Monday, September 27, 2010

Parenting and social networking

There's no use beating around the bush, so I'll just come right out and say it: I spend a lot of time on Facebook. This will not be shocking to most of you, who are my Facebook friends (Hi, by the way) and are reading this via an update on my Facebook page, since you also spend a lot of time on Facebook. Let's face it, social networking is slowly taking over the world. It has changed everything from pop culture to corporate culture and it's certainly having an influence on parenting. We're now sharing the scores of soccer games via mobile updates and posting our albums of memories online for all (of our friends, and potentially friends of our friends depending on our account settings) to share But I've noticed that not everyone Facebook parents in the same way, not even on the same day. So I've taken the liberty of putting together a list of some of the types and styles of parents you might find in your friend list:

1. Super Moms. They tend to post in the very early hours of the morning ("14 mile workout done, now on to whip up a fresh veggie strata before taking the kids to Japanese class! Growing my own hydroponic produce saves soooooo much time! Konichiwa, friends!") or very late at night ("What a day!!! Had to finish sanding and varnishing the scenery for the preschool play before work and was late for my big lunch meeting! Who knew 3 former presidents could get so snippy?") The Super Moms make me laugh, mostly because I'm completely certain life on the other side of the status update is not nearly as perfect as it may seem. Unfortunately, the Super Moms seem to be coming at parenthood from a competitive (albeit passive aggressive) place, which can bring out the insecurities (and the claws) in the best of us. I try to hold back, but sometimes I admit to firing back out of spite with a Slacker Mom comment of my own ("Baby is eating 3-day old peas coated with dirt off the floor. Bonus: extra fiber!" or "Someone remind me, is letting your child run with a staple gun also a no-no, or is it just scissors?").

2. Way TMI Moms. I'm pretty sure Mark Zuckerberg never imagined the level of sharing his social network would create, but for some reason this group feels the need to let it ALL out. "Send good thoughts our way- Hubby's finally having that hemorrhoid procedure today and that sucker is the size of a concord grape!" AHHHH! STOP! And for the love of all that is private, step away from the Mobile Uploads! Boundaries, my friends. We all need them, even on Facebook.

3. New Moms. As new of a parent as you might be, and as lost as you may feel someone out there is newer and lost-er. It's all a matter of perspective. So when New Mom posts that she's packing up to take her 8-week-old baby to the park for the first time and is terrified, go ahead comment. New Mom will benefit from your experience, and you will benefit from not feeling like such a clueless moron for 3 seconds of your day. And when New Mom complains about never being able to get anything done, despite the fact she has just 1 child... who naps... you will want to yell, "Seriously???" but hold back, because we have all been there, and done that. Which brings me to...

4. BTDT Moms. They have Been There, Done That, and the phrase tends to dominate their comments. Your post that your baby puked on your favorite suit as you were rushing to work. "Yup, been there, done that." Up all night with a feverish child. "Been there, done that, still doing that 10 years later!" Your toddler painted some lovely "artwork" on the bathroom wall while making a "deposit" on the potty? "Been there, done that, buy stock in Clorox ASAP." That's the amazing thing about parenthood: no matter how stressful, how disgusting, how difficult it gets (and it certainly does), all those who went before us are proof that it is completely survivable.

5. The Sanctimommies. They have a strong opinion on every aspect of raising a child, with supporting evidence and a citation from a parenting book to back it up. They are preachy, preachy, preachy and judgy, judgy, judgy. Most of the time they make me want to hurl, but occasionally they raise a valid point. Very occasionally.

6. Non-Moms. They will LOL at your funny child stories, they will OMG at your adorable baby pics. And bless their child-free hearts, they will remind you that there is in fact a world where everyone wipes his/her own butt and that "date" is not necessarily preceded by "play." You, in turn will be their best form of birth control.

7. Dads. It's 2010 and certainly we've made great strides toward equality of the sexes, but it's still amazing how little a man needs to do on the domestic front for us to ooh and ahhh over his accomplishments. "Took the kids to school today" will instantly generate at least 7 "likes." When Dad so much as hints that he is attempting to put in a barrette in his little girl's hair, the heavens open up. Just roll your eyes and hold your tongue. They're sensitive creatures who require lots of encouragement.

8. Your own mom. Yes, she will have trouble navigating the site (When my mom received a number of birthday greetings on her wall, she angrily accused me of letting the cat out of the bag, unaware that her friends all saw it on their news feeds) and yes, she will comment on all your pics in her own special way (THE KIDS ARE GETTING SO BIG WHY DON'T YOU EVER BRING THEM TO SEE ME I GOT SOME BANANAS FROM COSTCO FOR A VERY GOOD PRICE I WILL SAVE YOU SOME LOVE MOM), but there's something very circle-of-life-ish to having your mom in your social network. Enjoy it, be entertained by it, and be thankful she's still around to drive you crazy.

So what's my parenting profile pic? Maybe a little bit of each (aside from those which are genetically impossible) on any given day, in any given status or comment thread. For me, Facebook is about as social as I want to get about parenting. On Facebook, I have 717 friends, many of whom are moms. In the "real" world I don't (largely by choice) associate much with other moms. I don't do Moms' Groups, playgroups or support groups. I don't have any desire to do lunch with the ladies and dish about our kids. I know there are many women who crave and need that kind of interaction- I just don't happen to be one of them. Perhaps it will change as my kids get older, but right now I still feel like a novice in this parenting adventure, and I've always preferred to fly solo. Facebook allows me to have it my way. When I'm online and the judgy judgers start getting too judgy, I "hide" them. This is not so easily done over grilled cheese sandwiches. When it starts feeling like every mom is more accomplished, more productive, more everything than I am, their children so much more whatever than mine, I log off. In the real world I watched two moms nearly come to blows over a sign-up list outside the preschool classroom and wanted to run screaming and never return. Social networking gives me the outlet I need to vent, to laugh, and to share, but on my terms, and I think I'm a better parent as a result. Maybe that's not reality, but this is: parenting is hard work, and right now I get by with a little help (or maybe a lot, depending on my mood) from my (Facebook) friends.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

But I don't want to be a Soccer Mom!

Noah Shand at his 1st soccer practice
As a news reporter I've been called a lot of things, many of them not fit to print. Right now I answer to some kinder names, among them Mama, Mommy, Moooooommmm (said with hands on hips and eyes rolling- and he's only 3, Lord help me!), Meemee (when a certain 15-month-old really wants my attention), and on those very rare occasions when I'm able to converse with a bona fide adult, Mona. But there's one name I was called recently that made me shudder. It shook me up and made me stop in my tracks. It rocked me to my very core. That 4-letter word which actually contains 9 letters and comprises 2 words was none other than Soccer Mom.

Now you should know that we live in a soccer town. It's a place where every Saturday morning the town with no real traffic develops a major traffic jam, as hundreds of uniform-wearing, cleat-clad kids, their parents, and their parents vehicles descend upon the fields with one "goal" in mind: soccer. When we first toured our town with our realtor, it was yet another thing we loved. There was even a soccer supply store on Main St., for goodmess sakes! At the time I was pregnant with our first child, and my husband (a former soccer player) and I happily moved to Soccer Town with dreams of the day we'd join the Saturday herds.

A few weeks back we sealed the deal: I signed our 3-year-old son up with the local recreation league and picked up his uniform. "Congratulations, you're now officially a Soccer Mom!" the woman behind the desk called out cheerfully as we turned to leave. Frozen, my brain tried to put together the words "Thank you," but think it came out more like "Whabba wifup." Soccer Mom? Me? I think not.

I tried to brush it off but the frustration began to eat at me, so I took the issue to the modern day therapist's couch: Facebook. "Mona just picked up Noah's soccer uniform and his first practice is Saturday," I updated, "but so help me if you call me a Soccer Mom I will kick your teeth in."

So why does one term, one combination of sport and relationship evoke such a visceral response? At the suggestion of one of my therapists (OK, a Facebook friend), I decided to explore. Wikipedia defines the term as "a middle-class, suburban woman who spends a significant amount of time transporting her school-age children to their sporting events or other activities," (OK, I don't see anything terribly wrong with that) and goes on to talk about the rise of the Soccer Mom as a political force circa 1995 (still OK... power to the moms!), including various permutations like the post-9/11 Security Moms (now we might be pushing it) and the Sarah Palin-inspired Hockey Moms (not my cup of tea, and certainly not my kind of tea party, but OK).

Urban Dictionary is not quite as kind, including in its definitions of Soccer Mom "The downfall of human society," "a waste of body cells," and "usually seen screaming at people from behind the wheel of her SUV." Wow.

While that is certainly extreme, but to be completely honest the real issue for me is that Soccer Mom is a little too close, maybe even synonymous with another term I've been unable to accept: Stay At Home Mom. Believe me, I don't think there's anything wrong with staying at home, in fact quite the opposite. When I was working I convinced myself that I wasn't missing much at home, but now that I actually am home (and only working part-time, mostly at night and on weekends) I realize how wrong I was. It's simultaneously incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding, but it just isn't how I ever pictured myself. Despite having lived and worked in 6 different countries and nearly every part of this one, the move to Soccer Town and Stay At Home Momville has been the most difficult so far. Try as I might to hang with the SAHM crew, a little voice inside keeps screaming "But I'm not like you!" I've playdated, pampered my inner chef and gone (book) clubbing with the ladies, but the voice is still there. And I'm pretty sure the other women have voices of their own screaming "But she's not like us!" Anyone who says the Mommy Wars are over needs to come spend a few days in my 'hood. But maybe if we stopped screaming at each other from inside our heads and started talking about it out loud, we'd make some progress toward a ceasefire.

As a coping mechanism, I think I've started to subconsciously reject anything that smells of that unfamiliar world. Baking cookies? Gross. (Even though I do in fact love to bake.) Driving an SUV? Disgusting. (Even though I drive the SUV's first cousin, the crossover.) Carting my kids around to activities in the hopes of enriching their minds and bodies? I don't have time! (That's of course because I have to drive my son to preschool and then go to Story Time at the library with my little girl.)

So does Mom + Soccer = Soccer Mom? Does Mom + Home = Stay At Home Mom? And even if that's the math, do the labels matter? In an ideal world, I'd say no, but that's not where we live. For now I'm working on accepting where I currently am, instead of dreaming of being somewhere else. And I don't want to be late for soccer.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Driving in a new direction

When I first met my husband, he had 3 vehicles: one zippy little car he drove on a regular basis, a truck for when conditions called for a bit more zap, and a classic car (aka The Green Beast) that was in need of zip, zap, and ze other before it would even consider starting up. Early in our relationship I pointed out his car-to-human ratio seemed a bit askew, but he was quick to note that I was pushing the limits with the feline population of my household. So when Car Guy married Cat Girl, we vowed to love, honor, and not acquire anything else that purred or hummed.


Groom's cake

At the time, I drove a dime-a-dozen silver SUV. Despite growing up on the outskirts of the Motor City, cars have just never been my thing, never anything more than a way to get from Point A to B. But when you say "I do" to an automotive engineer, you soon develop an appreciation for the finer points of the vehicular world (at least you try really, really hard not to let your eyes glaze over completely during car-related conversations), and eventually find yourself snapping photos of the parts your loved one designed like they are newborn family members, because they kind of are. You resign yourself to the fact that you are a Garage Widow on many weekend afternoons, but feel comforted knowing that if the new issue of Car and Driver magazine happens to arrive on the same day as the Victoria's Secret catalogue, those women might as well be wearing burqas for all he sees.

Fast forward 7 years and my how things have changed. The truck is gone, and sadly so is one of our feline family members. We traded in the SUV (with nearly 200,000 miles on it- thank you, Ford!) for a safe, reliable, family mobile, to which Car Guy insisted we add 20-inch wheels for a bit of style. And a few years back, the zippy little car was upgraded to a sleek, high performance piece of machinery affectionately dubbed "The Blue Rocket." It was the car of Car Guy's dreams, the one he'd always coveted, the one for which he had reserved one of the deepest tokens of modern day male admiration: he had made it his screensaver.

Though it was born to race on the Autobahn, the Blue Rocket adapted well to life in Metro Detroit, keeping Car Guy company on his short-in-distance but long-on-traffic commute. The two were inseparable and Car Guy spent many long hours just gazing at the Rocket's innards. It was not unusual to find two size-10 feet sticking out from underneath the vehicle, and I learned after my first panic attack that silence simply meant he was in awe. I even tried not to get too jealous of the caresses exchanged in the weekly sponge bath. Yes, for a time the Blue Rocket fit nicely into the Shand family fold.

And then one day, it didn't. Looking back, it wasn't really all that sudden, just something that happened over the course of one move to the 'burbs, two kids, and a few job changes. Turns out the back seat of the Blue Rocket isn't actually designed to comfortably hold a rear-facing baby and a front-facing preschooler in their respective car seats. Also turns out the orange, highly adhesive substance formed when child slobber meets goldfish cracker is not so easily removed from a Blue Rocket's pristine interior. With the move, Car Guy's commute to work was now a long distance haul, and the high performance, premium fuel only vehicle became a massive money suck. And speaking of sucking money, repairing one's high performance, premium fuel only vehicle will set your family budget back a pretty penny (and by that I really mean the cost of cruising the a deluxe cabin...twice). It was time to sell.

In the meantime, Car Guy managed to get the old Green Beast (which was the first car he ever purchased) up and running, and decided to sell that, too. Though at one point he had dreamed of future tinkering with his son (aka Car Boy, who at age 3 can already name the make and model of most cars he sees), he realized he get more enjoyment out of being able to give a tricycle its very own parking spot in the garage. The Green Beast was just taking up space, both physical and emotional.

Buyers for both cars came quickly, and before we knew it we faced the possibility of being sans car for Car Guy, as his fuel-efficient, family friendly vehicle of choice wouldn't be available for a few months. Enter my dad's car, which is currently sitting unused in his driveway, as he is no longer physically able to drive. We arranged to borrow it and drove over to pick it up last week. As we returned home that evening, Car Guy in my dad's car, me and the kids in mine, I found myself feeling unexpectedly emotional. It started with a tear as we backed out the driveway and picked up speed to a sob nearly as fast as the car cruised down the highway.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not upset over the loss of these cars. While I do feel a little sad my husband is giving up something he worked for and loves, I'm proud of him for recognizing it's time to move on, and I know he wouldn't trade the life we have today for anything on 4 wheels. But much like a certain car company that will remain nameless, I think I'm having trouble with life's sudden acceleration. As I watched my husband drive away in my dad's car, I realized the person who has always sat in the driver's seat no longer can. As I looked in the rearview mirror at my sleepy babies, I suddenly felt completely unprepared to take the wheel. All I wanted to do was stop the car, crawl into the comfort and security of a rear-facing seat and fall fast asleep, dreaming of the way things once were. But it's my responsibility now to drive on, and so I did, tears and all.

I've seen firsthand that holding onto things when they no longer serve a purpose in your life doesn't do any good. My parents still insist on staying in the house we grew up in, even though it no longer physically suits their needs. It's now far too big, far too cluttered, far too much to maintain, and on the verge of needing massive repairs. As I watch them struggle to even walk up the stairs and see the patio where we use to play crumbling away, it no longer feels like a place that honors happy memories- it's become a sad reminder of what no longer is.

I remember when my dad taught me to drive, more than two decades ago. "Your main focus is what's in front of you," he said, pointing at the road. "But you need to keep glancing right here," he warned as he adjusted my rearview mirror, "or you will be hit from behind." Now I understand exactly what he meant.

In some ways we're currently driving through unfamiliar territory and sometimes I'm quite frankly terrified of the road ahead. There's no map that explains how to grow up, how to raise your kids, how to cope with the suffering of a parent. I don't know exactly where we're heading, but I do know it sure feels good to have a Car Guy by my side.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Noah's First Day of Preschool

Once upon a time there was a sweet, towheaded little 3-year-old boy. By all accounts he was an exceptionally happy little guy, precocious and bright as they come. The little boy was adored by his family and spent many blissful hours at home with his trains and trucks. But then came the day that would begin to change and shape the little boy's world forever: his first day of preschool.

His mommy was told she was supposed to be sad. She was told she was even supposed to cry. She read many a post and saw many a picture on Facebook describing this tearful moment in detail. But the little boy's mommy felt a bit like the Wicked Witch because she was not sad, not at all.

The little boy's mommy was also told she was supposed to subject herself to much stress and consternation in selecting a preschool for the little boy, but she didn't do that either. The little boy's mommy has faith in the fine school district in the little boy's town, and thus feels confident the community education preschool program will be just fine. More than fine. The little boy's mommy was typically a major Type-A, overachiever personality, but found herself increasingly annoyed by the concept of parenting as a competitive sport that seemed to run rampant in this particular corner of the kingdom.

In fact, the little boy's mommy almost lost it at her book club when some other little boys' and girls' mommies gasped and insisted a certain preschool was "the BEST!" and that the little boy's mommy needed to put her little boy's name on the big long waiting list immediately. But when the little boy's mommy questioned them about what made it the best (curriculum? accreditation? student-teacher ratio?) the other little boys' and girls' mommies could not provide anything other than "because everyone knows it's the best." So the little boy's mommy waved her magic wand and poof! She made the book club disappear from her calendar.

So why wasn't the little boy's mommy sad about this momentous milestone? She was too excited, and so was he. Well, there was that slight misunderstanding when the little boy's mommy told him he would be in the "Bear Room" at preschool and the little boy cried and cried because he feared he would be the only little boy in a room full of bears. But the little boy's mommy dried his tears, explained the situation and whipped up a mystical, magical concoction of chocolate and dough and all was forgotten.

The little boy's mommy was excited because she just knew this was the start of something amazing. You see, the little boy's mommy still feels butterflies when she sees a brand new box of Crayola crayons, the one with 64 different colors and the built-in sharpener on the side. The little boy's mommy's toes still tingle when she remembers slipping her feet into a new pair of Stride Rite saddle shoes, carefully measured to ensure at least one thumb's room to grow. The little boy's mommy smells the exhaust of a passing school bus and is transported back to a faraway land where the coolest of the cool kids sat in the WAY back (the little boy's mommy sat in the front) on the ride to that other kingdom.

And though the little boy's mommy knows all too well that the other kingdom is not always ruled by the kindest of rulers, and though she dreads that moment the little boy bumps his head or skins his knee and she is not there to "fix" it with kisses, though she fears the loss of control that comes with sending him out of the confines of his stuffed animal filled room, the little boy's mommy remains so excited about what is to come.

That's because the little boy's mommy knows that school is where he needs to go. The little boy's mommy knows that the journey that begins with brightly colored blocks and little seeds growing in paper cups and line leaders will help build the little boy's future, nourish his mind, and direct his future.

And while the little boy's mommy hopes she will always be the little boy's primary teacher, she acknowledges that she herself has so much to learn. The little boy's mommy will always love being his playmate, but knows her job is not to be his best friend. As the little boy's mommy prays the other little boys and girls will be nice to her little boy, she knows the world is not always kind, and that is one of the most important lessons and difficult lessons the little boy will ever learn (aside from how to diagram a sentence, which the little boy's mommy really hopes is still taught because the little boy's mommy fears that the way things are going the little boy's first spelling word might be LOL or OMG). The little boy's mommy wants her little boy to fill his little head with as much information as it can hold, and still come back wanting more. Forever and ever, happily ever after school and before school and during school.

So the little boy's mommy will load up his Thomas the Tank Engine backpack and pack some kleenex for herself, just in case she changes her mind about the whole crying thing. And then, hand in hand, the little boy and his mommy will set forth on this grand adventure called school.

And thus this tale concludes without a typical ending, in fact with no ending at all.

Happy first day of school, little boy.

The Beginning.