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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.

Mental Presence - What It Is and How To Achieve It

Dedicated to my husband and son.

Breathing the same air, being in the same room with, sharing space - that's just physical presence. It's important, but not what is going to achieve intimacy in any relationship. Cleaning like a whirling dervish while your children sit on the couch watching Caillou isn't going to help you grow closer to them. Taking increasingly longer blinks while your children play with blocks nearby isn't going to create the kind of memories for them (or you) that will keep you close for life. Sitting in one chair while your child sits on another as you both stare at some mindless movie is not a bonding activity.

This kind of distance may work for you for now - that is to say, you may not see the consequences of it immediately - but, hopefully, you're not going for the short-term in this whole journey with your children. We're in it for the long-haul. That being the case, we have to look at what our actions (or lack of actions) today will do to and for our children (and ourselves) tomorrow...and the next day and the next year and the next decade.

To connect with - REALLY connect with - and stay connected to your children, you have to work to focus you mind, calm yourself, and ignore the static (whether that static be within yourself or without). Some find this harder than others. It is to those who find the difficulty in this that I write.

For many, the concept of mental presence is vague and confusing. Let me see if I can help. Have you ever arrived home and found yourself unable to recall the drive? Obviously, you drove home. You were physically present. You weren't present, though. Your head wasn't really in the game. Now, you made it home, so (phew!) you lucked out this time. There may well come a time, though, that you don't. You'll veer off course, you'll crash and burn. Or, worse yet, you'll hurt someone else. This is what will happen to the relationships with your children if you continue being distant - not present...crash, burn, pain, death.

Perhaps you feel overwhelmed, touched out, or a bevy of other emotions that can cause you to retreat within yourself. Understandable. However, withdrawing from those you love the most - your children - can actually exacerbate those feelings, rather than solve the issues. Add that to the possibility probability of a whole "Cat's in the Cradle" scenario later in life and you have yourself one big problem.

So, what can you do? Lots of things, luckily! All hope is not lost, but it's going to take some work on your part and it's going to have to be a conscious effort on your part for a while until mental presence becomes habit. When you find yourself mentally checking out (congratulations, by the way, because your awareness of that is a huge step toward fixing it), try some of the following simple techniques to get yourself checked back in:

  • As your children speak, repeat back to them what they're saying.  Concentrating on their words will help you stay focused.
  • Touch your children.  Just brushing your hand on their cheek, rubbing their little foot, or smoothing their hair will activate your senses and bring you into the moment.
  • Talk WITH your children.  Don't ignore (ever), don't give pad answers, don't just nod and smile.  LISTEN to what they're saying, repeat it back, add your own thoughts or ask a question.  Converse.  
  • Breathe.  I like "Box Breathing."  Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold for a count of four, out through your mouth for a count of four, hold for a count of four.  Continue this until you've brought yourself back into the present and you've erased all the other head noises you had going on.
  • Stand or sit up straight.  Erect posture awakens the body and mind, allows for proper blood flow, and energizes you, so you are more able to engage.
  • Find a mantra that you can say to yourself that will remind you to be mindful.  "Right here, right now" works for me.  Say aloud to yourself over and over for as long as it takes "right here, right now" until you are able to truly be right there at that very moment.
  • Make eye contact.  Look at your children.  Look into their eyes.  When they talk, when you talk - look at them.  Those beautiful eyes are enough to ground anyone.
  • Do something WITH your children.  If you find yourself unable to stay focused, suggest an activity.  This doesn't have to be anything special.  Make a living room carpet-picnic WITH them.  Make shadow puppets WITH them.  Involve them in what you like to do - what your hobby is.  Whatever you do, do it WITH them.  
  • Take note of all the little (cool) things about your children at that very moment.  Does his forehead wrinkle adorably when he concentrates?  Are her little nakey buns so squeezable when she stands there?  Is the way he says "somefing" instead of "something" just the sweetest thing ever?  Notice all the little things the way you did when they were newborns and you couldn't stop gazing at them.
  • Identify those things which are particular distractions for you and eliminate or, at least, minimize them.  Phone, TV, computer - do you really need those things on or nearby when you're with your children. 

This is to say that you have to spend every waking moment glued to your children, dismissing all of your own needs and wants. That's not healthy either. It is to say that when you DO spend time with your children, REALLY spend time with your children. Give them all of you.

As I said, this may be a lot harder for some than for others.  I promise you, though, it's worth it.  It's worth it to your health and well-being, it's worth it to your babes, it's worth it to the babes they may someday grow to have with whom they will have an understanding of the importance of being present - really and truly present.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Refuse to Lie to My Son

Santa, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, periods, erections, sex, death, why adults do the things they do...nada...I won't lie about any of it. I just won't. I'll admit, it'd be easier to sometimes. Explanations can be HARD. The truth can HURT. A little white lie, especially one he'd never know about, would be so EASY. But just when I get to thinking like that, I remind myself of what a slippery slope that is and what I'm setting myself up for in the future.

I want my son to be able to trust me. I want my son to respect me. One of the ways I can ensure these is to always be honest with him. I want to be able to assure him that I've never lied. I want him to never doubt me, because I've never given him reason. And I want to lead by example.

This doesn't mean I believe he'll never lie to me. I'm certain he will. But I'll continue to model, continue to do what I know is right, continue to set the example that was never set for me. If I tell one lie, just one tiny lie EVER, that will all go out the window. I will have lost all of it. He will never be able to implicitly trust me, he will always be able to justify lying, because I lied to him.

So, I won't do it. I refuse. I refuse to lie to my son.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gee, Your House Smells Terrific

My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to our levels of cleanliness. When we first met, I wouldn't walk in his apartment without shoes on. It was disgusting. He grew up in a disgusting environment, which I found out during my first visit, when I also wore shoes the entire two weeks. (Those who know me, know what a big deal this is, since I NEVER wear shoes...or clothes, but that's for another post.) I, on the other hand, grew up in a house where the carpets were vacuumed every day and we then weren't allowed to walk on it, because it would mess up the vacuum lines. We had towels in the bathroom that we weren't allowed to use, because they were just for decoration. My grandmother has a trash can that is just for looks - I was severely admonished when I once put trash in it unwittingly. I didn't do any of that in my own home, but I was certainly tidy. I don't like clutter, I don't like funk, I don't like random mung all over everything. Needless to say, this has been cause for some serious compromise in our relationship. My standards have come down quite a bit and his have come up...a smidge.

I used to clean on Saturdays. I did it all. All the housecleaning, the car, the outside - anything and everything got done on Saturday. What a wasted day!

Things have changed now that I am a mom. Now, I don't have a whole day that I can dedicate to anything (aside from my son, who gets every day dedicated to him). Neither do I wish to dedicate a whole day to cleaning. Instead, I clean a tiny bit each day and one big thing each month. I include my son in all of it and we both have a great time helping each other out.

Here's what my new regimen looks like:

Weekly Cleaning
Monday - vacuum
Tuesday - dust
Wednesday - bathroom #1
Thursday - bathroom #2
Friday - kitchen
Saturday - yard
Sunday - car

Monthly Deep Cleaning
January - closets
February - blinds
March - fans/lights
April - windows
May - bedrooms
June - floors
July - bathrooms
August - vents
September - kitchen
October - baseboards
November - laundry room
December - furniture

The daily stuff takes a maximum of 15 minutes out of my day. I don't even have to find 15 minutes together - I can do it piecemeal, if needed. And, you know, if my son is having "one of those days" (you know the ones), that day's chore doesn't get done. No biggie. It got done last week and it'll get done next week. Not the end of the world.

The monthly stuff gets one a little at a time as the month goes along. It's more of the detail work that doesn't get attended to in the daily stuff. It certainly doesn't take a whole month to do any of it, I just have a month to get it done. No pressure, no biggie.

It really is so easy. When company comes over, I'm never more than a quick tidy-up away from being ready. I wish I had done this before I was a mom, because I could've spent my Saturdays doing much better things all those years. Live and learn - and thank goodness for my best teacher, my son.

We Use a Nipple Shield - Our Breastfeeding Journey

I have flat, sometimes inverted nipples. I was told that when I got pregnant, they would "self-correct" as if there were something wrong with them. I was told that when I gave birth, they would "self-correct" as if pushing a human out of my vagina would also cause my nipples to pop out (I don't know, maybe the pressure?). I was told that as soon as we started to breastfeed, they would "self-correct" as if me pulling on those suckers day and night since puberty in attempt to stretch them into "normalcy" was going to be bested by one day with a newborn. None of this was true, of course. My nipples are what my nipples are. They pop out when I'm cold, when I sneeze (I have no idea why, but it's true every time), and when I orgasm. Otherwise, they're either flat or innies.

I used to be incredibly self-conscious about my nipples. I would see other girls with "normal" nipples like the ones I'd see in movies. I would make sure never to be topless in front of other girls. Clearly, I was a freak. This even made it difficult to be intimate with men once I got to that point. I was sure they would abhor my hideous nipples. I couldn't have been more wrong.

One thing I wasn't wrong about was that the state of my nipples made breastfeeding difficult. This had been a concern of mine that everyone dismissed since long before I ever got pregnant. This was my first lesson in listening to my parenting gut.

When my son was born, we immediately tried breastfeeding and immediately struggled. He did the breast crawl (coolest thing ever), he tried and tried, but it wasn't happening. The post-partum nurse kept telling me I had to supplement. I kept refusing. This went on for hours and hours. I began to get very concerned. My son wasn't eating. I summoned the hospital's lactation consultant. She was terrible. She shoved his face into my boob while he screamed and struggled over and over until I, on the verge of tears, finally made her stop. She then turned around and walked out. That was it. We were, once again, on our own. That night, we called the IBCLC at our midwife's office and made an appointment for her to come help us the next day. Until then, we were still alone and our son was still not eating. Out of sheer desperation and terror, we supplemented. He ate like crazy. It was bittersweet. I knew the complications I was creating, but I had no other option as far as I could tell and certainly no support. The next day, the IBCLC came and helped us with a nipple shield. Suddenly, the clouds parted. Hallelujah. Success.

My son has been breastfeeding successfully ever since. It'll be three years in October. He'll continue to breastfeed until he wishes to stop. We were never able to wean off of the nipple shield. It's a minor inconvenience, but nothing in comparison to all the good that is our time breastfeeding. I have had mastitis a couple times and a few blebs, also complications of using a nipple shield. Neither are ideal, but both are very treatable and, again, minor inconveniences in comparison to what we have going on here.

Let me say it again, my son has been breastfeeding successfully for nearly three years thanks to the use of a nipple shield. It's not ideal. I'm not recommending it for everyone who struggles. (I am, however, recommending a good IBCLC for anyone who struggles and as soon as those struggles crop up.) If it comes down to breastfeeding with a nipple shield or not breastfeeding at all, I'll go with the shield every time.

For more information on nipple shield pros and cons see Kelly Mom's article on it by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Letter to My Father-In-Law, Because I Just Need to Vent


I've thought about this for two days, wondered whether or not I should write you, and ultimately decided that regardless of whether or not it will change anything (and I don't anticipate it will), I have to attend to the matter for the sake of my family, so here I am.

[FIL], first and foremost, you disappointed my son. You hurt his feelings and you let him down. That will not ever happen again on my watch. You do it to your son regularly and I wish he wouldn't allow it, but he is an adult and he has to make those decisions for himself. [Zen Son] is under my care. Much the same as with [mother-in-law, your ex-wife], I will not allow you to do to my son what you've done to your own. You won't be given that opportunity and I won't ever purposely put him in the position to feel that again.

We did a little math on the way home from pizza. You spent two hours with your son and grandson when [Zen Son] was just about 6 months old. He is now almost three years old. In the last 2 1/2 years, you've not asked to speak on the phone with [Zen Son], you've talked to your son on the phone a handful of times (your typical 2-3 times a year), you've not asked for pictures, you've not concerned yourself with either of them at all. You've been in no way a father or grandfather. (That can actually go for the last 15 years with regard to [Zen Husband] and precious little for the 17 years prior to that.) During this visit, you saw fit to take a couple hours out of your potential time with your only child and only grandchild to sight see. Now, you very well could have done that on the way back up, taking, instead, the time out of your visit with [your lady-friend's] brother (an entire week-long visit as opposed to the 24 hour visit with your family), but you didn't. You arrived at 5:40 p.m. on Saturday. We left at 6:30 p.m. and drove separately. We spent an hour together at the restaurant. You didn't bother to say goodbye to your grandson. He was disappointed. That's less than two hours together that day. Add that to the two hours the only other time you've seen your grandson and you're up to four hours (I'll round up, for the sake of argument) in nearly three years of his life. The next day, you arrived at 11 a.m. We left about 1 1/2 hours later and, again, drove separately even though you were invited to spend the hour drive there and the hour drive back with your family. You spent approximately 15 minutes putting together a puzzle with [Zen Son] and then left, never to be seen again. What was the point of us all going there together exactly? You disappointed my son. You disappointed my husband. You yanked them around, giving little glimpses of involvement as a patriarch and then snatching it away as I have come to fully expect, but your son has yet to understand and your grandson is too young to comprehend. All they know is you disappointed them. You hurt them. We then spent another hour at the pizza joint. Now, as we arrived as a group, I (wrongly) assumed we would at least consult one another to see if we wanted to share a pizza together. Obviously, that was never a consideration for you. Just like at the museum, you did your thing and we were left wondering why we were there together if only to share the same air. Let's add that time up, shall we? Two hours at the museum (but that doesn't count, since you weren't there), an hour an a half beforehand, and an hour at dinner. All told, in the entire visit, you spent 4 1/2 hours with your son and grandson. And that was clearly plenty, as you could not wait to get back to the hotel, forgoing, even, a final goodbye to your grandson. I will never again allow you to bring out that intensely disappointed voice in him when he asks over and over, "Why, Mama? Why did they go? Where are they? Why did they leave?" Can you explain to me how I'm supposed to explain utter selfishness to a two year old? I mean, toddlers are fairly selfish themselves, but even he couldn't understand such an egregious level. He was near tears and, as a result, [Zen Husband] was in tears.

[Zen Husband] wasn't crying for himself. He knows exactly who you are. Sure, he lives in denial about it a good chunk of the time, because the truth is painful and he blames himself for your shortcomings as a father. But he was crying. He was crying (hard and long) for the hurt you caused his son. He was crying, because you did the same thing to [Zen Son] as you've been doing to him all these years. He was crying, because, like I said before, you would give glimpses of goodness, you showed that you COULD be someone worthy of [Zen Son], but then showed that you CHOOSE not to. And that was the worst part. If, like [MIL], you had just proven yourself incapable, the hurt wouldn't have been so bad. But you're not incapable, you're unwilling and that's just shitty, [FIL]. You know it is. You know it is, you even admitted as much on a recent call with [Zen Husband], you said a lackluster "I'm sorry" and, per your M.O., nothing changed. You know what is right and what is wrong and you are choosing wrong, because it's easier. Right would require more effort on your part and I know that's not going to happen. Your grandson doesn't. Your son is learning, slowly, but surely.

Let's do a little comparison. I won't ask you how much time you spend with [lady-friend's] son, because he lives nearby and that's not a fair comparison. I won't ask you how often her daughter comes to visit you in Michigan, because, in fairness, we don't come to visit you (for very good reason, you must understand, given what is outlined above), so again, not a fair comparison. I have to ask, though, how often do you visit her daughter in Georgia? And how often to you visit her brother in Vegas? And when you visit, how much time do you spend with each? Why is that, [asshole FIL]? You know, don't answer that last question. I know why it is. [Zen Husband] knows why it is, too, though he often denies the truth that it is a fault in YOU by tricking himself into believing if he is good enough, funny enough, impressive enough, you'll love him enough to want to spend time with him. And it is heartbreaking to watch. You, of course, wouldn't understand, because you never have to see such heartache in him. That is, in fact, one of the reasons I'm writing. By avoiding your son, you get to fool yourself into believing things are well with the two of you. You get to fool yourself into believing the couple of stories you share when you actually do see him or speak to him and the few laughs you have mean you are doing right by him. Things aren't good. You're not doing right. And you know both. You can try to deny it, but look at the evidence, just the tiny bit of evidence, outlined here. And you're not going to be allowed to treat our son the same way. I won't see him hurt like I so often see [Zen Husband] hurt.

I'm well aware that you'll avoid this email. I'm well aware you'll not write back or address the issue head-on, so I won't even expect it. However, I will say that if you have any even fleeting thought of confronting the pain you've caused, don't bother writing me. You didn't hurt me (not directly, anyway, only by way of my family). Address it with your son or don't be surprised when the time comes that you find yourself without a son. You've already managed to find yourself without a grandson and that is by your own hand. Someday, [FIL], [Zen Husband] will grow out of the childish hopes he has for you. When that day comes, you'll lose him completely, not that you seem to care much.

Consider it all, [FIL]. Take it in. Search your soul. And ask yourself: If [Zen Husband] were the kind of dad and grandpa that I am, what would I think?

[Zen Mama]

New Ventures

Zen Parenting may have left Facebook, but there's WAY more to life than one discriminatory social media site. We're growing like crazy on Twitter, are getting a great start on Google+, have quite the following on Pinterest, and now we're bringing to you two more avenues for getting your Zen on.

Zen Parenting Daily Digest
Zen Parenting Shop

Zen Parenting Daily Digest will be posted every evening on Twitter. You can also subscribe, so make sure you click that option. There will be a compilation of all things I post along with postings from trusted sources that I follow.

Zen Parenting Shop is all your gear needs for body, babe, home, office, even pet and holiday! There's something for everybody. What's best is that as I started designing everything, I began to really notice how universal our logo really is - how it's not a Zen Parenting-specific look. Everything is simple, clean, and applicable to everyone without feeling like you're a walking advertisement (which I personally dislike, so I figure others do, too).

Check them both out, won't you? I think you'll really be happy. I am!

P.S. Hey, as long as we're subscribing, don't forget to subscribe to this here spiffy blog. Do so in the right-hand column from a computer.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: Why Dads Leave

I hang my head in shame as I admit I've had this book for review for 10 months now. Bad blogger. Bad, bad blogger. I'm sorry, Meryn. I hope this review from Zen Dad and Husband, Zach, will make up for the procrastination.

I must admit, I was a bit dubious upon setting out to read this book. As a man whose own father lived out of state as I was growing up, I wondered what this book could tell me that I didn’t already know. I didn’t know how wrong I was.

The first few chapters were an eye-opening experience for me. Discussing the reverberations and psychology behind the Dynamic of Disappearing Dads (DDD), I found myself nodding as I related more and more to what was on the page. This book was a wonderful eye-opener for me on how I handle my issues. I discovered that even though I hadn’t left physically, I had left emotionally. Not only that, but this book also explained my feelings and reasoning for doing what I was doing, even though I couldn’t put them into words. It was as if someone had shone a flashlight into my brain and shouted “Eureka!”

This book also reinforced every parenting decision my wife and I made. It supported home birth, fewer interventions during the birthing process, skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, not allowing the child to “cry it out” alone and co-sleeping.

Some of my favorite parts of the book include the following:

“As a man feels himself to be incompetent, invisible, superfluous, he distances himself from home and from involvement with his child, and seeks redemption in the world of work and career – or at the bar or in bed with another woman.” Pg. 80

“Sometimes they (men) don’t want to listen because they believe they will be the target of criticism or negativity, they often think they have to defend themselves rather than support their partner in sharing their feelings.” Pg. 120

“Those who suffered terrible separations at an early age appeared indifferent to affection or hurt.” Pg. 194

Some things that I did not like about the book included the was the lack of mention of vaccines and their potential for developmental harm to young children (which, I feel is likely not necessary in the book, but if they were going to cover some of the other topics that were not really necessary, they might as well have covered everything) as well as the average father’s and mother’s approach to discipline. The author says on page 70 that on the average, mothers are more likely to shame or to hit their children. However, with as much emphasis on being a loving, engaged parent as this book is about, I found it to be quite lacking when it came to the subject of spanking or hitting. In fact, the only mention of physical “discipline” – if it can indeed be called that – was the brief citation above. Nowhere does the author cite statistics for the psychological trauma that ensues when the person you trust the most for your well-being as a little one lashes out, strikes you and hurts you – on purpose.

Another part I found to be lacking was the overall encompassing nature of this book. The author’s attempt, I believe, is for this book to be an “everything for everybody” kind of book. For example, there is a chapter on the father’s role during pregnancy. The chapter itself is full of good information, but for a father, like myself, who is not going to have more children, it wasn’t of much use to me. The book also gives advice, all good, on how to treat the new mother and how to be helpful just after the new baby comes home. Again, all well and good, but I didn’t glean much information out of this chapter, either.

In summation, I would give this book a solid “thumbs up”. I believe that the good information that it contains outweighs the portions that it leaves out. The good stuff is good – very good. The portions that were left out were simply disappointing. Also, the book contained almost too much information in its attempt to be a “one stop shop” for information. However, the insight into the male psyche, especially the new dad psyche can be invaluable in salvaging marriages, relationships, and most importantly, the relationship between a father and his child. That fact alone is worth the price of this book. Read it and learn from it. The information gleaned will not let you down.

More from author Meryn Callander can be found by clicking here.

Miss Questioning

When my husband was a child, he was required to call every adult Mr. or Mrs. and their surname. His mother still expects this of him even though he is now in his 30s. When I was a child, this wasn't addressed at all and I called adults by their first names with the exception of aunts and uncles who I always called (and still call) Aunt or Uncle and their first name and grandparents/parents. When we found out we were pregnant, we decided that our children would be required to meet somewhere in the middle, by calling all adults Miss or Mister and their first name. This seemed like a wonderful compromise between the too-strict and the too-lax. It's been working out quite nicely.

A few days ago, I began to question this decision. I have yet to talk to my husband about my thoughts, as I've not fully fleshed them out in my own head. Here's the thing: I am beginning to feel that this goes against all things I believe. Why should Zen Son have to refer to adults in a way that I do not? The only thing I can come up with is that he is below me on the social scale. That's not OK with me. That's not cohesive with the rest of my belief system.

Zen Son should be forced to be no more respectful than I am. That is to say, I am not 'forced' to be respectful at all. I choose to be, because I choose to treat others as I wish to be treated. This does not mean, however, that I call people by their formal title and last name. So why should he? Because he is a mere child? Because he is lesser than? Because he is lower on the totem pole? Because he needs to be kept in his place?

This is not something to which I put any thought when we came up with our brilliant compromise. We just kind of acted without much deep thought beyond what was outlined above. Never did I consider the deeper meaning of what I would be requiring of our child and why. And for nearly three years, I've gone on happily surface-level in my thinking on the matter. La-dee-da...

One of the things I like about me is that I'm always open to questioning my beliefs and I'm usually the one to provoke said questioning. As such, I questioned why I was doing what I was doing in this regard. Turns out, I was doing it not because it was what I thought was right, but because it's what society told me was right. I never do that! And it bugged me. I've put my son on unequal footing with the entire over 18 population simply because he is small. That's ludicrous!

So, I guess I actually have fleshed out my ideas. Putting them down here has helped me flesh them out and shown me quite clearly what I believe, not what I was taught to believe and blindly followed. I believe children are people. I believe we are all equal (or should be, damn it!). And I will no longer put him below so many others because of some arbitrary social constraint.

Now it's time to share these thoughts and talk them through with my little family of three. It's time to rectify my wrong. It's time to treat my son with the respect I so often claim I do. Lesson learned. (Now on to new lessons...)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Raped - My Story

I originally shared my story here, in effort to dip my toe in the waters of ashamed-no-longer, but still keep things buried in the midst of all the other stories. No longer. I am no longer ashamed. I will no longer hide. This is my story. It happened to me. It wasn't right. They hurt me. THEY did it. Not me. I did nothing wrong. I am not to blame and I refuse to continue to blame myself, even in small part. So here it is. My story. I was raped.

In my second year of teaching, I met a married couple and the three of us hit it off. They were fun, I was fun. We went back to their place - I forget why exactly (I forget a lot about that night). They poured me a glass of wine - along with something extra. They proceeded to rape me as a couple. He raped me anally. I recall only bits and pieces. I have flashes of the night. I remember him turning to her and asking her permission to rape me anally. "Can I?" I remember waking up naked and completely confused in their guest room. I couldn't find my clothes, I didn't know where I was in their house, I didn't know how to get out of there. I woke up feeling more drunk than I'd ever felt in life. I made my way out of there, but not without great difficulty, not without being stopped by him and made to go in and kiss her goodbye. I was unclear as to all that had happened, I was in more headache pain than I'd ever been in, and I was completely shaken and guilt-riddled. It wasn't until a year later when I told my now-husband the story and he told me I had been raped that I finally admitted that to myself. Until that time, I felt so guilty and stupid for having put myself in that position. I still struggle with this, but telling it here is yet another step in that healing process for me.

This is my story. I was raped. And it wasn't my fault.

"Sticks and Stones..." Ya, You Keep Telling Yourself That

The stress has begun to recede. The eye twitch is now only intermittent (usually cropping up when I get another heartwarming (not!) comment to my farewell blog post - click here). The stuttering is gone completely. Phew.
The memories are still vivid, however. The hurt I feel for my son lives on. But my broken heart is repairing itself. And the more that people not only support me (thank you, again, to those who have - click here), but seem to really get it, the more I feel validated, the stronger I get. The more people who don't support me, the more I also feel validated in my decision to remove ZP from FB altogether. It's those who not only support me, but understand the bigger picture who truly have my heart.

Shannon Crooker of Crooked Little Stitches recently wrote a blog post that shows she really gets it. Click here to read it. It's worth it. I promise.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Love Letter to You

In the last couple of days, a stress symptom has shown up in me that I have never before in 35 years experienced - stuttering. It, along with a recurrent eye twitch (also completely new to me) cropped up since "the incident" (click here if you don't know what I'm talking about and for all the ways you can still keep in touch) and it's so bizarre. I imagine once ZP is completely removed from FB it'll taper off and go away, but until then it's kind of unnerving, proving to me that I'm making the right decision, and providing me with further evidence of how deeply this has affected me.

This stress is as a result of not just the incident in the link above, but the unbelievable lack of support I've gotten from a small, but very self-righteous and vocal crowd in my own Zen Parenting community. It's jaw-dropping really. Zen Parent Emma said it really well, "I am absolutely horrified at the continued criticism, attempted emotional blackmail and judgemental comments of people. I am sorry to see this page go and will miss it. I have learnt so much from posts here and have loved being part of the community. I admire and respect Zen. I realise that her comments may be too direct and even viewed as aggressive by some but that is because she is passionate about what she believes in. I am the same. Everyone has a limit on how much abuse they will take and I, for one, would have been homicidal if such awful comments were directed at my daughter. Zen has been a model of restraint compared to that. If people feel any negativity towards her now the answer is simple - unlike the page and never read any of her work again. Why you would choose to go out of your way to continue being unpleasant is beyond me - don't you have better things to do?!! Good luck Zen and thank you. See you on your blog" Ya, Emma, I have been pretty horrified and taken aback myself. I had no idea I'd be facing that on top of everything else. (Queue the stuttering and eye twitching again.) Zen Parent Jamie also did a great job of summing it all up for those who have continued to hit me while I've been down when she said, "Toddlers might not 'use' fb, but they will... They will be able to track and trace everything about them, their family, their everything that has been shared. I agree with removing yourself for the protection of you, your child and your sanity. It's just not worth it. There are LOTS of people out there that jump on board the bully train because its easy to bully behind a screen. It's easy to pick on someone you don't know. It's easy to find anything to push buttons. It's hard to be that target. It's hard to keep taking it over and over. It's impossible to ignore all comments, all the time. I understand wanting this page to continue. It's proven to provoke thought and encourage stronger beliefs in 'taboo' subjects and most importantly to educate. Page owners don't control who their audience is. They don't control who shares what. They put their heart and soul in these posts and try to personalize it to make it real. When that reality is crushed into evil and hatred its time to change direction. That is what she is doing. She's not giving up. Just changing the venue in which she continues her education. Way to stand up for yourself. I'm so sorry you have had to endure this. All of this happened for a reason. You were meant to do more and I can't wait to see what you accomplish. Thank you for what you have taught me." These amazing comments have been the reason I've been able to wade through all the muck - the foul, disgusting muck.

Luckily, those comments have not been the norm. Thankfully and unexpectedly, I've received an outpouring of emotional, heartfelt, loyal, and fiercely supportive comments and messages, the likes of which are overwhelming (literally...I can't answer them all). I keep saying "thank you" to people, but it seems insufficient. I don't just feel thanks for your words, that are so much more than words, but love. I feel love for each and every one of you. I'm not just talking the fake love that gets thrown about online all the time when we think a comment is cool, someone is funny, or one of us has a cute story. I mean love. The real stuff. And I am not one to either blow smoke up anyone's butt or say what I do not mean.

I have gotten message after comment after email after after after from both those whose names I recognize as being very active on the page and those whose names I've never before seen, because they have been silently watching all this time. They're filled with nothing but messages of support. "I'm selfishly sad, but would absolutely do the same thing." "I wish things didn't have to be this way, but am impressed that you're doing the right thing by your family." "I would expect nothing less from you and doing this is what makes you Zen Mama." "I'm disappointed that you'll be gone, but completely understand and support your decision." And every variation that made my heart swell and my eyes fill every time. Knowing that you all get it, knowing that you all understand that my son comes before all and any else, knowing that so many are behind me just chokes me up.

Leaving you all behind isn't easy. I have no real life friends who are like me. I am a donkey amongst elephants, a gentle lover of my child and all amongst childists, a black sheep amongst the flock of lily-white. You all have become friends and family to me. You helped me every bit as much as the slew of supporters have said I've helped them. I've learned every bit as much from you as you say you have from me.

We have been outraged together, hurt together, grown together, challenged each other, and cracked up with one another. I'm not sure what I'll miss most. We have shared of ourselves and from that sharing both taught and learned.

While I am not leaving the blogosphere or even social media altogether, I am not naive enough to believe I will meet you all (or even most) again. I know most of you will stay on FB and not follow me elsewhere and I understand why. So, it is here that we part ways and here that I again say my inadequate "thank you." It's not much, it's not enough, but it's all I have. Thank you. I love you all.

Zen Mama

Special thanks and eternal gratitude go to:

my son, who has always been and will always be my inspiration for all things good and right I do in the world

my husband, who has been a rock during all of this in a way I've seen him be only during labor (and he was amazing though that so...)

my admins, Barbara, Lorna, and Raphael who you never really got to know personally, but who I have been blessed to know and grown to love and adore like family

Our Muddy Boots and On the Fence for always being there for me even before Zen Parenting was born

I Am Not the Babysitter, Love Parenting, Naturally Down to Earth, Evolutionary Parenting, and Barrel of Oranges for supporting me behind the scenes (and, in the case of my favorite, offering to do bad things to Zen Son's attackers for and with me)

you, wonderful you, who will be missed (unless, of course, you follow me elsewhere, which I hope you do!)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Farewell, Facebook

I am very often accused of being cold and harsh, because I am direct, decisive, and no-nonsense. Let's be clear: these are not the same things. I have my sensitivities. I have my vulnerabilities. And I bet they're similar to some of yours.

Kids. Kids are my soft spot. My kid is my gooiest spot.

Why I'm leaving:
In case you somehow missed it, a flight attendant for American Airlines recently harassed a breastfeeding mother and babe on their flight, because she hadn't covered. Instead of apologizing and correcting the issue, AA sent a letter of non-apology to the mother, stating they support breastfeeding BUT (oh, that infamous "but" negating the professed support) doing so uncovered makes others uncomfortable and they're more important here.

Obviously, this left a great many of us perturbed. A nurse-in was scheduled. Letters, FB comments, and email abounded. Several of us left pictures of ourselves breastfeeding on the AA Facebook page. I had pictures of myself breastfeeding my son on the planes to and from Chicago when we filmed our TV segment last year. I posted them. I never could've foreseen what happened from there.

Almost immediately, I started receiving an onslaught of "you're disgusting," "you're a child molester," "you're a pedophile," "you're lazy for breastfeeding," "you're an attention whore," etc. along with a slew of comments about my body, because, if we've learned nothing else from our time together on Zen Parenting, we've learned that body shaming is rampant and a favorite go-to of those attempting to hurt. I ignored the better part of them and found the rest amusing, because, being in the public eye, even in small part, I've heard them all (as have far too many other women and breastfeeding mothers). They didn't get to me.

Then my attackers turned their attention to my son. That's when the whole game changed. It started with calling my son ugly (over and over), progressed to saying that "ginger babies" (P.S. I know exactly TWO redheads who do not absolutely ABHOR being called "ginger," but we don't often say that to people, because we're told to "lighten up"...sound familiar?) are soul-suckers (over and over), and then came the worst - the "If I knew I were going to have a heinous kid like him, I'd be all for late-term abortion," "He makes me want to invent a sonogram that will detect ginger traits just so I could abort one" and more and more and more of the same (over and over and over). Then, when that wasn't enough, they went further and created a page for the sole purpose of continuing the hate only in an even more public forum. They stole one of the two photos I posted on AA's page and created a nasty meme out of it. They did the same to so many others.

Facebook was getting hundreds of reports on all of this. They did nothing. They've since deleted SOME of it, but not all and, you know, it's too little, too late. American Airlines was on their FB page as this was all going on. They were happily ignoring the bullying going on right in front of them as they went on to post about banal things and answer questions about lost baggage. How many times do these two companies have to show their true colors when it comes to women and breastfeeding?

THAT, my friends, is why I'm leaving FB. THAT, my friends, is why I will forever boycott AA. Everyone has their limits. Looking cross-eyed at my son is mine. Allowing those things to go on while standing by idly is another.

Who is complicit in prompting this drastic move:
the attackers, first and foremost
American Airlines
the victim-blamers, lighten-uppers, you owe it to us to stay here-ers, if you can't take the heat stay out of the kitcheners, you're an asshole but nobody deserves what you gotters, all who dismissed my feelings and advised me to do the same, and those with the compassion and empathy of turds

They all came together to create a perfect storm in the eye of which I will not sit back to allow the second wave to come crashing over me. No. Never again. Not if I can help it (and I can).

Where I can be found (click each to be directed):




my blog (Good news, you're already here and I've decided this isn't going anywhere. It's too much time, energy, blood, sweat, tears, and love here to shut it down. See the right hand column - you have to be on a computer, not mobile - to subscribe to posts, so you never miss anything.)

and, if you're so inclined, I do have one other FB page that is totally unrelated to anything Zen Parenting, but is still me-ish - What Did I Just Walk In On?

Finally, I was waiting to announce this and I am still keeping the details to myself, but I am in the process of writing a book. Keep an eye out for it! Of course, I'll keep you updated via all avenues above.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Breastfeeding in the Back of the Bus

This will be a short one, I promise. It's really quite simple.

I see post after post lauding this or that store, stadium, office building, etc. for having a special breastfeeding place set aside for mothers and babes. I find myself furrowing my brow with every standing ovation. Why does everyone applaud "nursing rooms" and "nursing corners"? I don't get it.

(Photo: Here you have a nursing room so special and thoughtful toward mom and babe that it cannot even be brought to show, oh, I don't know, a breastfeeding mom and babe. Still applauding?)

Every room, any nook, any and every place my son is hungry is a breastfeeding spot. I will not be relegated to some "special" area out of the way simply because it has a ruffly little chair and a cute pink sign. Dress up the back of the bus all you want, it's still the back of the bus.

I, for one, refuse to breastfeed in the back of the bus.

Note: I strongly believe every place should have them so if moms wish to use them of their own volition for their own reasons, they can, but nobody should be directed to one as a passive-aggressive way to get them out of the way. Further, said areas should not be just a dressed up bathroom.
(Photo: This is not a lactation room. It's a john. It's the back of the bus. No, it's that perpetually smelly closet with a toilet in it that nobody wants to sit near at the back of the bus. Puke. Hey, Governor's Square Mall in Tallahassee, Florida, we're onto you, you're not fooling anyone, you're still puke-worthy. Photo credit: Zen Parent Jessica)

As my friend Abby, the brilliant Badass Breastfeeder said, "It's the exact same thing as nursing covers. We should have the right to choose. No one can tell us what we should do."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Breastfeeding - A Non-Issue

My dad comes from a big family. This means, I, too, come from a big family. I have one brother, three half-sisters, and three step-siblings. My dad is one of six. My paternal grandma has twenty-one grandkids (spanning the ages of 39 to 7) and nine great-grandkids so far (with, obviously, many more to come given the young ages of most of my cousins). And we all love to get together. We spend holidays together, hang out at the beach together, and go on vacations together. Recently, we went to my dad's lake cabin. And despite my reservations about spending that time with my dad (click here to see that blog post), I never once worried about breastfeeding nearly three year old Zen Son.

I never saw any of my aunts or my step-mom breastfeed in all my years. I knew it happened, but it was either in another room or I was off doing my own thing when it happened. I never witnessed breastfeeding even though all those women were doing it with all their kids. Strange, looking back, but not really the point of this post. The point is - there was a whole lot of breastmilk flowing freely from the females in the family to the mouths of the many babes.

As such, nobody has any issue with it. It's a complete non-issue, as it should be. It's not something special. It's just the norm. It's not "best," it just is. And though none of them breastfed for nearly as long as I have or will continue to, it's still standard operating procedure. Thus, as I breastfed Zen Son in the middle of the living room floor, my uncles, aunts, sisters, cousins, step-mom, and dad would all come in and chat with me, lay down on the floor with me, stroke my son's hair and just *be* with us. Not a one of them even flinched as my boob came out during games, as my nipple was bare here and there, as my son groped my other breast, surely exposing it from time to time. And not a one of them looked away uncomfortably or avoided us. As I said, it was a non-issue.

And as much as I already love my family, this non-issue caused me to fall even deeper in love with them all. They didn't have to do anything, in fact, that they did nothing was what caused my heart to nearly explode.