Category Archives: This Is Not a Lifestyle Blog

Expect the Unexpected

A journal entry from January 2007:

I haven’t made any New Years Resolutions yet, and I’m not sure I will—2006 felt completely outside my grasp, like everything I reached for shifted location or shape just as put my hands on it. Maybe next year I’ll only search for what I really need, and not let myself be distracted by what’s easier or more possible. Maybe I’ll just own up to my desires for more of all the best things: more dancing, more nights under the stars, more parties, more sex, more honesty, more swimming naked, more live music, more writing, more beauty, more dark chocolate and tight jeans and long drives and unnecessary side trips to my favorite bridges and alleys.

I haven’t journaled much in the past 8 years, and I’m surprised to have found this little gem.

2006 had been a difficult year: I was 29, I had just started a new job, and right after my grandmother died I found out I was pregnant. I was flooded with grief and hope and loss and possibility and joy all mixed together. It was June. The peonies were blooming in my garden.

Dorothy was born in April 2007. I was 7 months pregnant when I was imagining dancing and skinny dipping and writing (!) and going to concerts. Continue reading

What Lauren Learned About Identity & Work via a Craft Disaster (aka “Do it, start it, FUCK THIS IT’S NOT WORKING!”)

It’s time for me to ‘fess up: I did not do the Pinterest challenge assigned to me by Renee, the winner of the Pin Us To It prize at our 4K giveaway.

Now, I bet some of our newer readers, brought here by our connections to other post-academic blogs, are thinking “WTF is this Pinning shit?” So before I launch into a discussion of my crafting experience, let me say this about Mama Nervosa: it’s a non-niche blog. We don’t just write about being ex-grad students, or just write about being feminists, or just write about being Moms, or just write about secretly reading super goofy quasi-pornographic YA lit in sixth grade. We write about all of our experiences, and some of those experiences include stuff that’s very typically feminine or maternal. We simply aren’t interested in fracturing our identities into separate blogs or saying that how we feel about ourselves as brainy feminist women has nothing to do with being mothers or crafting disaster-ers. I’ll try to make some connections between this craft experience and some of the stuff I’ve been thinking as I quit grad school towards the end of the post, so stay with me!

From our inception as a blog, we’ve been preoccupied with Pinterest and lifestyle blogs because they’re such an integral part of the online mommying world (read this recent article from Jezebel for a taste of it). Jen is pretty ok with Pinterest: she recognizes its flaws, but overall, her experience with Pinterest is positive. I… let’s just say I feel differently. Continue reading

Fairy Garden Pinterest Challenge Complete!

Hey, remember when we did the breakthrough to 4k giveaway? Renee won the Pin Us To It Pinterest challenge, and she chose this fabulous fairy garden project for Lauren and I to complete.

Lauren and I are both ambivalent about Pinterest, though I have had some successes with recipes and art projects. I decided to use the concept of the fairy garden without following the instructions too literally. The girls LOVED this project. Continue reading

Little Victories, Big Celebrations: Parenthood, Praise, and Why I Will Never Be A Tiger Mom.

At 10:45 last night my girls were still wide awake, buzzing with excitement from the ballet recital. They had been in bed for an hour and a half. And by in bed, I mean, climbing the bunk bed ladder to exchange stuffed animals, going back and forth to the bathroom to get drinks of water, spilling the water on their nightstand, running down the hallway to report various concerns and misdeeds to me, and playing with their collection of stuffed birds that whistle and chirp authentic birdsongs when you squeeze them.

It’s been a momentous week here: field day, the last day of preschool, first haircut, dress rehearsal, and then the recital Saturday. We successfully managed teacher gifts and extra babysitting hours and  tricycle races and costumes with very large tutus. I am so proud of them. Of all of us, really.

Lucy zooming around the bend in the tricycle races.

I realize that for people who are not parents, these are exactly the sort of accomplishments that seem silly.

Continue reading

My Trip To Tulsa, By the Numbers

1168 — miles driven.

8 — days of travel.

170 — dollars spent on gas.

-1 — fantastic landmarks on the way out of Iowa. So long, Terrible’s sign.

4 — number of parks we visited in Tulsa, including Hunter Park and the fabulous La Fortune Park.

3 — Poopy pull-ups at rest areas (100% occurring within minutes of having been changed into a fresh one.

78 — average high temp during our stay in Tulsa, dramatically below the usual average and completely beguiling.

2 — total number of pictures in which I appear.

45 — seconds it took for Robin to pee in the wildflowers on the side of the highway. Girl can hold her Juicy Juice.

288 — approximate ounces of coffee consumed.

100 — percentage of grandparents with strange new dietary preferences and requirements.

3 — Awesome go-cart rides with Uncle D., our hero.

8 — meals the girls ate that were organized around pasta salad, because it’s their new fave and the ingredients are easy to come by.

2 — dead mice greeting us at the doorstep upon our return.

10,000 — number of MN readers we hit while I was on the road. Thanks!

0 — what we had in the cupboard for dinner when we got home.

PB on white bread (??), popsicles. Not shown: pizza. Nutrition ftw!

I have more to say and more to share but this mama is spent.

Fresh Beats, Gators, Surrender

So I didn’t do much (okay, any) writing last week. But I promise, I wasn’t slacking!

What I did:

1.)    turned in my grades

2.)    spent 2 days in professional development seminars

3.)    went to my nephew’s track meet

4.)    planted lime basil seeds

5.)    hung out with my sister and her new baby

6.)    cheered for the otters at the zoo

7.)    cheered for Margeaux when she stood up for the first time

8.)    bought a new round squishy ottoman so Margeaux has a safe place to stand up

9.)    taught D and Lucy how to use a lint brush so they can clean the cat hair off the new ottoman

10.) chased the cat around to squirt peroxide on his gross open wounds twice a day

11.) vowed to never let the cat outside again Continue reading

I’m an Adult Woman With Kids in Search of Myself (and I need some new options)

This week, I’m rereading The Feminine Mystique. Look forward to more posts about how it resonates with my life as a young mother nearly fifty years later.

When I was growing up, all I wanted was to settle down. I wanted to move to a small town where everyone would know my name. After 4 moves in as many years, I wanted to live in the country, preferably close to my family, and never move. I have long considered myself a bit of a homebody and not much of a risk-taker. This has been backed up by a long history of being pretty wussy about change and trying new things (like driving a car, flying on planes, etc).

But lately I’ve been extremely restless. My uncertainty about the future and desire for change has taken on a new urgency. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re in the waning weeks of my final semester in grad school; maybe it’s my anxiety about how to fill the time as a (mostly) stay-at-home parent. Something in me is scared and the thing I’m scared of is: stasis. In reflecting on my life history and how I got here, I’ve been reevaluating myself and my choices, and I have come to the conclusion that I am a change junkie. I don’t often seek out action in the physical or visceral sense, but I seek out constant stimulation in my mind. In high school, I shifted from obsession to obsession, immersing myself in worlds of music and books. I fantasized constantly about what was next: a guaranteed ticket out of Oklahoma, a man to love me, and music. I wrote long stories about this future life (yes: I will share them with you, later). Then I had college, an intense time packed with experimentation, work, and fun. Grad school was the ultimate, brainy gamble: a career version of Russian roulette, except the revolver has five bullets instead of one. Soon after starting grad school, I became obsessed with having a baby and learned every single possible thing about babies and birth and breastfeeding. Then I changed programs. Then I had a baby. Then I (accidentally) got pregnant again. Have I mentioned that the longest I’ve lived in a house or apartment since leaving my parents’ home at 18 is 3 years? And every semester in school is a fresh start. That’s 3 months before a total shake-up.

I’m a change junkie.

Nowadays, it’s manifest in little ways — the constant email checking, constant Google reader reloading – and big ways: desperation for a job or a big project; thinking about a new baby or moving or whatever. It’s all part of the same giant problem I’m staring down:  I’m scared of being bored. I’m scared that in three weeks, I’ll start the “rest of my life:” a life lived in one place, doing the same things, with the same family. I keep trying to implement my Radical Thing-Doing plan, but I’m doing the dishes thinking, “Jesus, I just keep having to do the dishes.” I clean the floor and in an instant, it’s showered by cornbread crumbs. I’m not getting zen.

In college, when I read Betty Friedan and Anne Sexton and became a feminist, part of the powerful persuasion of second wave feminism was its revulsion at the tedium of conventional motherhood. I shared their utter outrage at the marriage and family manuals and women’s magazines of the 50s and 60s, which glibly suggested that caring for a home was as stimulating and challenging as traveling, writing, working, anything else. That in the day-to-day challenges, emotions, interactions, and triumphs, a smart woman could find satisfaction. I hated that notion. It insulted me. I told my then-boyfriend (now husband) that my worst nightmare would be a house in the suburbs and a minivan full of kids. I think that has carried over a bit in my reaction to mommy and lifestyle blogs that make it all seem so satisfying, so engaging and rewarding. I don’t find it to be that way. I know there are Moms who do… I envy them. I believe mothering should be defined by the relationship it represents – mother and child – but it is often discussed as and characterized by the things mothers do, especially in the early years when, as Jen eloquently describes, we have so much intimate participation in every functional aspect of our children’s lives.

Having kids certainly changed my perspective on mothering as a nightmare: I deeply wanted them, and I love having them in my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But, this shit is not working. I am struggling – really struggling – to find myself – my whole, individual self – in any version of “adult woman with kids” available out there. (Saying “mother” always, already feels so loaded. I’m a woman, and I have kids. I’m trying to figure myself out here.)

I don’t identify as a SAHM: as I’ve said before, I’m mothering by default. I’ve done the natural mothering thing and philosophically, I’m on board, but once you move past the urgency of infancy, AP is compatible with almost any lifestyle. I don’t have to SAHM it up to be an attached mom.

While I can and do “work” at “home” – trying to grade papers while the kids make a mess with waffle syrup, or writing a blog entry in a running car with a sleeping 4 year old in the backseat – it isn’t exactly work, and it’s not exactly fulfilling. I’m not about to start my own Scentsy franchise or whatever. Most of my “working at home” is characterized by the desperate desire to be left the fuck alone so I can concentrate. The push-pull is intense when you are constantly interruptible.

At least for now, I’m not a career woman. While momming 24/7 seems like too much, working full-time feels wrong at my core, and as long as my husband has a 50 hour a week job that pays the bills, it makes sense for me to spend more time with the girls, which requires being at home and doing all that home stuff. I don’t feel a strong calling to a full-time occupation. Nothing I can do is worth the sacrifice of 90% of my time with my kids, at this age, anyway. (Writing? But that doesn’t pay.) While I adore teaching, I’ve worked with diffident eighteen year olds long enough to know that investing my identity completely in their success is a recipe for a nervous breakdown. A job won’t make me feel better at mothering: if anything, the more I’ve been away from the home this year (struggling towards comps in grad school), the more chaotic and distressed our home lives became. Things fell apart. I am needed, however much I may suck at domestic tasks: something about me is a kind of glue to our household.

A few months back, I read an interesting post on this topic at Her Bad Mother. Catherine Conners recently moved her family from Canada to New York so she could pursue her dream career. Because of this transition, her husband became the caregiver in their family, and he… hated it. I could relate completely to her description of his feelings about stay-at-home-parenting:

If I write the words Kyle does not like being a stay-at-home dad, Kyle does not like being dependent upon me, Kyle is not comfortable being the ‘wife,’ it just sounds wrong, it seems open to misinterpretation, to misunderstanding on the part of anyone who would read those words and not get that he loves his kids, and that he loves being with his kids, and that he loves me and is proud of me, and that he wouldn’t want me to be anyone other than who I am, that all of these things are true and important, more important than the ‘and yet…’ that follows them. And yet he doesn’t like being at home I cannot do justice to the complicatedness of his reality. I cannot do justice to the complicatedness of his feelings.

I can relate completely. Kyle and I are on the same team here! Wow! But can you imagine this being about a wife? This family been in this new life arrangement for a few months – how many years of dissatisfaction with stay-at-home-motherhood do women weather without anyone being seriously concerned about their fulfillment, or seeking alternatives? Other than fellow Moms who completely get where I’m coming from, does anyone read my blog and feel sympathetic to the “complicatedness” of my feelings and reality? I think it speaks to Catherine’s own complicated experience as a mother that she can sympathize and respect her husband’s experience, even as it imperils this fragile plan they created so she could pursue her own dreams. But as I write this, I imagine readers stumbling across me and being like, “Ugh, another bored white mom complaining about her privilege.”

I decided to reread The Feminine Mystique because more and more I’m dissatisfied with the options available to me – which can be boiled down to public/private or public/domestic, work/home – but despite wave after wave, there still aren’t many in-betweens or alternatives. Either you find yourself in or through the home (SAHM, WAHM), or you have to reject the home (WOHM). Right? So what else is there? Is there a place outside the home where I can find myself as a woman and a mom? Is there an out-walking-around-mom? A driving-around-and-talking-mom? A reading-and-writing-sometimes-cranky-always-loving-always-thinking-mom? We need more options for individual fulfillment beyond work and home. We need some new spheres.

Tick, tock

Despite our morning struggles, we had some definite successes this week.

We bought D a tagalong bike for her birthday, and although she was initially terrified (she actually ran and hid), she did eventually climb on, cling to the handlebars for dear life, and discover that she LOVES riding behind T. SUCCESS!

The girls have slept all night, every night in their big girl bunk beds, and we have had no violations of the 4 cardinal bedtime rules (I stay in my bed, I am quiet, I lay down with my head on my pillow, No kickers). SUCCESS!

We are still working on the finer points of ladder safety: Do not climb the ladder while eating a chocolate egg. Do not climb the ladder while snuggling 5 stuffed unicorns. Do not climb the ladder while carrying 24 puzzle pieces. But despite the repeated falls, no one has been injured. SUCCESS!

Because of D’s birthday, and because I am reaching the end of the semester in my Life Journey class, I have been thinking a lot about growing up and growing old. My students are reading Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan, and we watched the Frontline documentary Living Old. Yesterday some of them cried quietly during class discussion. The conversations this week have been difficult, but powerful: they trust each other enough to ask hard questions. They are thinking about their parents and grandparents; they are thinking about their own lives unfolding; they are, we are, grateful that spring seems to be here for real, that the threat of winter has mostly passed.

As a parent, as a professor, in some ways I’m always longing for the next step: the big girl bike, the big girl bed, Muppet Babies instead of Dora the Explorer,  the thoughtful discussion that happens between students without me having to repeat and filter their thoughts back out in the form of another question or prompt. Growth, achievement, milestones. Tick, tock, tick tock. For me, the pleasure of seeing them (my daughters, and my students, for that matter) emerge and reemerge as inquisitive, intelligent, increasingly independent individuals outweighs, most days, any sadness over the passage of time.

Except where Margeaux is concerned.

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Exactly the right age for a kitchen sink bath.

Margeaux, who is right smack in the middle of my most favorite age, between 6 months and a year. Crawling, babbling, smiling, laughing, she says mama when she reaches for me and hop hop hop when she plays with her frog rattle. I freely admit I don’t want her to learn to walk. Maybe because she’s our last baby, maybe because it all felt a little precarious when I was hospitalized with preeclampsia after her birth, maybe because that year between 1 and 2 felt like such a struggle with D and Lucy, maybe because right now, there’s nothing she needs or wants that I can’t give her freely. It’s not complicated.

She still wakes up around 4 am to nurse, and I usually bring her back to bed with me. I love the moment when she throws her chubby arms up over her head and sighs and drops off into baby dreamworld, tummy full, safe and warm. When D was a baby and my nephew was about 5, I asked him what he thought D dreamed about. We were watching her nap, and she was making soft little sleep sounds. “She probably dreams about girl stuff,” my nephew said. “Like horses, and fruit.”

Chubby arms, mama mama, hop hop hop. Baby perfection. If I could, I’d hush the tick, tock and stay in bed, dreaming of horses and fruit.

If Mama Nervosa were talented photographers instead of bloggers…

“The stress, the chaos, and the need to simultaneously escape and connect are issue that I investigate in this body of work.  We live in a culture where we are both “child centered” and “self-obsessed.”  The struggle between living in the moment versus escaping to another reality is intense since these two opposites strive to dominate.  Caught in the swirl of soccer practices, play dates, work, and trying to find our way in our “make-over” culture, we must still create the space to find ourselves.” Julie Blackmon, Artist Statement

My lifelong friend, Steph, pointed me in the direction of Julie Blackmon’s photography, and rather blew my mind. I love her domestic scenes and I feel like the tensions she explores — between self and child, beauty and chaos, escape and connection — match up so well with the questions and themes we sometimes explore on Mama Nervosa.

“The expectations of family life have never been more at odds with each other.  These issues, as well as the relationship between the domestic landscape of the past and present, are issues I have explored in these photographs.  I believe there are moments that can be found throughout any given day that bring sanctuary.  It is in finding these moments amidst the stress of the everyday that my life as a mother parallels my work as an artist, and where the dynamics of family life throughout time seem remarkably unchanged.  As an artist and as a mother, I believe life’s most poignant moments come from the ability to fuse fantasy and reality:  to see the mythic amidst the chaos.” Julie Blackmon, Artist Statement

Blackmon is one of 9 children and a mother of 3. Her photographs are inspired by the domestic scenes of Jan Steen, a 17th century Dutch painter whose ribald scenes of boisterous families are so archetypical that they actually use the phrase “Jan Steen household” to describe messy homes with kids running everywhere. (So, see, my house is like art.) That she can connect these very modern images to art of the 17th century illustrates her point that family dynamics seem “remarkably unchanged” over time. In other words, our worries and issues aren’t news! But isn’t that intriguing?

Where can I begin with what I love about these images? First, I love the settings: beautiful, stylized interiors that feel like they’re from the past. Any of these interiors could be used for a lifestyle blog, right? They’re gorgeous. But the scenes are scattered and often cluttered (see the patio above — numerous balls, the unfurled hose, the brown grass). It’s confusing and exhilerating: can a beautiful space be messy? Seriously, can it?

These images flirt with danger: a child standing in the high chair that’s supposed to keep him safe so an adult can mop in the next room; a child playing with egg shells; a baby standing on the table. The kids aren’t in obvious danger but considering how paranoid modern culture is about child safety and supervision, they are taboo. Is this benign negligence? What would DHS think about children playing near an open fire while Mom has her head buried in an oversized fashion magazine? What do you think about it?

Adults are peripheral, distracted, and preoccupied in Blackmon’s photos. This reminds me of Jen and I discussing children’s television shows in which parents are absent: we enjoy the idea of the home as child-centered, parents as incidental to the dramas of their lives. Blackmon’s photos focus on the children’s experiences and emotions. Often they are naked, messy, and serious: these are not your professional portraits where kids play grown up; these kids mirror adults in expression and complexity. She does not sentimentalize childhood as particularly joyful, innocent, and magical.

Adults are permitted to be self-focused, even indulgent. We’re interested in, even comfortable with that, but when we discussed these shows on facebook, other parents were disturbed by shows that do not feature parental supervision.

This image is called “playgroup” and look how it focuses on the women’s interactions rather than the children. I know that my playdates/playgroups are organized so I can interact with grownups, with my children’s play incidental to that! At the same time, these adults are infantilized a bit, through the elaborate costume dress of the standing woman and the woman curled up on the ground looking up at her (it’s hard to tell, due to the angle, if she’s a grown up or a kid) and the sprawled legs of the woman on the left mirrored by those of the baby. Aren’t we all playing grown up, kinda? She depicts these adults without judgment. Blackmon isn’t taking a stand about the right or better way to parent, but representing tensions in modern parenting culture.

For balance, here’s “Merry Family” by Jan Steen:

I could go on and on analyzing and commenting on these images. What do you think?

Here’s How I Actually Completed 4 Pinterest Projects!

I confessed in our Pinterest chat last week that I had never actually followed through on any of my pins: all those delicious recipes and adorable crafts and fabulous outfits are elaborate fantasies of the gorgeous, perfect mom I am in my mind. (The mom I am in real life, in my kitchen, is wearing grungy pajamas and drinking coffee from a pint glass. This is my second pint of coffee. I have been out of bed for approximately 20 minutes.)

So here are my attempts to baby step from Pinterest fantasy to reality. I completed, with some degree of success, 3 recipes and a craft project.

Project 1: Key West Grilled Chicken

I forgot to take pictures because I was so hungry, and I substituted tofu for chicken, lime juice from a bottle for fresh limes, garlic powder for chopped garlic, and I sautéed the marinated strips of tofu in a skillet. But I’m still calling it a Pinterest success story! I ate the resulting yummy tofu on a salad of mixed greens from a big plastic tub. Grapes, mango, cherry tomatoes, poppy seed dressing. Yum. I will make this again.

Project 2: Fro Yo Droplets

Drops of frozen yogurt on a cookie sheetSqueeze some yogurt out of a Ziplock bag onto a cookie sheet. Freeze it. Put the cute little frozen drops in a bowl and tell your kids that it’s a “Frozen Dot Appetizer.” Even the kid who refuses to eat yogurt ate mountains of Frozen Dots. They are oddly delicious.

Pro Tip: They melt quickly. Don’t put a pile of them on your baby’s high chair tray for her to eat/play with unless it’s bath night.

 

Project 3: Funfetti Cookies

Last year I stayed up all night making seahorse cookies for D’s 3 year old preschool class, and then the dog ate them off the table, and then I made seahorse finger Jello, and then I resolved to simplify this whole birthday treat business the next time around.

The girls and I do quite a bit of baking together, and they were very excited to get to use SO MANY SPRINKLES MAMA! IT’S A SPRINKLE PARTY IN OUR BOWL!

Put on aprons, dump in a box of cake mix, crack a couple eggs, stir, add an unholy amount of sprinkles, bake. Awesome. Easy, fun, and Lucy thought the dough was so delicious she sneaked back in to the kitchen to eat some more while I was distracted looking for a white plate to arrange the cookies on so I could photograph them.

Girls adding ingredientsGirls mixing eggs wth whisk

 

Pro tip: The recipe said bake at 350 for 10 minutes, which left the first round of cookies burnt to a sprinkly crisp. Burnt cookies

I turned the oven down to 325 and baked them for 7 minutes. Next time, I would refrigerate the dough.

The recipe made about 3 dozen, plus the burned dozen I threw away, plus the dough Lucy ate. D’s preschool class found them to be so delicious that not a single kid threw their cookie away instead of eating it: the gold standard of snack time.

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Project 4: Footprint Butterfly

If you want a surefire way to keep my kids happy, give them some art supplies. Markers, crayons, stickers, glue stick, scissors, paper? They can go for hours. Most of what they produce is not museum quality, but they are super proud of it. T put up an art clothesline in our hallway, and I rotate new art and school papers through every couple of days.

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Footprint butterflies are not that kind of art.

I showed them the picture on the iPad and explained the process. Since it was an unseasonably gorgeous day and the baby was napping, we went outside.

They decided they wanted pink butterflies, and helped me squeeze the paint bottles and mix the paint. I dipped one foot at a time in paint, helped them position it on the paper, carried them a couple yards to a bowl of water (if it spilled, I didn’t want the partially completed art to be flooded), and washed between their toes. It took two tries to get Lucy’s footprints on the paper without huge smears of paint near her heels.

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When Margeaux woke up, I put her in her high chair, coated her feet in paint, and stuck them to the paper. She shrieked in protest and smeared paint all over my shirt.

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I did 4 loads of laundry while the paint dried, then we got out the glitter glue. I helped them make the butterfly bodies and heads; D did her own antennae.

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Overall: not time intensive, but messy, and not a lot of opportunity for creativity or interpretation by the kids making them. But the end result will be adorable framed on their bedroom wall (or would be a fantastic gift for a grandma on Mother’s Day), and will be worth holding on to long after most of the hallway art is tossed into the recycle bin. And the paint washed out of my shirt with just a little squirt of dish soap.

So: 4 Pinterest success stories! Maybe next week I’ll try to assemble one of the stylish outfits I’ve pinned for less than $20 at the Goodwill.