Tag Archives: motherhood

Chat: If Our Daughters Want to Shave Our Heads, We Will Let Them (And other parenting lessons we learned from Will Smith)

Willow Smith shaved her head recently, and when Parade Magazine asked him about it, Will Smith said this:

“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”

Inspired by Will Smith (a phrase I never in a million years thought I would type), Lauren and Jen talk about setting boundaries and answering tough questions.

Lauren: So, would you let Dorothy shave her head?

Jen:  I shaved my head, when I was 19.

Lauren:  Cooooool.

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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

Let’s Talk About Debt, Part 2: The Catch 22 of Grad School Economics

The impossibility of the Grad School Economy really hit home for me last summer (2011). We’d just moved to a bigger place after squashing into a 2-bedroom apartment for years. Like the woman in the Grad School to Welfare article, we live outside our university town because it is more affordable. My daughters were 3 years old and 18 months old at the time, and I was gearing up to take my comprehensive exams in the fall. Because summers in the past have been terribly tight (more on that in a minute), I took a job as a part-time writing tutor at my University. We could only afford half-time childcare for the girls, which meant they spent the mornings at school and I either tutored or worked towards comps during that time: this meant commuting between their schools, my school, and our house all between the hours of 7:30 am and 12:30 pm. So, my schedule looked something like this:

7:30 Leave with both girls and all my school stuff to take Kid 2 to infant daycare in nearby town.

7:50 Drop off Kid 2, drive Kid 1 to hippie daycare for preschoolers in university town.

8:15 Arrive at writing center, check email, tutor anxious grad students on mind-bending dissertations about standardized outcomes language in nursing or African-American porter unions or bio-mathematics.

10:30 Finish tutoring, get out comps stuff and start getting head into game. Read articles, look up references, start taking notes/drafting.

12:00 I just got into a writing rhythm, but I have to pack up and race to hippie daycare because I’m already running late.

12:20 Drive to nearby town to pick up Kid 2 as fast as possible, because if they fall asleep in the car on the way home, then they won’t nap, and if they won’t nap then I am SOL in terms of work time.

12:40 Drive home with the radio blaring to keep kids awake. They scream in my face.

1:00 Shovel food into their gaping maws as fast as possible, nurse one or both to sleep. Get comps stuff out, find where I’d left off, and start drafting or note-taking, while feeding myself with my non-dominant hand.

2:15 Shit! Someone is setting off firecrackers. Please don’t wake up please don’t wake up. If they wake up, I am ruined. RUINED.

3:15 They slept and I got a paragraph of summary written. Now it’s time to be a Mom, fix dinner, clean up, do bath time, and do bedtime.

8:45 They’re asleep! Now I have to decide if I’m going to work some more, have sex with my very neglected husband (oh yeah, that guy), or go to sleep.

9:15 Sleep wins.

Other than being completely crazy-making, the Catch 22 of this economy flummoxed me:

  • If I wanted more time to write, then I needed to have more money to pay for childcare.
  • If I needed more money for childcare, then I needed to spend more time working on a job that paid.
  • If I spent more time working at a job that paid (tutoring, nannying, adjuncting 1-2 sections at a local CC, all of which I’ve done as a grad student), then I had no time to write.
  • If I spent more time writing during “free” time (evenings and weekends), then my marriage collapsed like a dying star and I became a stranger to my children.

We know firsthand how painful and terrifying it can be to go broke. We went broke in 2010, the first summer after our second baby was born. I was too exhausted and clueless and desperate to calculate the full cost of childcare for two children. The pregnancy was a surprise, and I wanted to prove that I could balance family and school, so I was bound and determined to have a sitter for the girls and get some work done (any work, progress is progress, right?). But my summer income is zero: my TAship was a 10-month contract, and July and August are always tight. By the time I realized that there was simply no way for us to afford childcare for two young kids relying solely on my husband’s salary, it was too late to regroup and come up with an alternative plan. I pulled both girls out of childcare and spent that summer as a stay-at-home-mom, letting go of all work time to take care of my family and painstakingly attend to our budget. We made it, but it was extremely stressful, and I lost a lot of momentum towards comping, which was what I felt I needed to do so I could get to the part where I made actual money.

But after that, we prioritized money over grad school progress to avoid repeating that experience: I tutored in the summer, and taught anywhere from 1 to 3 additional courses each semester (in contrast to my usual one). My husband got a promotion at his not-beloved-but-solid job; he also works a second, part-time job every other weekend.

Focusing on income cost me dearly as I struggled to prepare for comps in 2010-2012. I deferred again in Fall 2010, and again in Spring 2011. Last summer, I was determined to comp in September, but Grad School Economics made that impossible. My adviser was skeptical that I would be ready to comp in the spring (2012). I was absolutely determined to make it work, and I took drastic measures to sprint my way towards comps readiness: I hired a cleaning lady, put my kids in daycare full-time, and started writing nights and weekends. I wrote and wrote and wrote, often immediately scrapping what I’d just spent weeks on. I was still floundering with topics and focus: maybe I was just not academically ready to comp at this time, but I didn’t really have the time to come to that realization, nor did I have the time to concentrate and solve that problem. I was out of time: I needed to comp as soon as fucking possible. I was dug in and furiously working away in a not-very-productive manner, but I knew that our family could not sustain this life for long, so I thought if I really hammered at it and got through comps, I could slow back down after that, maybe even work a part-time job while I dissertated and the girls got into school, whatever. I needed to get over this ENORMOUS mountain.

But at my first meeting with my adviser in the spring semester of 2012, it became clear that I was nowhere near ready for comps and had miles to go before I slept. I’d lost my way and would have to work harder, for longer, to reorient myself and get back on track. I was not up for that. It felt impossible to continue in this way, so I quit.

(To be continued!)

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.

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Milestones: Finding Time to Write

Mama Nervosa reached an amazing milestone this week: 10,000 views (and counting).  I know some of our readers are amazing and talented writers who run successful blogs that average 10,000 views a week, and we hope to get there someday. But for us, 10,000 is an enormous accomplishment. I can’t speak for Lauren, but for me? 10,000 means I can give myself permission to ignore the laundry for an hour and sit down to write.

Lauren and I met at a writers’ workshop in Iowa City; a mutual friend (and amazing writer) organized the workshop as part of Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen workshop series, and I signed up in a moment of temporary insanity. Because here’s the thing: even though I have imagined that I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, I have spent most of the past 8 years (since leaving grad school) not writing at all. A fling with livejournal, a few letters, a lot of emails, the occasional witty facebook comment. That’s it. Not an essay, a chapter, not even a journal entry—and I journaled avidly from third grade through college and most of grad school. Even when working on a feminist book project with friends from undergrad, I primarily read and edited other people’s work.

I didn’t stop thinking of myself as a writer, which is weird, in retrospect, since I was very obviously NOT WRITING. Maybe it was my lack of do it start it keep it going capability, maybe it was all the negativity associated with writing in grad school, maybe it was just a natural shift as my location and day to day life and priorities and identity changed in ways large and small. But when Shell posted the workshop on her facebook, I knew, instinctively, that I needed to go. Even though I wasn’t a writer. Even though I had a small baby who was still breastfeeding. Even though I had no idea what the workshop would actually entail.  I signed up, paid, pumped a freezer full of breast milk, and got in the car.

At the workshop, I wrote and ate and drank and talk and danced and read my work out loud and listened to feedback from a room full of smart, thoughtful women, all talented writers. I wrote an essay about Phish tour that I’d been burning to write since I let the dissertation go. I remembered how good it felt to sit in a quiet room full of books all by myself with a laptop or with paper and pen and have the time and space and confidence to put the words on the page. And when Lauren (do it start it keep it going!) asked if I wanted to blog with her I made another crazy leap of faith and said YES, ABSOLUTELY SIGN ME UP. I neglected to tell her that I have never blogged before and I am largely technologically inept. I did not stop to think about how I was going to find time to write blog entries in between the laundry and the teaching and the parenting and the gardening and the trying to figure out how to come up with enough money to buy tickets for The Fresh Beat Band from stubhub since the good seats are all sold out but I already promised D we would go.

But here we are, 10,000 views later. I am still trying to find/make/steal/borrow time to write. I am ignoring a MOUNTAIN of laundry even as I type. So when I saw Shell’s kickstarter campaign go live today, I made a contribution, and I’m hoping some of you will consider contributing too. She’s trying to raise the funds to finish her (gorgeous, hilarious, heart-breaking) memoir. Shell is a kick ass mama, an amazing writer, a beautiful woman, and an honest friend. She was a foster kid and a teen mom and now she’s a PhD. She was a voice of clarity during crazy grad school nights, she is a hero to me as a mother and a feminist, and she is a powerful enough force to inspire me to show up at a writing workshop when I had no idea if I could write a single word.

So give what you can– and if not to Shell’s project, to some other mama who is trying to find the time/space/cash to do the work that means the most to her. Let’s face it: it’s insanely hard to do this on our own, and we all have resources we could use to help one another. Maybe you have food, or money, or time, or skills or connections that could bring someone else that much closer to living the dream. Look around. Ask around. Figure out who needs what you’ve got to offer, and give generously. Life is too short not to share the wealth.

Like a Sloth on a Turtle with Wheels, Updated

Update: Dorothy LOVES riding a tagalong bike!

After many tears and much heartbreak in our driveway this spring, I am beyond thrilled to update this post with this photo:

We bought the tagalong for her birthday after showing her many happy photos on the interwebs of children riding along merrily behind their parents. My hope was that if she were in a situation where speed was mandatory but she was completely safe, she would have a breakthrough of sorts. AND IT WORKED!

Granted, when we first hooked up the tagalong in the driveway she ran and hid and cried. But Lucy, our resident Danger Mouse, was eager to hop on. And as Lucy and T rode back and forth in front of the house, D gradually came out of hiding, and looked on with decreasing trepidation and increasing envy. “I want to ride,” she yelled in frustration. “It’s MY present!”

Et voila.

We put on her helmet, helped her up, T rode over a couple lawns to keep the pace slow, and then off they went. She actually shrieked with joy.

And just as we hoped, she has approached her scooter and a bike with training wheels with significantly more confidence and fewer tears. It’s not like she’s going to enter the 2013 X Games, but she has definitely increased her speed from sloth to, let’s say, capybara. I’ll keep you posted on her progress this summer.

Original post beyond the jump.

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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