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It is no small thing to talk about the child who made me a mother at age 24.

Isaac’s cries, his coos, his giggles, his feet plumping up, taking one tentative step then another- these were the things that ushered in my adulthood. They were the soundtrack playing while I became more patient, a bit stronger, more selfless and a bit more myself.

These days I am reminded of Isaac’s toddlerhood (not the tantrums or the sobbing, mostly) but the incredible deliciousness of discovering his apartness from me and the novelty getting to see him from a far. I remember noticing his growth- how large he would seem in my mother’s arms, or at the top of a slide. I remembering him returning to me more himself than before with a satisfied grin and sturdier legs – a being who owned his space in the world.

These years will be more of the same. I am proud to be your mother- the one you can leave and return to as more and more of yourself. You are funny, you are kind. You are smart. You have more thoughts at one than most people I know. You are fiercely independent and helpful at the same time. You are a loyal friend, brother and son.

When you were born, the nurses put you on my chest and my first words were struggling ones- words I know now are the very essence of young motherhood trying to integrate the pure body experience of pregnancy with the reality of a needy,wet human in her arms. I said, “Is that you? Is that you? Is that who you are?”

Every day since day that you have told me, “Yes.”

Yesterday my Facebook wall was littered with a piece from Huffington Post called, How to Talk to Little Boys. There was some  chatter about whether or not Lisa Bloom’s advice to use violence in stories was the very best way to encourage more boy readers. There was some chatter about making sure we had the right kind of books to give boys to read. Many boy moms in my world have reading boys or want to have reading boys. I can see wanting to go to any measure to make this happen.  I badly wanted to like the article, but I could only hear all the false notes.

First of all I think we all know that age 12 is not little. The author’s friend Oliver is not little. His answers do sound young to me. I have a 12 year old and have had one for almost a year now.  But perhaps Oliver is a younger 12. Even so, he is not little. Five is little. Six is little. If we want our boys to read, we have to start long before age 12.

When we encourage our boys to read,  I’d strongly prefer that we not induce them with violence. “This book may be too violent for you,” Lisa says to Oliver. If Oliver is a young as he sounds, The Hunger Games might actually be too violent for him. My twelve year old did read the books -well past the downhill slope to his 13th birthday which is next week. They were not too violent for him. Last summer he and I both had several friends reading them, and I felt he was too young til this past winter. At times we have struggled to find the just right books for our kids. However, when you want your five year old boy to love reading you cannot use Bloom’s reverse psychology technique. You have to keep digging through the library stacks to find the topics that interest him, to find the characters he thinks are silly or fun, to find the right ratio of text to pictures that will keep him engaged. Is it much different for girls?

The How to Talk to Little Girls post from last year was lovely. It was everything my mother ever wanted for me and more.  In it, Bloom actually spoke to a little girl. She spoke to her about her interests, her reading, her writing and her ideas. In How to Talk to Little Boys, not only is the boy not little but the only possible suggestion for talking to a boy  is to entice them with a book that is pretty violent. We simply trade one stereotype about boys for another when we do this.

Bloom’s article is full of the same advice parents get from schools, PBS and literacy specialists: keep books at home, let your kids see you read for pleasure, let them read whatever genre works for them, read when they are babies, read before bed. In a world constantly telling parents just how they are failing their children, this is just one more blog post, one more public service announcement.

I have three boys. I am a working parent of three boys. When people see me with my boys or hear that I have three boys they undoubtedly say, “God bless ya!” Essentially, I take this to mean, “Better you than me!” What do people think my children think of this statement? What do they suppose I think it means? It’s offensive. It means our society already views them as potential menaces. I listen to people with girls worry about the teenage boys who might one day be after their daughters. I look at my about to be teenage boy and wonder what they think about him, as he sits there building legos with his younger brother. He walks to his film class at the library. He texts with his friends about how simply awful all these band rehearsals are. He reads. He reads his little brothers’ Lego magazine. He reads Hunger Games on my kindle. He reads Sherlock Holmes from his dad’s bookshelf.

How can we change the cultural conversation around boys so they don’t have to fight the Dennis the Menace of themselves? Isaac has shrugged it off. We lucked out. He has a fairly strong sense of self. Maybe because we read to him when he was a baby. But I have little boys too. They are 6 and 7 right now. I can see the ways the break down in gender roles at school and in their world is going to be a rougher ride for them than it has been for Isaac so far.  At this point, they still love reading. However, when people see me with the boys they often say “What are you doing this weekend? Are you going to take a bike ride? Are you playing sports?” The boys have picked up that the weekend is a time for us to take them around and do stuff, active stuff. When we hang around the house for the weekend reading, cooking, gardening, painting, playing with clay and playing Wii, Henry is unsure what to write on his Monday morning page at school. “What did you do this weekend?” Somehow the weekend at home stuff translates as “nothing.” If we have gone someplace, done something somewhere, then he know what to write. “We took a hike,” or ” We went to visit nana and climbed her trees.”   But if we are always going and doing, then we are not home reading.

All of them learned to read quite early but I am not sure we did anything much different than what most college educated middle class families do when they have children. We bought board books. We had story time. We had those alphabet magnets on the frig. We read in our bed at night with children all jammied up then picked up our sleepy children and tumbled them into their beds. We read to Henry much less when he was a baby. We were pretty busy keeping him alive and making sure he stopped growing in the wrong direction. Once the ship righted itself, he started singing his ABC just like the rest of the toddlers. By the time the third baby came, the first thing he read was the Dunkin’ Donuts sign as we drove along in the minivan. Oops.

Like most parents I know, we are holding up our end to the best of our ability. When we walk outside our door, things get rough. Next time you see me with my boys, please, someone ask them what they are reading. Above all do not ask them if they like reading. You are tipping your cards. Let’s assume that kids all like reading well enough even when it is not their first choice of activity. If you start a conversation with a yes or no question, you will get a yes or no answer. We all know how much children love to say no. It’s such a trip to confound the grownups!  Help boys who like reading even just a little  to like it more by having a real conversation with them about their book.

May I recommend this:

Grown up:  So what day is library day at school?

Child: Tuesdays. Sometimes I forget to bring my book back.

Grown up: Ugh, that happens to me all the time! Is it because your book is in your bed and you forget in the morning?

Child: Actually, I think it was in the sofa cushions.

Grown up: I lost stuff their too. Mostly coins but also sometimes socks. What was the last book you checked out?

Child: It was a magical school house book about space but I can’t remember the name of it.

Grown up: That’s okay. Why did you pick it?

Child: My best friend had it last week so I thought it would be good. I like the pictures of Jupiter. Jupiter is huge. I mean really, really, really, really huge. It is so huge that you could fit like a bajillion thousand hundred seventy three and two aliens on it. Someone tried that I think one time…

I think you can take it from there.

And when you see me, don’t say anything that sounds like “There but the grace of God go I.”  I am extremely happy, extremely lucky and probably about as a tired and busy as the next working parent whether her children are boys or girls.

Plenty

I’ve been thinking about what it means to have enough, to have plenty, as the holidays approach.  Grade school comes to mind as we colored in cornucopia – a horn of plenty – looks at that horn full of gourds, a sign of having plenty, of making it through the cold, dark winter.  IT’S HUGE!

(I might print that later for my kids to color when they are on school vacation. They will finish in 5 minutes and then ask if they can go watch Phineas & Ferb.)

We had our very own experience of plenty last month. When 10 inches of wet snow fell on trees with leaves still on the branches -and those branches still full of the trees water and sap, the power went out in New England. Nearly 2 million customers were without power.

We were among those who had plenty at this moment. The first night we slept at home in a house that had been warmed by the sun & heaters that had been on all day. In the morning, we used our gas grill to boil water for tea, coffee and cocoa and to scramble eggs. It was camping for day one. As the light faded from day two, we headed to my sister’s powerless but warm house and slept on the floor in front of the wood burning stove. We woke up cold on Halloween but still had the ability to make tea, coffee and cocoa.

There was no school on Halloween. There was also no Halloween on Halloween. I came home to check on our place and discovered we had power.  We had plenty of food that had survived in a cooler on our porch. We had plenty of water and when push came to shove we had plenty of room to share it all.  Our own apartment then became plenty full of people. As crowded as it was, it felt rather like the holidays. People squashed in, plenty of people to run to the store so no one had to take the kids with them. Plenty of people to cook, wash and up wrestle kids to bed. Plenty of extra food to invite for dinner a few more families whose water or power were not on yet, or who hadn’t had time to replenish the food stores after the storm.

So what with all the snow and the snowmen hanging around,

before we knew it we, I was sitting around with my god daughter discussing where to put the Christmas tree. She is right, we are going to have to move one of our chairs upstairs to my bedroom.

Wouldn’t you know there are gifts under there! And even when times are tight -and we have had times so tight I felt like I couldn’t breath – we have had presents under that tree and a feast for our table. Sometimes only  because of our generous families – other times from both of us working like maniacs to pull off the magic: a book, a toy and a game for each child. And I know that is what you do too.

I will not rush the season by playing carols or hanging lights before we have had our day of  thanks, but I am grateful to that crazy storm to remind me that we have plenty before the ads, the catalogs and internet start making me feel like I am not enough. I am glad the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas came early to our house this year, right around Halloween.

The Walking Wounded

After a post went up from a Babble blogger that shamed mothers who breastfeed without a nursing cover, and piece over at Slate that indicated the simplest way for us to move forward as women in society would be for lactivists to care less and the market to over better nursing covers, I was invited to write a guest post for Annie at PhD in Parenting. I hope you will visit me over there and join our conversation about misogyny, the female body, judgments and the mommy wars.

I’ve begun to think about a short story based on my recent joy in purchasing winter coats in the most reasonable way ever – online at Land’s End. There is not much more to write about buying a coat for a child on-line at Land’s End. I did it and it’s done. Amen. But that is not the way I have traditionally purchased (or come by) winter coats.

Because of money. And so really, the short story I’m outlining is about money and mothering. The first thing I ever wrote about money came out of my brain whole my junior year in high school while I was reading Virginia Woolf. For some reason it became incredibly clear to me right then, sitting at a desk more appropriately sized for an 8-year-old, staring at the gigantic word processor my dad had bought me (some sort of type-writer with a screen that looked like it could swallow me), that it would be nearly impossible to “do better” than my parents had. I called my sister at college and she agreed, so I figured it must be true. The mere fact that I got a hold of her on the hallway phone for her floor was like some sort of sign from the gods that I was onto something (much good may it do me, as they say)

Both my parents were in the first generation of their families to go to college. Both came from truly working class backgrounds. Both of them had advanced degrees & professional jobs in Manhattan. It seemed unlikely I could even duplicate such a leap, let alone overtake it. I wrote a paper and did not mention the word money or class. I had no idea what I was writing about but it hit me – the urgent impossibility of my position being educated at prep school in New York, sent off to college and absolutely bewildered about what I was going to do for my life (code for earn money, I think – the 17 year old brain perhaps fuzzy on this point.)

This proved to me even more true when I graduated college during a tiny recession that by today’s standards does not rate. I was working, married and thinking about all of these things – and also none of them because I was working so much for not so much money, as was my spouse – and then we had a baby and so I was home to think about them all day long. All day – and some of the nights too.

My breastfed child did not enjoy me holding a book while I nursed. He repeatedly swatted at it. It was just this object in his peripheral vision to be grabbed, I suppose. So I did not read but rather thought about things. Does anyone else have a child old enough to remember breastfeeding in the years before streaming video and podcasts? My youngest child was breastfeed to podcasts and streaming npr, netflix – and even had the tenderness to not swat at books or magazines while they were in my hands.

That many years later, with children off at school and my career taking some pleasant turns, I am here pondering NaNoWriMo, sketching out this story & wondering if there is quite enough there for a novel. I don’t want to start writing until I know. Because two years ago, when I last attempted the athletic feat that is NaNoWriMo, I was without an idea at the start. I had such a long ramp up period, that I never could have finished. I also had a three-year old and we all know how crazy they are.

What do you think about mothering and money? And what do you think I should do about the agony of National Novel Writing Month? What are you going to do? Also, one more thing about the Land’s End coats – they have grow with me sleeves. Why did I not invent that when I was 17 or home breastfeeding a baby who rejected novel-reading?

*PS Land’s End did not pay for this post.

Sadly.

– Maybe –

Never mind, I like it better this way:

The coats are great. My thoughts are my own.

Like many of you who freelance, I spend a good deal of my professional time looking out for my next gig.  It is the invisible work behind all the actual work that I do. And it is takes up a decent amount of time and energy. All that effort is meant to lead up to the interview for my next birth doula client.

It is not uncommon for me to go to a job interview several times in a month. Many people are unsure how to interview some for a job.  This is probably because most of us don’t have much opportunity to practice.  I often walk people through it because I want to make them comfortable enough to speak their mind.  I ask them how they found me, what made them decide to interview me, what they are looking for from a doula. I reflect back what I heard from them – addressing any or concerns they may have.

There are a series of typical questions people ask me – how long I have been a doula, how I became a doula and how many births I attend during a month. Many people ask happens if they are in labor at the same time as another client or if something prevents me from being able to attend their birth.   This is a very important question and everyone should ask it.

Yesterday at an interview I was asked the best question I have ever been asked at an interview. It made me think back on nearly a decade of interview questions and consider which ones fostered the best communication between me and potential clients. I highlight them here not because I think I have the best answers but rather because I think these particular questions provide a window into any doulas personality, style and way of working. Open ended style questions give you a chance to find out if you can connect with particular doula.  If you believe your communication styles well work together and that the connection is established, then you can grow that into a trusting relationship.
Here are my top ten doula interview questions:

1. What is your relationship to my other caregivers? How will you help me make your presence as a doula work for everyone in the room?

2. What do we do if we, as a couple, decide we need some privacy during our birth, even from you?

3. How will you support me if my birth for any reason becomes more medical than we hoped? For example, what if I need a plan induction or planned cesarean?

4. What are the things you can do for me that no one else might be able to do, such as my partner, a friend, or family member?

5. How will you respond if I choose to have an epidural or other intervention that doesn’t fit into the “natural childbirth model” way of doing things?

6. What are the most important things you think I should be doing right now to prepare for my birth?

7. After the baby arrives, then what? How long do you stay? What are the ways you are helping us in that time period? Do you just go poof?

8. What is my labor is super, crazy long? How will you help me? How will you have the energy? When is too much, too much? Do you leave?

9. What do you know about postpartum depression?

And my all time favorite question to be asked at an interview,

10. What do you love the best about being a doula? What motivates you and excites you about this work?

 

I am sure there are hundreds more interesting, insightful, open-ended questions to ask when interviewing a doula. What would you add? What kinds of answers have you heard. Stick around to hear mine in the coming weeks. If you are a doula, share yours in the comment section.

Monday

September is more than half gone, and yet it is still the first Monday all three of the children are off at school. It’s like that, Kindergarten. Your five your old goes off on the bus,  catches all the germs by licking the Legos, and then comes up and collapses in your arms on Friday afternoon.

He’s recovered now. So it is my first Monday of shipping them off. Were it not for my sister, I might have spent the day in my pajamas watching Mad Men on Netflix. Instead I am writing in a coffee shop with her. I have a coffee cup, a cell phone and a red netbook.  It turns out I look exactly like people who do this all the time.

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