenth of a second, two feet of the car's front are totally demolished, but the rear end is still rushing onward at 35 mph. Your body is still traveling 55. Half a ton of motor plunges into the tree and the car's rear rises as high as the tree's lower branches.
In the fifth tenth, you are impaled on the steering column Blood spurts into your lungs.
During the sixth tenth, the force of impact has built up so that your feet are ripped out of tightly fastened shoes. The brake pedal shears off, the car frame buckles int he middle, your head bangs into the windshield while rear wheels, still spinning, fall back to earth.
And in the seventh tenth second, the entire car body is distorted. Hinges rip. Doors spring open. The seat flails loose, striking you from behind, but it doesn't matter, you're already dead.
You aren't around to experience the final three tenth of this horrible second. Neither are your children.

A great many of you are not wearing your seatbelt properly, if at all. I know, because some of you are my friends and I see pictures. A great many of you are not properly buckling your children, whether it be in their carseats, boosters, or standard seatbelt. I know, because some of you are my friends and I see pictures. I talk to you, of course. You blow me off, not surprisingly. Don't. Don't risk it. Don't be the one who says, "If only I had listened" beside your child's hospital bed or worse their grave.

It's Better That I Was Raped While Drugged, So I Don't Remember It

I was raped by a husband-wife couple. I was raped while under the influence of drugs they slipped me.

I'm glad it was done that way, though. It's better that it was done when I was too drugged to remember it. I wouldn't want it to be done now that I'm sober. It doesn't affect me at all. I'm not traumatized in any way. I'm not a victim. If I had to choose a way to be raped, I'd choose this way. I'm glad that couple chose to do it to me then, making the choice for me that I wasn't able to make. I can't remember a thing and anyone who says that makes me a victim of some horrible act is just a whiner looking for something to cry about. There are bigger issues...

[Note: This is all crap. Well, not the rape. That happened. You can read about it here. The rest, though, is the same asinine logic used by the pro-circumcision and circumcision apologist camp. If you caught that right away, you get a gold star. If you're still pro-cut, re-read, rethink, repeat as necessary.]

Monday, September 16, 2013


"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid is one of my all-time favorite poems. I taught it every year to my high school students and, in turn, I, also, learned something new every time. Let's see what you glean from it:

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn't have gum on it, because that way it won't hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it; is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way that it won't turn someone else's stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don't sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn't speak to wharf–rat boys, not even to give directions; don't eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you; but I don't sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a button–hole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father's khaki shirt so that it doesn't have a crease; this is how you iron your father's khaki pants so that they don't have a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don't squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know; don't pick people's flowers—you might catch something; don't throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all; this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona; this is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don't like, and that way something bad won't fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man; and if this doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn't fall on you; this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to make sure it's fresh; but what if the baker won't let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won't let near the bread?

Can you relate this to your childhood? To your parenting journey? To today's society?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How to NOT Be "All For" Breastfeeding

I have no problem with breastfeeding, but keep it classy.

I support breastfeeding but it is a private act.

Breastfeeding is great as long as you don't flash your boobs at everyone.

I am all for breastfeeding, but I don't need to see pictures of it all over my newsfeed.

I back breastfeeding absolutely, but I don't want anyone to know because others might not like it and I could alienate potential clients.

Breastfeeding is great, but nobody should have to see it.

My wife/daughter/sister/best friend breastfeeds and I support her, but she always covers like she should.

I support women who respect themselves and others enough to not expose themselves to the world while breastfeeding.

Look, I support breastfeeding, I just have a different opinion on what 'support' looks like.

I never said I don't support breastfeeding, I just think it should be done in the bathroom.

I think everyone should breastfeed if they can, but if not, they should use formula, because donor milk is just foul.

Breast milk is best, but once they can start opening your blouse you should give it to them in a cup.

...and on and on and on...

If you have to put a condition on which you'll lend your support to breastfeeding, you are NOT "all for" breastfeeding. As soon as you add in an 'if,' 'and,' or 'but' to your claim of breastfeeding support, you've negated your claim completely. Breastfeeding support is an all or nothing deal. You're either in or you're out. Breastfeeding support simply must be unconditional.

(Photo credit: London's Lens 2012)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gift-Giving as Means of Control

I recently had this short conversation with a former student:

Student: I want to be an English teacher.

Me: Do you really? That makes my heart sing!

Student: I really do. Unfortunately, teachers don't make enough money to make my father happy.

Me: What does your dad have to do with your career? Besides, what we don't make in money, we make up in difference.

Student: He has a lot to do with it because he's paying for my schooling ): And that was very profound. I like that. I'm hoping I can maybe persuade him to let me teach.

Me: Speaking as a parent, I will pay for my son's schooling if he wants to go to college. This means nothing more to me than helping him meet HIS goals. I want him to follow HIS dreams, not mine...ever. That makes me so sad...

And by 'so sad' I mean 'almost in tears.' Parents, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you are in control of nobody but yourselves. You do not control your children. Young, old, whether you support them financially every step of the way, or not...you do not control them. They're like real people that way. Huh, imagine that.

I've gotten into these types of issues with my mother many times in the last 35 years myself, so I suppose this is a sensitive topic for me. My mom would pay for something "out of the goodness of her heart" and then expect something in return. (It's worth noting that her 'love language' is gift giving, but mine is decidedly not.) We recently started going to therapy together (after years of me begging and her refusing) and one of the first things that came up was the lack of support I felt from her. Her response was something about always having given me money and presents if and when she thought I needed them. Uh, that's not exactly what I meant...

So, I'm frustrated for my student, especially because I see myself in her and the situation, and I'm bringing it here to ensure we learn a lesson in what not to do from it all.

We will pay for a great many things when it comes to our sons and daughters, both as children and adults. We will lend money when they hit financial hard times as young adults figuring out the way. We may contribute to college, weddings, first homes. These are gifts. A gift does not come with strings attached. Gifts do not equal blackmail material. A gift is given out of the goodness of our hearts. We give gifts that the recipient will enjoy receiving, not that we want them to have. If you find yourself giving a gift, even in small part, with the hopes of leveraging something out of it in the future, turn yourself around, march back home, sit yourself down, and think again. Gifts are not strongholds. Financial support does not equal lifetime control. Giving is not a means of control.

Friday, September 6, 2013

On Feeling "Touched-Out"

When I was a new mom to my new son, breastfeeding was, well, new, as were all the warm, fuzzy, sky-high feelings that come along with the whole she-bang. I would see comments in my online communities about mothers feeling 'touched-out' and think, 'Well, that's just silly. That'll never happen to me. I LOVE breastfeeding and my son, so the combination of the two will never grow old for me.' And then karma pinched me in the nipple (or maybe that was my son).

Now that I'm the breastfeeding mom of a nearly three year old toddler, I get touched-out. And then I get pissy. And then I want to rip my hair out. And then I need a break. And then my husband thinks I'm nuts. And then I get pissier. And then my son needs more breastfeeding. And then I'm more touched-out. And then I'm even pissier. And then I need a break. And then I want to push my husband's face through the back of his head to get his attention when I'm telling him 'I NEED A BREAK!' And then I get a break. Finally.

This usually comes in one of four forms and it typically depends on my son's comfort level. I either:
a) head out on some errand,
b) stay home while they head out on some errand,
c) take a bubble bath, or
d) go back to the bedroom to read.

Any of the four will do, but the longer the uninterrupted time, the better. Of course, 'uninterrupted' is less likely if I choose options c or d, but sometimes the goddesses shine on me. Whatever, man, I just need some time!

Breastfeeding a toddler is vastly different than breastfeeding a newborn. It's wonderful, don't misunderstand, but it's different. And the newness has worn off. Again, I absolutely love it, wouldn't stop it for anything, and will wait until my son is ready to stop before we do, but it has its moments when it can wear on a mama. This doesn't make me a bad mama. This makes me an individual. As much as I am enamored with the whole process of breastfeeding my son, I am still an autonomous person with my own needs. Sometimes, those needs include a little personal space. The sooner I recognize those needs bubbling up and attend to them, the sooner I can return to my son refreshed and anew, making me an even better mama who can better meet his needs.

We cannot completely forgo our needs in this whole mothering process. It's a balancing act. Sometimes, things get a little off-kilter. So we stop, assess, act, return, and repeat as needed, all the while knowing that it's OK to feel what we feel when we feel it and to attend to ourselves from time to time.

When you are feeling touched-out, what do you do to care for yourself?

Sunday, September 1, 2013


What is your real name?
Amy Brown (nee Bray), but I typically go by Zen Mama here.

Do you have a Twitter account?
I do. You can follow me by clicking here.

What about a Pinterest?
I do. Click here.

Why aren't you on Facebook anymore? And where can I find you?
See my blog here to read that drama and the corresponding exit. You can find me on Twitter and Pinterest (above), Google+ (click here), and by subscribing to both this blog (see the right-hand column) and the Zen Parenting Daily Digest (click here).

Don't you think there are bigger things in the world to worry about than ________?
As a matter of fact, no. Read here to see my thoughts on that very question.

Can I guest blog for you?
Maybe. Submit your post via email (ZenParenting1@yahoo.com) and I'll be happy to take a look at it. If it fills a need, I'll publish for sure.

Will you review my book?
No. Two reasons and both are completely selfish and have nothing to do with what I am sure is your wonderful book:
1) I'm inundated with books I have yet to review.
2) I recently had the most awkward situation in which I was asked to review a book, read it, did not like it at all, and had to give the author the option of me not reviewing it or reviewing it honestly. I don't ever want to experience that awkwardness again.

You don't seem Zen as I understand it! Should I tell you to change your name?
I wouldn't waste your time, if I were you. Instead, click here to read my take on that very sentiment.

Someone is saying mean stuff about you on the internet! Should I tell you about it?
Nah. Thanks for trying to look out for me, but what other people think about me is none of my business.

I think you’re horrible! Should I tell you about it?
I'm not for everyone, that's for sure, but again, what other people think of me is none of my business. You can go ahead and keep that to yourself.

I don't like your blog (or Twitter, or blah, blah, blah)! Should I tell you about it?
I wish you the best on your journey. No one is forced to be here. Honestly, the numbers don't matter all that much to me, so losing one person isn't enough to send me into hysterics. It's probably best just to quietly click to dismiss yourself and be on your way.

My opinions are in opposition to your facts! Should I tell you about it?
You know what they say about opinions...

You were wrong about something and I would like to correct you in a courteous and constructive manner. Should I do that?
Please do. I don't know everything and truly do enjoy learning.

People don’t really ask you these questions, do they?
Totally. Well, they either ask directly (often) or things are said to the same effect frequently enough that they needed to be addressed in one easy-to-find place.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hello, My Name is Zen Mama and I Take Zoloft

Get your gasps of horror, disappointment, disgust, and pity for my ignorance out of the way now.

Ok, you good?

Now, take a deep breath, open your mind, and read on.

I am a (mostly) natural parent, I breastfeed my nearly three year old son and will continue to do so until which time he decides he's finished, and I medicate with Zoloft.

Perhaps you read about my foray into anxiety/PPD/PTSD (click here to refresh your memory). As a result, I sought help from a therapist. I also sought medicinal help. The two-fold approach is what has worked for me. It made me feel 'myself' again - something I hadn't felt since I started IVF long before I had my son. (You think pregnancy hormones are bad? Try IVF hormones!)

I know, I know - what about chiropractic, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and herbs? I tried some. At various times in my life, I tried them all (except the acupuncture, which I tried to try, but I was turned away because of some complications with my pregnancy). Therapy and Zoloft is what worked (and continues to work) for me and I am not only unashamed, but quite pleased with and proud of myself for taking care of me so that I may continue to take care of my family.

I wasn't always "out" about my choice. I used to be embarrassed. I used to feel a failure. I used to feel like I would be shunned by my own community (you know, based on the stream of negativity seen on any thread about the issue). So I stayed closeted. I even attempted to wean myself off the meds. That's one way to spell disaster.

Luckily, I came to my senses. I take Zoloft. I take Zoloft and I'm OK. And you know, you are, too - whether you take meds or not.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Do You Know I Love You?"

Recently, I said to my personal friends, "You know how it's possible to rub off a fingerprint due to overuse? Well, I am convinced that if [Zen Son] had a faceprint, I would've rubbed it off already due to kissing. I am an addict." I later posted a modified version on Twitter. People loved it. (I have yet to understand what people will go nuts over and what will fall flat.) I was just speaking one little tidbit of my truth.

I am head over heels in love with my son. Every day, I wake up and BOOM there it is - the same feeling as yesterday only now it's times infinity! And two of the ways I show this to him is with physical affection (lots of hugs and kisses - with his permission and participation, of course - and simple touching) and through my words.

The first thing I tell him when he wakes up next to me every morning, generally latched on, is, "Good morning, baby. I love you so much." And then we snuggle, breastfeed, laugh, talk about our dreams, gaze at and touch one another, and just take our sweet time enjoying one another and waking up.

Sometimes, I ask my son, "Do you know I love you?" His answer is always a resounding "Yes." Some people see this as less-than-humble or amusing in a Han Solo kind of way. I find it crucial to the kind of childhood I'm attempting to give him. I need my son to know unequivocally that I love him unconditionally. I need to know that he knows.

I didn't and don't know this about my parents. I have been told the words from time to time, but the stream of actions indicating otherwise are too plentiful and egregious. This is not something I can abide when it comes to my son.

So, I show him. And I tell him. And I show him and I tell him again and again and again in as many new and varied ways as I can and plan to continue doing so until I breathe my last breath. He needs to know. I need to know that he knows.

Two Choices

If you're like me, if you had a less than stellar childhood and upbringing, you have two choices as you become a parent:

1) Parent as you were parented, because it's the path of least resistance and you turned out "just fine," or
2) Reflect upon that which you did not like as a child and use the bad examples as ideas of what not to do.

I chose to go with the latter, obviously.

I was punished and abused. Some of that included grounding, spanking, slapping in the face, being sent to the car to sit alone (even at a very young age) when we weren't at home, yelling, screaming, threats, bodily intimidation (making fists, running up to get right in my face, lording over me, etc.), name-calling, and the like.

I was put behind the significant other of both parents. I was told that my step-mother didn't like us, because we made her feel like she was second banana. I was abandoned by my father when he remarried. I was not acknowledged as even existing, as my father would tell people he had only three kids (my three younger half-siblings) as opposed to five (including me and my brother). I was told that my step-dad was the highest priority in my mother's life and kids come second. I was moved from one home with one step-father to a new home with a new step-father while I was on a school trip and hadn't been given a clue. My trust was betrayed countless times as I said something to my mother in confidence only to find out she then repeated it to my step-father.

Had I been a boy, I would've been circumcised. My younger brother was and he is "just fine," too. He's "just fine" enough that he cut the genitals of his own three boys.

I was breastfed for a mere six weeks and then switched to cow's milk and rice cereal.

I was forced to grow up at an obscenely speedy rate. I was victim-blamed. I was not listened to. I was not believed. I was not valued. I was used as a show-piece. I was expected to live up to impossible standards. I was punished when I could not. And on and on and on.

Here I am. I turned out "just fine" and am still here to tell the tale. I grew up to excel in school. I graduated high school with honors and college Summa Cum Laude. I received countless academic rewards and was an officer in my academic honor society. I had two successful careers. I am now, according to my parents, a "good" parent. I own a home with my family. I pay my taxes. I don't break (many) laws. So, by all accounts, what was done to me turned me into a productive member of society and I have no need to do anything different to or with my son.

By all accounts, I turned out well. It serves to reason, then, that if I raised my son the same way I was raised, he'll turn out well, too. Or, maybe I turned out well (and that's certainly subjective) despite my upbringing. Maybe I want more than that for my son. I could've taken the easy route and gone with my family's status quo. It's worked for generations before me, right? Or has it?

Instead, I chose to do things the hard way. (Typical.) I chose to think, reflect, make intentional choices, see my upbringing as a lesson in what NOT to do. Sure, there were positives. I took those with me. But the negatives - I analyzed them, spent years in therapy, spent longer in my head with it all, and came up with Zen Parenting. And this is a constantly evolving thing, as well. I have changed my opinion slightly (and completely) on many different things as time has passed. I have made mistakes - mistakes that I recognized, apologized for, and hope my son will learn from AND mistakes that I have yet to realize that I also hope my son will learn from - and will continue to make mistakes. As I make those mistakes, I'll continue to learn - I do this WITH my son. We learn and grow TOGETHER. I don't hide my imperfections from him. I don't hide my learning process from him. I don't keep those secrets and pretend that I'm the perfect parent. That would be doing him a grave disservice.

I choose to live differently than the way I once did, than the way my parents did and their parents before them. I am a better parent than my parents were. I hope my son will be a better parent than I am and that the legacy I leave of growth and choosing to reflect, take the good, and discard the bad will continue on.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Power of "I Don't Know"

"Many adults are put off when youngsters pose scientific questions. Children ask why the sun is yellow, or what a dream is, or how deep you can dig a hole, or when is the world’s birthday, or why we have toes. Too many teachers and parents answer with irritation or ridicule, or quickly move on to something else. Why adults should pretend to omniscience before a five-year-old, I can’t for the life of me understand. What’s wrong with admitting that you don’t know? Children soon recognize that somehow this kind of question annoys many adults. A few more experiences like this, and another child has been lost to science.

There are many better responses. If we have an idea of the answer, we could try to explain. If we don’t, we could go to the encyclopedia or the library. Or we might say to the child: 'I don’t know the answer. Maybe no one knows. Maybe when you grow up, you’ll be the first to find out.'"

~Carl Sagan

Listen to your child, admit when you don't know, answer when you do - learn together always.