Tag Archives: sleep

Having a Baby as a Life Organizing Strategy

A miracle occurred in my house on Sunday: my two year old slept all night, by herself, in her bed. For the first time in her life.

Finally, she sleeps!

I’ve written about my children’s terrible sleep before, so this bears repeating: my twenty-seven month old daughter slept through the night for the first time last night. I remember that it was also April when my older daughter started sleeping through the night, too: something about the spring after turning two must flip a switch in the brains of my children that says, “Hey – sleep is grand. Let’s do it some more.”

This means I slept through the night, too! For the first time! In over four years! I woke up at 5 am and could tell that it was way later than I typically got to sleep before being called back to the kids’ room. I squinted at the clock to bring the numbers in focus and couldn’t quite believe it. Then I fretted in bed for thirty minutes, assuming that she had not woken up because ya know, she was probably dead. 

It’s funny: co-sleeping is so often characterized as reckless endangerment of a child, but to me it offered ironclad knowledge that my kid hadn’t suffocated. I felt like a neglectful Mom when I woke up the next morning, having slept all night in luxury and not made sure my child was alive once. But she was alive! And I missed her little body in that moment, her snuggly ways and how she always jams her feet under my side. I know she will probably continue to wake up sometimes (like, ya know, the very next night), but I also expect that, like her sister, this will be the start of her kid years. She’s not a baby. She’s almost not even a toddler. She’s almost a kid. I’m almost to a place where I might sleep, all night, in a bed, maybe even with my husband (if he doesn’t snore).

So it might surprise you (it certainly surprises me) that I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not I want to have another baby. Not only did my youngest child do something that tells me she’s not so little anymore, but it’s my breeding time of year. I got pregnant with Robin in June, and Holly was accidentally conceived during a post-finals week high in May two years later. My body is telling me it’s time to get back on that horse: my body really, really thinks it would be a good idea to get pregnant yesterday.

My heart also kinda wants a baby: I love newborns, I love fat baby faces and snuggles, and I’d love to see my 4-year-old dote over an infant (she often asks me to have another baby, and often asks when she can have a baby). And there’s nothing like the anticipation of a new baby. It has this open possibility that is scary but intoxicating: you know life is going to change completely, and you also know you are about to fall hard for someone completely new and wonderful in ways you can never anticipate and never knew you needed. I found this especially true with Holly (our 2nd) because we were no longer so terrified of the baby thing, so we really enjoyed her infancy and getting to know her little personality. The idea of seeing what else our genes could come up with is tempting. A brown-haired child (finally)? A boy? It’s not that different than gambling, in a way – and it has tremendous emotional and cultural payoff. Nothing is as hard as having a small baby, but on the flip side, nothing is as powerful. In the right circumstances – support, security – a desired pregnancy is enormously LIFE ORGANIZING. It has its own gravitational pull, a centripetal motion that brings everything else into focus and order in a way that’s really gratifying.

I’ve been rereading The Feminine Mystique and one of the themes that comes up again and again is that women have another baby to solve problems in other areas of their lives. I say this not as judgment but as fact: I think anyone committing to having a child does it for myriad reasons, some selfless or laudable as “in the child’s best interest” and some personal, relational, and complex. I didn’t have kids when I did because the timing was perfect and we have pre-established college funds, etc. It was a complicated blend of biological imperative, life timing, and personal desire. In Friedan’s analysis, women of the 50s and 60s kept having children because they’ve been culturally conditioned to see mothering as the only valid use of their time and abilities, and when their littlest becomes independent, they have a personal crisis. I don’t think that’s the case any longer: certainly, all the women I know understand that there are many paths to a fulfilling life and work can be a part of that; but at the same time, we still expect, and experience, an intense devotion between mother and child that can feel and be engulfing at times. It makes sense that coming out of that, and deciding to end that time (no more kids) creates new space for questioning and wondering that’s a bit scary to negotiate.

Sweet Baby Robin

Pregnancy really forces you to get your shit together. You get house projects done, you quit drinking or smoking, you start eating better. Suddenly, you are flying through your dissertation or push a big project at work through because you want to be done before the baby gets here. For some women, pregnancy is really good for them: they love their bodies, sometimes the hormones even relieve persistent problems like depression or anxiety. In some marriages I know, the time around pregnancy and birth is a time of harmony in the home: conflict and disagreement are set aside while both parents focus on the new baby. It might not be “right” but babies can temporarily repair broken relationships, broken minds, and broken bodies. The needs of an infant are urgent, primal, and utterly reasonable (love, food, clean bum). Priorities become crystal clear. Life makes sense. Nothing quite brings together personal desires, biological urges, and cultural cache quite like babies. And I think it does allow us to kick down the road some stuff we’re just not up for yet. Betty Friedan specifically asks,

What if the terror a girl faces at twenty-one, when she must decide who she will be, is simply the terror of growing up – growing up, as women were not permitted to grow before? What if the terror a girl faces at twenty-one is the terror of freedom to decide her own life, with no one order to which path she will take… What if those who choose the path of ‘feminine adjustment’ – evading this terror by marrying at eighteen, losing themselves in having babies and the details of house-keeping – are simply refusing to grow up, to face the question of their own identity?

I hope I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m not sitting in judgment of people who might have babies to defer dealing with life problems or “facing the question of their own identity.” Nor do I think people who want to have lots of babies or who are in the middle of growing their families are necessarily “avoiding” growing up. I’m just speaking to my experience and from observation that sometimes we have babies for reasons beyond a simple “I want another baby.” I’m in the middle of the “terror” Friedan describes right now, albeit 10 years later than the women Friedan writes about, because both my childbearing years and my whole vocational concept are coming to an end at the same time.  So, I have to be aware of the fact that I might be fantasizing about another baby not just because I want another baby or it might be fun or good. It might also be – hell, it probably is largely because – I’m not sure what’s happening next in my life, and having experienced the power and pleasure of mothering a baby, that seems like an awesome option. My very own brilliant and wonderful partner wrote me this email back in February when we were trying to make sense of this emerging obsession:

I do think you should try to think about this stuff in the context of grad school falling apart. I remember after grad school feeling suddenly very old and somehow more aware of my own mortality. There’s something about being launched into the real world that is very disconcerting and makes you feel like there’s no time, or that you have to make up for lost time or something. In your email you say, “I always wanted to mother a lot of kids but maybe I’m just not cut out for that, and that’s ok, but kind of sad to acknowledge.” To me that sounds like a classic I just got out of grad school and I don’t know what I’m good at anymore statement. It makes perfect sense that you would want to replace your sort of stillborn grad school career with the thing that made the most sense to you and brought you the most fulfillment, but the reality is that you might not actually want to go through with having another baby. I can see how the idea of having a fresh little person to dote on would seem attractive to you right now. It’s unfortunate that the thing you are fantasizing about (having a baby) is also inextricably linked with some of the most unpleasant memories you could possibly conjure up (months of nausea, vomiting, sleep deprivation, etc.)… The point I’m trying to make is that you might need something new to think about. You might need something new to obsess over.

Jolly Baby Holly

This is why I’m not making any big decisions right now. As much as having a third baby might be a great thing for our family, I don’t want to get pregnant because I’ve tried nothing and I’m all out of ideas when it comes to life after grad school. I don’t want my knee-jerk reaction to the fear of what’s next to involve a human life – at least not a new human life. Having a baby is compelling but it would also shut down a lot of possibilities – writing? A magic job that may or may not be in the works? Moving? Travel? The point is, I may not know yet what I want from my future, even though my instinct is to grab on to something for dear life. I want to keep as many doors open as possible and go through the terror of “growing up,” as painful as it may be, because I want to keep possibility open and see if life surprises me. So right now? I’m sitting tight with my two kids, watching some Spongebob, and doing some more writing.

Can somebody refill my magic please?

My younger sister had a baby this week: a beautiful, healthy, baby girl with fuzzy hair. At our house, Margeaux is the baby, but holding my niece, I was struck immediately by two thoughts:

  1. Margeaux is enormous.
  2. I WANT A BABY.

Neither of these is exactly true, although Margeaux does have deliciously chunky baby thighs and a round tummy.  Snuggling Paige, I felt a mix of longing and sadness and relief, that I won’t have those newborn moments again.

I don’t miss the sleepless nights, obviously. That kind of physical fatigue is awful, deadening. At our house, it inevitably led to middle of the night shouting matches; when Dorothy was a baby we had to institute a rule that anything we said to one another between midnight and 6 am didn’t require an apology in the morning. We recognized that when 3 am rolls around and it seems like you have been awake forever and it will be dark forever and this night will never end and this baby will never stop crying it is possible that you will shout something like “You will never understand how I feel right now! She’s not latched on to your body 24 hours a day! IT’S LIKE YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE A BABY!”

I don’t miss the physical fatigue. Although Margeuax doesn’t sleep through the night, nursing and cosleeping have been a tremendous relief for me. I’m sure in an alternate universe where I have no children I would be even more well rested, but mostly, I feel okay. I am certainly not stumbling around in an exhausted haze the way I remember doing in those first few weeks. These days, I struggle with a different kind of fatigue. There’s no longer a 24 hour per day demand for my physical presence, but the intensity of their waking hours some days leaves me similarly deadened.

Partly this is because they are too little to have much independence: someone has to make (and clean up) the meals and the snacks, turn on another episode of Dora, get the crayons off the counter, find the stickers, remind them not to run willy nilly in the parking lot, snap the princess dress up dress in the back, tie the ribbon leash on the stuffed giraffe, resolve the dispute over the iguana puppet. I have heard parents say that you shouldn’t get involved, that they need to practice solving their own problems and that conflict will bubble up and blow over whether or not you intervene. Apparently those people’s children are destined to be brokering Mid-East peace treaties while mine are ruling tiny nations as benevolent dictators. My girls fight hard, and they don’t back down.

To be clear: they don’t fight or bicker constantly. They love to play together, and most of their day is spent in a swirl of pretending. “I’m the mama and you are the sweetie,” Dorothy will say, and then they put on hats and drive the laundry basket to the grocery store. Or they are vets taking care of sick animals, bandaging stuffed animal ears and legs with ribbons. Or they are teachers, or pilots, or explorers, or doctors, or princesses, or ballerinas, or some strange combination of the two.  Bathing suit, tutu, and a toy stethoscope? Ballerina doctor. Sparkly dress, sun hat, and backpack? Explorer princess.

The fights spring up out of nowhere: one minute they are happily playing fairy princess school and the next minute they are sobbing and screaming and occasionally even hitting or pushing. I NEED THE GIRAFFE AND SHE HAS THE GIRAFFE AND I AM THE GIRAFFE DOCTOR AND SHE CANT BE THE GIRAFFE DOCTOR GIVE ME THE GIRAFFE NOW NOW NOW! Or this gem from a couple days ago: I PUT MY MAGIC ON THE LADDER AND SHE TOUCHED THE LADDER AND MY MAGIC GOT ON HER AND I AM OUT OF MAGIC AND ITS NOT FAIR!

What?

The sharing disputes are fairly easy to resolve: set a timer, accept that there might continue to be tears until someone loses interest. But ladder magic?

The emotions, the needs, the desires are so intense these days. When they are happy they are overjoyed and when they are sad the world is ending and when they are angry they fling themselves at one another or the floor full force. I’m realizing more and more that my parenting energy is spent helping them learn to manage the tides of their emotions: yes, you are sad that the balloon deflated, let’s acknowledge that and then shift our focus to something that makes you feel happy, like drawig a picture of the balloon. Yes, you are angry, let’s work together to solve this problem. Use your words to say how you feel, ask for help from a grown up, think about how the other person feels too. Can I use my mama magic to refill your magic?

None of this work seems like it should be exhausting, not in the way that actually going without sleep is exhausting.  But at the end of the day, when they are finally tucked in, the relief is tremendous, and the desire to check out mentally with a cocktail and tv is fierce. During their waking hours, I feel held open, spreading myself wide to shelter them, trying to be chef and nurse and peacemaker and traffic cop and chauffeur and teacher and maid and cruise ship activities director, trying to make sure they are whole and healthy and safe and joyful. It’s not that they need me every minute, it’s that the moment of need could be any moment, so I can never really be present or focused on anything else. I am always waiting, listening, watching out of the corner of my eye for tears or danger. By the time bedtime comes and everyone is safe in dreamland, I have so little left. It’s hard to find the energy to be really present in conversation with T, or to focus on a book, or writing, or anything that requires more thought than rum punch and Dancing With the Stars.

Last night at my book club (wine club) a friend whose sons are in high school and college pointed out that although they need you less as they get older, the worries you have are so much bigger. What if they are in a car accident, what if they lose the scholarship, what if they make terrible decisions about drinking or drugs? Thinking about the scope of those fears, I felt grateful for the fights over ladder magic and the pink My Little Pony.

Holding my niece at the hospital, I felt keenly aware of how quickly time passes, how quickly they grow to be chubby crawling babies like Margeaux and then explorer princess doctors like D and Lucy. How can it all happen so fast when the days themselves feel so endless? How can I be more present for them and for me, not caught up in nostalgia for baby days or impatient for the next milestone? Would these issues seem less fraught if I worked less, or more, or if we all went on an epic road trip?

I’d like to spend another hour writing, thinking, but Lucy’s sitting at the other end of the couch drinking chocolate milk, and T is patiently emptying the dishwasher, and it looks like it might be a good morning for a bike ride. Time to pour the next cup of coffee and gather my strength.

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.

Image

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.

Muppet Babies and the Do No Harm Theory of Children’s Television Viewing

This week, we are talking about watching TV with our kids. You will find that Jen and I are rather unabashedly pro-TV. Read on for Muppets, Dora, Kipper and more.

Lauren: I’m here and ready whenever you are.

Dude, 3 more hits and today ties our busiest day so far!

Jennifer: My kids are watching Dora the Explorer, and Tyler has pledged to supervise toothbrushing. I’m in!

8:12 PM Lauren: Sweet!

What time is it where you live??

Jennifer: It’s 9:15. Normally they are in bed by now, but dinner was late so we pushed bedtime back rather than fight over changing the routine.

8:13 PM Lauren: WOW

If my kids aren’t in bed by 8:15 I’m like WTF YOU PEOPLE ARE CRAZY

Summer is definitely bumping everything back for us.

Jennifer: But yours get up early. Mine will sleep till 9 tomorrow morning.

Lauren: I was watching Dora the ‘Plowah with Holly at 5:15 today.

8:14 PM In the MORNING, I mean.

Jennifer: I do not know how you do it. Usually Margeaux wakes up around then, and I just bring her back to bed with me.

Lauren: She won’t accept ANY substitute! And she won’t stay in bed or stay asleep. She just starts whining “wanna get uuuuuup”

8:15 PM Jennifer: Yikes. we have had our share of sleep struggles, but I feel like that would have pushed me over the edge.

8:16 PM Although for a while around age 2 D was having nightmares and would demand to watch Wonder Pets in the middle of the night.

Lauren: I’m inured to it. It’s debilitating at times for sure, but Robin sleeps pretty well at 4, so I have hope that things will settle down, you know, in a few years.

Haha

Yikes

Our fave show for toddlers is a British show called Kipper

8:17 PM It’s completely lowkey and not remotely annoying. Robin was OBSESSED with it, but Holly has zero interest (she is all about Dora).

 

Jennifer: I’ve never seen Kipper!

Lauren: Oh, dude. It’s so good.

Jennifer: We still love Wonder Pets. Also this new show, Doc McStuffins.

Lauren: My kids did not get Wonder Pets. They’re like, wtf.

I do not know of this Doc McStuffins.

8:18 PM We only watch tv streaming on Netflix so we are always about 5 years behind any tv trend and completely dependent on their selection (hence the absence of Disney in our lives).

Jennifer: Doc McStuffins is a 6 year old Af. Am. girl. Her mom is a doctor, and she cures her dolls/toys/stuffed animals of various ailments that she makes up funny names for.

8:19 PM Lauren: Oh dude, that sounds awesome!

Jennifer: My girls have started saying, “What’s the diagnosis?” when they play with their dolls.

Lauren: Robin is OBSESSED with anatomy right now, she would love a show about doctor stuff.

Jennifer: Disney Channel.

Lauren: Fuckin’ Disney.

8:20 PM Jennifer: Maybe you could get it on DVD?

She has a stay at home dad, which is also cool.

Lauren: That is really great.

Maybe someday it will trickle down to Netflix availability.

Jennifer: Someday… and in the meantime you have Kipper.

8:21 PM So what are your tv rules?

Lauren: The rules I wish I enforced, you mean?

Jennifer: HA!

Yes.

Lauren: If I’m following the rules, they can watch one show in the morning and one show when they get home from daycare while I cook dinner.

8:22 PM The rules we always stick to is, no TV during meals, and no TV after dinner.

Any day Holly wakes up at 5 am I pretty much will allow anything if she just lets me sit and zone out.

Jennifer: That all seems very reasonable.

8:23 PM We almost always do tv as part of the evening routine- tv, brush teeth, go potty, stories, songs, bed.

Lauren: I read in a sleep book that TV right before bed makes their brains all crazy

And since sleep is the holy grail in this house, I banned TV after dinner time.

8:24 PM Jennifer: Yeah, it’s probably bad for their brains.

Lauren: We typically play for 15-30 min with Brian when he gets home, which is typically during dinner

So it’s dinner, play, bath, stories, tooth brush, bed.

8:25 PM But TV is def part of our morning routine.

8:26 PM Jennifer: It’s just such an easy way to fill those little gaps of time when I need to be productive and I need them to not destroy anything.

Lauren: Yep

Jennifer: Because free play and art make messes. And that’s fine, but there are limits to when I can deal with messes.

Lauren: For me it’s essential if dishes are to be done or dinner to be made when we get home in the afternoon.

8:27 PM Jennifer: And honestly? I don’t feel as guilty as I think I’m supposed to. They have definitely learned stuff from watching tv.

Lauren: Otherwise I’m interrupted every 5 minutes with needs for shoes, toys, coats, a drink of water, etc etc

Jennifer: Mine do things like play “shirt store” and take all the shirst out of all the drawers.

8:28 PM Lauren: HA!

In moderation, I don’t sweat it.

But, I don’t like the way it dominates our home time

Jennifer: Do they ask for it?

Lauren: And I worry that my kids will be unmotivated blobs like I was as a kid, and I really don’t want to encourage that.

Jennifer: Or is that you find yourself offering it more than you want to?

Lauren: Which is why I really WANT to enforce those rules.

Oh yes.

8:29 PM I find myself saying yes a lot.

I find myself offering out of desperation more than I’d like to.

8:30 PM Jennifer: Dorothy didn’t watch tv (except what we were watching) until I lost my job and unexpectedly became a stay at home mom.

Lauren: The amount of TV we watch is inversely proportional to the amount of sleep I’m getting, let me put it that way.

And I don’t get much sleep.

8:31 PM Jennifer: She was about 1, and I was pregnant, and until that shift to being home I didn’t realize how many hours there are in a day spent entirely at home. And so I began to fill a couple of those hours with Elmo, and we haven’t looked back.

Lauren: Yeah

Jennifer: Yes– I feel you on the more tv when I’m tired.

Lauren: That’s almost exactly the same thing that happened with us.

We didn’t watch kid shows until Robin hit about 14 months and I was pregnant with Holly and then it was all Kipper and Yo Gabba Gabba and Curious George.

8:32 PM Jennifer: Maybe their brains are fried on the inside from all my lax parenting.

But from what I can see, they are doing just fine.

8:33 PM Wonder Pets at 2 am and all.

Lauren: I worry about it when school comes around.

My kids will never be watching whatever shows are cool.

8:34 PM PLUS it seems like gender becomes a real issue as you move into school-age/tween shows.

So I start getting all lecturey and annoyed.

Jennifer: What do you think about gender in the preschool age shows? I know you hate Angelina Ballerina.

8:35 PM Lauren: I hate Angelina for reasons that go beyond gender.

I hate Angelina because the entire construct is completely idiotic, and I find her whiny and annoying, and the more I watch it the more problems I find with it, so it makes me grumpy.

8:36 PM As far as gender goes, Angelina does feature boys who dance, and girls who enjoy dance other than pretty ballerina dancing.

And technically the mice represent different races, so that’s good (I GUESS).

Jennifer: I’m fascinated by the way kids tv shows make the animals different races.

8:37 PM I can’t decide if I think it’s useful or ridiculous.

Lauren: Yes, it’s pretty interesting to parse. Angelina attends some absurd dance school with only five students and each student is from a different country.

It feels tokenish?

I mean, take a really flat show concept with no real narrative

Add stock characters

8:38 PM Does it really matter if Marco is a South American mouse?

Wouldn’t it be just as meh if he was a white mouse with no accent?

Jennifer: Dorothy sometimes makes up nonsense words and claims she’s speaking Chinese, like Kai-Lan.

8:39 PM Lauren: Robin insists that the word “crotch” is Spanish.

I definitely attribute Dora and other shows for my girls’ awesome counting and Spanish speaking.

Jennifer: Ha!

Yes.

8:40 PM Lauren: Often, Robin and Holly play a game where they have to say abre or cierra to get through.

That’s all Dora.

8:41 PM Jennifer: My girls definitely incorporate the basic Spanish into their games. Although I think the Spanish is easier to understand on Handy Manny. And I like that the voice is Fez from that 70s Show. But alas, my girls will. not. watch Handy Manny.

8:42 PM Lauren: We don’t allow Phineas and Ferb anymore because of the sexism.

It’s a shame, because otherwise we enjoy that show as a family. But we can’t get past how sucky Candace is.

8:43 PM Jennifer: We have never watched it- the girls havent really shown an interest.

Lauren: That show would be great if you were raising boys.

It’s all about intelligence and seizing the day, some of the guys are nerdy and some aren’t, it’s based on cooperation and not competition, etc.

But their older sister is this vapid idiot who obsesses over either catching her brothers breaking the rules, or what her boyfriend thinks about her.

8:44 PM She has no interests, identity, or purpose beyond those things. She’s completely uninteresting.

Jennifer: Ugh.

Lauren: The music is awesome and it’s really funny. And it’s sexist so we can’t watch it.

So now we watch Spongebob, which only has ONE female character, a Texan squirrel.

8:45 PM Jennifer: Sandy!

Lauren: Sandy’s kinda hardcore

Jennifer: My sister used to watch SpongeBob when the show first started– she was in college.

Lauren: It really has a universal appeal.

8:46 PM Jennifer: My personal favorite Spongebob episode is the one where the jellyfish are having that crazy party at his house and they’re blasting the music and he can’t sleep.

Lauren: HAha

Our favorite is the Krusty Krab Pizza episode.

8:47 PM Jennifer: My girls aren’t really into Spongebob yet.

They like Cat in the Hat.

Lauren: Holly calls him Spongebob Snowpants.

We did Cat in the Hat for a long time.

It’s okay

I mean, I don’t think it’s brilliant, but I like it. Seems like they air the same eps over and over again so we got bored with it.

8:48 PM Jennifer: Yes- and it borders on too factual/educational for Lucy, who prefers Dora and UmiZoomi above all others.

8:49 PM Lauren: We have played Umizoomi games but we have not seen the show. This is the magical skirt show, right?

Jennifer: Yes. Geo uses his shape belt to build things, and Milli can measure things with her ponytails and change the pattern on her dress to fill in missing parts of patterns.

8:50 PM Lauren: NO. Her ponytail??

Jennifer: Yes. They turn into measuring tapes.

Lauren: Speaking of hair, how do you feel about the final episode of Dora, where she goes from being our androgynous explorer to a fairy princess?

8:51 PM Jennifer: It drives me nuts.

And really, I blame Diego.

Because until the Diego spin off, Dora was not explicitly a girls show.

Lauren: I think Diego was intended to be for older kids, but it ended up being the boy show.

8:52 PM Which is irritating, because S1 and S2 — even S3! — Dora is so gender neutral and friendly to all little ones.

8:54 PM Jennifer: My girls will watch Diego too. But with both Dora and Diego the shouting makes me crazy. WHY DO THEY HAVE TO SHOUT ALL THE TIME?

I know some people are really freaked out that Dora has no parents, but it doesn’t bother me.

Lauren: Yeah, the volume and repitition is a little rough.

8:55 PM I think it’s FANTASTIC that Dora goes out on her own with a map to solve problems.

Oh my God, if my girls can do that, I will succeed as a mother.

I mean she’s basically a Girl Scout!

Jennifer: I feel the same way.

8:56 PM Lauren: Here, you’ll love this:

Jennifer: and honestly, even though my kids are constantly supervised, they are so much more invested in each other and their games and pretend worlds that I think sometimes they see me as sort of a distant, supervisory, non-entity.

In that sense, shows like Max and Ruby and Dora, where the parents aren’t around, probably feel truer to how they exeprience their world.

Lauren: When I was a kid, my Mom kicked us out of the house and was like “see you at dinner”

8:57 PM We wandered all over our neighborhood, within the established parameters.

And that was that. She didn’t even keep the door open to hear us.

Jennifer: HA! (cereal guy)

Lauren: Right: I mean, I agree some of the scenarios are far-fetched/odd, but I think it’s probably right to acknowledge that kids are the center of their own world

8:58 PM And parents move in and out of that world. We don’t have to be the focus or the bosses all the time.

8:59 PM Jennifer: Definitely. I don’t want to play shirt store. And I’m sort of glad they don’t need me to.

Lauren: Right.

I guess I think it’s interesting that we expect shows to pass on messages to our kids, and in some ways reflect reality, but also be wildly interesting and entertaining.

9:00 PM AND educational.

Jennifer: It’s a lot to ask. Definitely more than I ask of the tv shows I watch.

Dancing with the Stars is definitely not meeting all those criteria.

9:01 PM Lauren: Right. I remember one of the folks discussing this with us on facebook said that if a show didn’t have a “purpose” then her kids probably shouldn’t be watching it.

Jennifer: Maybe Project Runway does?

Lauren: Creativity! Sewing! Bitchiness!!

Jennifer: Although, I’m not sure I agree that all kids tv needs purpose.

9:02 PM It can’t be harmful. But it’s okay with me if it’s not super educational.

Barbie Mermaid movie falls into that category.

Or Fresh Beat Band.

Lauren: Right, I remember several people agreeing with you that “do no harm” is ok.

9:03 PM I think this is where I tend to push certain shows and discourage others (ANGELINA) — because I think ok, fine, if you want to watch a show because it’s fun, which is fine, a least make it one with a decent narrative, or decent music, or humor, or something.

9:04 PM How about The Princess and the Frog or Gabba or Spongebob, and NOT the skinny new My Little Ponies?

Jennifer: Have you heard about the bros who like My Little Ponies?

Lauren: No

9:05 PM Jennifer: Let me see if I can find a link. They’re guys who are obsessed with MLP.

Lauren: I do find that, as a Mom, I am surprised at how much I enjoy watching my children enjoy something like a TV show.

9:06 PM We went a little wild with the Dora swag for Holly’s birthday because she just gets SO EXCITED to wear anything with Dora.

Jenniferhttp://jezebel.com/5827591/the-unlikely-origins-of-the-brony-or-dudes-who-like-my-little-pony

9:07 PM Lauren: Wow, that’s really interesting. I’ve watched it and I don’t find it that riveting.

Jennifer: Me either.

We watched the Muppet movie last weekend, and we were thrilled that Dorothy loved it so much.

Lauren: Nice!

9:08 PM Jennifer: Maybe partly because we have childhood connections to it.

Lauren: We had a phase where Robin was into Muppets Take Manhattan: that was awesome.

My girls love the Chipmunk movies.

Jennifer: And partly because it was so hilarious to watch her encounter the Muppets for the first time and try and make sense of them. When Beaker came on, she actually said “Why does that skinny oval keep saying MEEP MEEP MEEP?”

Lauren: (Which I also have some gender problems with, esp. the newer one, but that’s a battle for another time.)

9:09 PM Jennifer: We haven’t seen the Chipmunks.

Lauren: I spent last summer showing my girls episodes of Muppet Babies on youtube while I made lunch

That was pretty great. Muppet Babies is awesome.

9:10 PM Chipmunks are def. a “do no harm” kind of show. The music is pretty good, though!

9:11 PM Jennifer: I think the honest truth is that I like tv, T likes tv, our kids like tv, and I’m more invested in raising media savvy kids than kids who aren’t exposed to tv.

Lauren: To be fair, I should hate Muppet Babies because Piggy is such a psycho. Damn you, nostalgia!!

We live TV, too.

9:12 PM Jennifer: I haven’t watched Muppet Babies since childhood, but I’m totally going to watch it with the girls tomorrow now that I’m thinking about it.

Lauren: And, I do use shows as opportunities to have actual conversations with my kids about choices, bodies, stereotypes, feelings, etc.

(It’s as good as you remember it.)

9:13 PM In fact, the other day, Brian and I were saying that we need to start talking to the girls about commercials. We never see them, which we think is AWESOME and IDEAL, but we want them to know what they are before they start encountering them later on.

Jennifer: This was the first Christmas where the girls realized that the things they see in commercials are actually real things in the world.

Lauren: We plan on telling them that commercials are lies/tricks. It sounds extreme but it’s also kinda true.

9:14 PM Jennifer: My mom definitely told me that Magic Shell and the Easy Bake Oven were lies. Why she chose those products I’ll never know.

9:15 PM Lauren: HAha

That’s interesting

Jennifer: The girls got Stompeez for Chirstmas. Because they were obsessed with the commercial.

Lauren: My parents never talked to us about commercials. I was a total dupe for that stuff.

I want my kids to have robust skepticism when it comes to consumerism.

Are those the weird slippers?

Jennifer: Yup. We have a rabbit pair and a cat pair.

They were definitely overpriced. But kind of adorable.

9:16 PM Lauren: We saw that commercial while visiting my inlaws at Thanksgiving and Robin was really interested.

Jennifer: I felt like they fell into a sort of Do No Harm category.

9:17 PM Lauren: Sure. Animal slippers? Do not harm.

Barbie I’m not sure about.

Jennifer: Better than Bratz dolls.

Lauren: Bratz I’m adamantly opposed to

Haha — great minds.

Jennifer: Ha!

Lauren: Robin got a My Little Pony doll in a kid’s meal last week

9:18 PM And every time I see it I’m like “wow, that pony doesn’t look like a real horse, look how thin and unhealthy this body is, look at the way the nose is too small for her to eat” etc etc etc

Jennifer: We have some My Little Ponies, and some Barbies, and some princess dolls, and some Groovy Girls.

Lauren: Robin’s all EYEROLL on me.

Jennifer: I told Dorothy that Bratz wore too much make up.,

9:19 PM In general, my toy policy is like my tv policy: moderation in all things.

Lauren: I just don’t get the appeal of Barbies. I had ONE Barbie as a kid, and I ended up giving it to the boy next door, who LOVED Barbies.

I got bored brushing her hair.

Jennifer: Ours have snarly hair.

Lauren: I will definitely allow my kids to get the Katniss Barbie!

My friend Steph and her sister did amazing stories with Barbie. So did Pamie at pamie.com. If my kids did that, I’d be cool with Barbie.

9:20 PM Jennifer: My girls mostly use them in pretend games which typically involve someone being stranded and someone else rescuing them. Or someone being hurt and someone else being the doctor.

And they put on dance shows.

But our dinosaurs put on dance shows too.

9:21 PM And honestly, all of that is part of why I feel like tv hasn’t fried their brains. They pretend avidly. ‘

Lauren: Right

9:22 PM I think that if we use TV to start conversations and ask a lot of questions, then it can be ok.

I never want them to accept it at face value. But otherwise, I can be ok with it.

9:23 PM Jennifer: I have actually banned some pretend games (fork people and crayon people). I think tv can be good in lots of ways: to start conversations, to ask questions, to relax when we need our bodies and minds to wind down after a long day.

9:24 PM I like to snuggle up on the couch with popcorn and chocolate milk.

Lauren: Definitely: and I look forward to sharing certain shows with the girls when I’m older.

Mystery series, like I watched with my sister and Mom. Buffy.

9:25 PM Jennifer: Project Runway. Amazing Race. Possibly The Cosby Show.

X-Files.

9:26 PM Lauren: When we visited my inlaws at Thanksgiving, we all enjoyed watching Dancing With the Stars together

I thought that was pretty cool!

XFILES OMG.

9:27 PM Jennifer: Right? I want my girls to at least consider growing up to be Scully.

Lauren: She’s a skeptic

I like that

And Mulder, so cute.

Jennifer: I KNOW.

Lauren: Scully’s cute, too, for that matter.

Jennifer: Yup.

9:28 PM So: I think we are definitely pro-tv. People might hate on us for this.

Lauren: Yeah, I can imagine some people I really admire being like OMGBADMOMMY.

9:30 PM Jennifer: Me too.

Lauren: I don’t know; I keep reading about Moms hating on each other on the internet and I’m just not sure how to avoid that.

I mean, there may be no way to avoid controversy.

9:31 PM Jennifer: Let’s get Ashley Judd to say something about it.

She’s freaking amazing.

Lauren: Totally! And hey, she’s on TV.

Jennifer: Perfect.

9:32 PM Lauren: From our facebook convo, we know that this is something a lot of parents are thinking about

9:33 PM Jennifer: But I think a lot of this comes back to your most recent post: I am not a perfect mom. But I am trying very hard to be the best mom I can be, in the way that is specific to my own pleasures and quirks.

Lauren: And people have divided opinions about what’s appropriate, etc.

I neither think watching TV will ruin my children, nor do I think NOT watching TV will automatically make them good people/better people.

9:34 PM Jennifer: Right.

9:35 PM Plus, the Muppet Babies is just too awesome to deny.

Lauren: I’m sure there are lots of kids who do not watch TV or watch limited TV, and still suck.

Muppet Babies is so. Good.

9:36 PM So when you post this, you’ll have to find lots of Muppet Babies pictures

Because MB worship is what this has boiled down to. 😉

Jennifer: I see nothing wrong with that.

9:37 PM Lauren: Well, it’s my bedtime, since I get up at the asscrack of dawn.

Jennifer: May you dream sweet, muppety dreams.

9:38 PM Lauren: That would be awesome.

Have fun revisiting M. Babies tomorrow!

Jennifer: Can’t wait! TTYL!

Lauren: TTYL!

What do you think about kids watching TV? What are your house rules? Anything we missed when it comes to feminist shows, especially for little ones?

If these issues interest you, definitely check out Peggy Orenstein’s awesome blog and books, as well as the essential resource Pigtail Pals.

Feist on Sesame Street was an early, televised ray of hope when Dorothy was a baby.

Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood does good advocacy work on these issues, though I don’t think Lauren and I are signing up for screen free week.

Geena Davis has run the numbers on girls and women being underrepresented in the media.

On Soul-Destroying Fatigue

This is part of our 4k OR BUST post-stravaganza week! Click here to read about our exciting giveaway!

I wanted to write about fatigue. I’m writing about fatigue instead of writing the other posts that have been floating through my head. Posts tentatively titled things like:

  • How Do You “Decompress” When You Hate Your Life?
  • I Don’t Know Why I Bother To Write When I Know I Will Inevitably Piss Someone Off
  • I’m Smarter Than All The Dumb People, and Most People Are Dumb
  • Maybe My Kids Will Be Serial Killers After All

These are post titles from the dark side. The dark side of fatigue. I don’t know how I get there, but I know when I am there: I’ve crossed over from “Tired but ok” and “We just had a bad night” to “If I glare at you hard enough for asking about how I’m feeling, you will die from my eye stabbing.” Were you renting Alvin and The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked on Amazon Instant Video at 5:15 yesterday morning to keep your children from screaming? Were you up today at 4 am googling pinworm symptoms? No? Then I am violently disinterested in your perspective on life. I’m on night 6 of…. week 5 of… oh, who am I kidding? I’m on year 4 of bad nights. The books say “Your child will learn to sleep through the night,” “Your child will learn to self-sooth.” Websites offer the sage knowledge that when kids go through a developmental leap or growth spurt, sleep suffers. These are called sleep regressions. My children have been in them since birth. In fact, periods of decent rest are so rare that instead of referring to anything as a sleep regression, I rejoice in the fleeting days or weeks of sleep progression: nights with regularity, nights with consistent and multiple hours of rest. It’s a blue moon type of thing in my life.

4 am July 2010

When my youngest daughter, Holly, was born, our oldest was not quite 2 years old, and still waking at night. Robin is an intense and sensitive child and hates changes in routine; unsurprisingly, a baby in the house threw her for a huge loop and she made it clear how displeased she was with the new arrangement. For four months, I staggered from “my” room, our office-slash-guest-room, to the bedroom where my husband tried and failed to keep Robin happy all night long. On more than once occasion, I tearfully told him that if I couldn’t nap at some point during that day, I wouldn’t feel safe driving our car. This happened over and over again. Things are better than that now, mostly, but I’m always walking the line between functional and life-imperiling when it comes to sleep. It’s amazing how quickly I can go from rested and competent to exhausted and undone. The switch seems to happen somewhere around the third consecutively bad night. The fix OUGHT to be easy: catch a few Zs! But my life has little room for napping and my office doesn’t have a couch.

I wanted to use some images from an old Berenstain Bears book I had to communicate the difference between regular life and the Dark Side. It’s the “Learn About Strangers” one, where Sister learns that sometimes bad people will try to hurt you. She walks around the same park before and after learning this lesson: before, it’s a sunny day, people smiling, birds feeding adorable chicks in their nests, everyone happy on this glorious day. After she learns about bad people, the same park is suddenly menacing. The sky a blackish purple, passers-by glare at her, squirrels angrily vie for the same acorn, and the bird babies scream at their beleaguered Mom. That’s exactly what the dark side feels like to me: I’m in the same world, but my perception is completely negative. I pretty much hate everyone because they’re sleeping and I’m not: I hate you, I hate your children because they’re not horrible sleepers like mine, I hate my students, I hate my childless friends, I hate my own kids for ruining my life, and most of all I hate my husband, who snores through all of this and then wakes up after 8 refreshing hours of sleep only to complain about how tired he is. (He or you may have a legitimate claim to exhaustion. Whatever. I still hate you.)

 Before I had babies, I knew you spent a lot of time being tired as a parent, but no one told me how soul-destroying it can be. No one told me that when you are chronically fatigued, it is impossible to have hope or see the upside or generate solutions to the simplest of problems. Tasks like getting two children dressed and into the car will make you cry. Running out of checks becomes a crisis of epic proportions. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, and I imagine it must also be used to train assassins or soldiers, because exhaustion dulls your capacity for empathy. Maybe it’s some primal link to self-preservation: fatigue often comes from putting others’ needs before your own, and to recover from it you have to start prioritizing yourself, and that means you have to care less about the people you’ve been caring more about, if only temporarily. I am a short-tempered and unfeeling mother when I’m extremely tired: I just don’t care. I don’t care about breakfast, arguments, finding the right shoes, or following through on anything that requires effort. I become preoccupied with my own desires and wishes, and irritated at anything that detracts or distracts from them.

And the worst part is that it is so very boring. Being constantly tired means you don’t do anything interesting or even think interesting thoughts. You become a terrible conversationalist and a worse writer, because you have nothing new to say and words come to your mind slowly through the fog. Come up with a clever conclusion to a blog post about fatigue? Pretty much impossible.

Four Bad Omens

1. I got an email from the faceless bureaucracy of my institution that I’ve been listed for “termination” from my TAship starting May 11, so unless I email them and change everything, my university life will end in six weeks. And obviously I knew that would happen, but seeing it in black and white felt strange and sad. I feel like my departure is an unremarkable event: my students don’t understand that I won’t be back in their program next year, that a new teacher will teach their future teammates and friends. Every summer means a shuffle in the TA offices, so who knows if my officemates will realize or care that I’m gone (except R, my office BFF. Shout out!). The regular rhythm of school life means people won’t notice I’m gone until next year. But for me? This is it, and it’s big, and it’s scary. Lately, I feel like I’m in the middle of a dream and I’m about to wake up to some brutal reality.

2. That would be true if I had a chance to dream, but sleep has been a precious commodity in our house. My kids have never been good sleepers. They both nightwake long past whatever fool age bullshit websites say they should, no matter what advice book we follow, and my 2yo is an early bird (which is why MN is often updated at 6 am). After our 2nd was born, we did a divide and conquer thing that has been mostly good, but lately we’ve had a hankering to sleep in the same bed at the same time, so we launched a big “YAY LET’S SLEEP IN YOUR BIG GIRL BUNKBEDS PLEASE GOD” campaign and it went fine until it did not go fine and the past four nights I can’t sleep away from them because I’m not used to it, and I can’t sleep with them. I end up on the bottom bunk with my 2yo, then my 4yo starts crying and leaves to find her Dad. So we essentially end up in the same configuration we have been all along, in different, smaller, shittier beds. Please don’t offer me advice or admonish me for our choices: I am so beyond the capacity for polite disagreement right now. Truth is, I don’t want to sleep with anyone, ever again. I want to mummify my torso in duct tape and sleep in a dark, quiet place for 8 hours. PAST 5:30 AM.

Me & Holly at 6am

3. Typically, March is a blustery and sunny month in Iowa, but it’s been downright summery for weeks now. My yard is full of daffodils in bloom, and the hydrangeas and rose bushes are greening up. Last night, the girls and I walked around collecting magnolia petals, pinecones, and rocks. I went to my local garden center and bought packets of seeds to try and fill in the weird gaps and, ya know, parts of the yard I don’t want to mow, but the guy there warned be that this is just a phase, it’s bound to turn bad, it’s bound to snow and snap and frost and nip all this new life in its bud. So instead of enjoying this, I keep wondering, when will it change? When will it go bad?

4. This strange sense of paranoia reached new heights when my in-laws emailed us to ask if it would be all right if they arranged a place for us in the country in case of the apocalypse. They watched this History Channel documentary that connects what we feel are legitimate concerns about fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and general American idiocy to other, less legitimate, more insane worries about artificial intelligence and terrorism. Basically, the film posits that very soon, we’ll run out of gas, our water supply will become so overpolluted that we can’t drink, and people will still be wandering around wanting their grande lattes, and then everyone’s HOUSE ROBOTS will take over the planet at the same time some terrorist decides to finally shoot off that nuclear warhead he’s been sitting on all these years. Just like the collapse of the Roman Empire.

In the most respectful way, they would like to “dialogue” with us about this because they have been, and are, “concerned about the world situation.” I just don’t know how to respond to this. These are people who prepared for Y2K by purchasing gold coins, a flourmill, and a generator. They’re serious. They mean it. And my first reaction is: absolutely not. Predictions of the world’s demise have been wrong 100% of the time. Is the country really the best place to be at the end of the world? It sounds lonely and hungry to me. Stay in town? Forage, loot, and squat? Plus by most peoples’ definition, we already live in the country, in a farm town of less than 2k. Is this country spot in Oklahoma (where they live) or Iowa (where we live)? It’s such an outrageously expensive way to show their love. Couldn’t they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the girls’ education? Investing in a hope for their future, rather than the fear of Armageddon?

Yet I hesitate to reject it outright. I’m feeling rather desperate for a lifeline myself, and if you consider the way we’re squirreling away money “just in case” I don’t get work, lying awake at night doing mental math, and eating PB&Js at the office instead of Bread Garden or Thai Spice, our outlook is just as bleak, perhaps on an exponentially smaller scale. How can we refuse their offer to survive the end of the world, especially when it feels like everything that’s going right, right now, feels like it’s about to go terribly wrong (except sleep which is already at end-times misery levels)? At least they seem to care whether or not we’re sticking around.

If you’re interested in radical, beautiful plans for the apocalypse, consider backing The People’s Apocalypse, an anthology project by Ariel Gore and Jenny Forrester. It shall be superfun and there are rewards for every level of contribution.