I think I've figured out my problem.

(You: Which one?)

I've always subconsciously thought of my daughters as formless beings, emerging from me perfect.

Therefore, it was only a matter of time until I royally f-ed them up.

As much as I know this is untrue at best or at least not worth worrying about, I've made myself miserable on occasion, knowing, DREADING, that I am destined to disappoint and warp them with my imperfection. I wanted to hide parts of my true self from them. As if I could. There is no hiding our true selves. They come out in whatever ways they can.

After a long day filled with hours and hours of patience and love and play and calm discipline, I sometimes get frazzled and tired and just DONE and I yell or I get snippy or I just sigh and shake my head and then I am bereft because they are perfect and I am NOT and I have failed them again.

This is not true.

(Or it's beside the point.)

None of us are perfect. Even them. Even from the beginning. How unfair of me to expect it of any of us.

We are all born with our unique, strange selves and are molded by the world we encounter. They weren't born perfect. They were born their own quirky, strange, imperfect selves and we get more strange and quirky and imperfect as our life goes on. I am here to help my girls, to guide them and shepherd them, not to try to retain some idea of perfectness that never existed to begin with. When I think about it this way, I can see that their struggles and difficult behaviors are not a reflection of how much I suck as a mom, but just part of their whole selves, their ages, their environment and just who they essentially were from the moment they were made. No one is letting anyone down.

I am their guide, their teacher, their mother.

They are my guides, my teachers, my daughters.

(And just because I'm accepting my imperfections doesn't mean I shouldn't find ways to keep myself from getting to the point of yelling or snipping or even sighing in defeat.)

(You already knew this?)

(Would you please remind me from time to time??)

(PS. This made sense to me when I was trying to get back to sleep at 4 am. )



CG and I arrive to Z's classroom's "Thanksgiving Feast" right on time but it seems all the other parents got there early. Z runs to me, clings to my legs, hopping up and down.

The room is small and filled with small furniture and small people so with E strapped to my chest and my big bag full of rolls and cranberry sauce on my back, I feel like a giant trying not to crush any woodland creatures. Parents have already begun filling their plates and chatting in small groups and I sweat my way through getting our contribution on the buffet and peeling Z off of me every two minutes.

I notice all the parents and kids are wearing adhesive name tags, something that we suggested might help at school events and I start scanning them for the names I recognize from Z's stories. Z sits at her spot at a low table, eating nothing but rolls and butter. None of the kids at her table speak to her. Two of them I don't hear utter a word the whole hour CG and I are there.

At the table next to ours, four girls bounce in their seats, chatting over top of one another, laughing and trading food. I recognize their names as "friends" of Z's from her stories. I also note that they are clearly at the older end of the age range of the classroom and clearly have strong friendships with each other.

"Z? Do you want to introduce me to any of your friends?"



At another neighboring table, more kids are giggling away, with their moms chatting above them. I try not to think about what I'm wearing when I glance at the moms' suede boots and highlighted hair.

The center director, obviously remembering me saying that we were having a hard time meeting people here, brings one of the suede booted moms over to me, introducing us to each other, although we've met before.

"Your daughters are the same age! I thought maybe Z and A would like a playdate sometime!"

The mom smiles faintly at me and we both stammer a bit about didn't we meet at back to school night?. She says something vague about her group of moms that get together and doesn't she have my email already?

I don't remind her that I've already emailed her about it. Twice.

On the way out, we pass one of the little girls who features prominently in Z's stories of the playground. The girls pass each other without comment and I replay some of Z's stories in my head, suddenly realizing that Z doesn't include herself in her stories of silly, happy playground activities.


I arrive at the movie theater on time and scan the concession stand where I'm supposed to meet these moms from the large Meetup.com group. There are no clusters of mom-like people at concessions so I stand there for a few minutes, sweating, before continuing on to the theater which is already full of teenagers and moms and couples debating the relative merits of Edward Cullen and Jacob Black. I realize scanning faces won't help since I don't know who I'm looking for and consider sitting by myself before turning on my heels and going back out to the lobby, trying not to let any tears escape. Two women aren't far behind me and when we arrive at the concession stand, all three of us are scanning faces.

I try to smile like a normal person as I approach them and can't help shooting a quick glance at their feet.

No suede boots.


Deep Survival: Motherhood

I read Deep Survival about a year ago. It was in keeping with my long-time obsession with survival stories. Since I was a teenager, I have gobbled up any true-life adventure story I could find, reading and rereading the "lost at sea, lost my mind" memoir, the "ate friend-tartare to avoid starvation" story and the "sawed off my own arm to save myself" adventure as well as all the run-of-the-mill "tried to climb a mountain/sail across the world/live in the wilderness and almost died" narratives.

There is something cathartic about reading these books. Man/woman against nature, rising victorious from what must be the most desperate, difficult situations. I always wonder how I would fare in these circumstances (Because, you know, it's totally possible for me to be a South American rugby player who crash lands in the Andes. IT COULD HAPPEN.). Would I have the strength to pull through? Would I rise to the occasion?

My mother and I share this fascination. We are endlessly debating what to do when you are attacked by a bear (Cover your face, protect your neck and lie down? Raise your arms and growl like you are the fiercest bear around? Run like a crazy person, shedding clothes along the way so the bear wastes time ripping your Polartec to shreds?) (Turns out, it depends on the type of bear.) Perhaps this is because I grew up in New Jersey, where the most dangerous place is the mall on Black Friday or the Turnpike at rush hour or Camden AT ANY TIME. The fact that my mother and I always get lost on the way to our car in the grocery store parking lot means that we would be ill prepared AT BEST in most wilderness survival situations.

OH, but I've always hungered for this type of challenge! So I shivered under a tarp on an Outward Bound course when I was in college and I spend time wondering how to escape bears and I read and reread Deep Survival.

I keep coming back to the ideas and information from this book when thinking about how to survive yet another majorly challenging situation: motherhood. Author Laurence Gonzales' twelve rules for surviving the most dire circumstances can also apply to motherhood.

1. Perceive and believe: Understand where you are, clear-eyed and aware of all the challenges. Motherhood ain't for sissies.
2. Stay calm - use your anger: Having control over my emotions, being able to focus them and rule them, rather than let them rule me, is a skill I am working on daily. My three year old makes sure of that.
3. Think, analyze, plan: Survivors often rely on a strong sense of organization and schedules. WORD.
4. Take correct decisive action: That tantrum in front of everyone at the grocery store? The same rules apply to being crash-landed on an icy peak: be clear about what needs to be done and plunge ahead through what you know you have to do.
5. Celebrate your success: Did your kid just say thank you? Without being prompted? Pat yourself on the back and take just a moment to let it sink in. She did that because YOU TAUGHT HER RIGHT.
6. Be a rescuer, not a victim: How you chose to see yourself really makes a difference.
7. Enjoy the survival journey: Finding even the most bizarre thing to enjoy about a difficult circumstance will help you survive it. (I actually did a few bicep curls while carrying my tantrumming preschooler the other day. Motherhood: the workout!)
8. See the beauty: This is why I try hard to take decent pictures of my kids laughing, smiling and looking lovely. Because if I don't regularly stop to appreciate their transcendent beauty, I can easily get lost in the mess/frustration/tedium.
9. Believe that you will succeed: As in most things, confidence and having your eyes on the prize will take you really, really far. When Z is flailing around at my feet, I like to close my eyes and imagine the well mannered young woman she will become because I refused to (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH SOMETHING RIDICULOUS).
10. Surrender: I am a mother of two small children. My house will not be totally clean and organized for another 18 years, at least. The laundry that I just spent all day washing, folding and putting away will have to be done again in two days. The kitchen counter will always have at least four things on it that don't belong in the kitchen. The dog sheds in the wake of my vacuum. That's the way it is.
11. Do whatever is necessary: You never knew you had it in it you to be the strong one, the one in charge, the one who has to make the decisions and clean the messes and provide the answers. But you do.
12. Never give up: Gonzales says it best: "Survivors are not easily discouraged by setbacks. They accept that the environment is constantly changing and know they must adapt. When they fall, they pick themselves up and start the entire process over again, breaking it down into manageable bits."

There is one point that I keep going back to in the book. Gonzales writes about how we all enter situations with a "mental map": an idea of what is about to happen. The survivors among us are flexible enough to adjust our mental map as we receive new information along our journey. Rather than running into a contradictory piece of information, a new situation that doesn't fit in our original mental map of How Things Are Supposed To Be, and ignoring it, we constantly absorb and incorporate it all.

Each day, I must remind myself that the only constant is change. My mental map of who Z is and how I relate to her must evolve daily as she explodes with new information, new behaviors, new ideas. I remind myself all the time that E is a different, unique person and I can't expect her babyhood to follow the same trajectory as Z's.

To survive motherhood, I must change and adapt and evolve as rapidly as they do.

If that ain't a harrowing true life adventure tale, I don't know what is.


How do you put the "care" in "preschool"?

I can't believe I'm actually going to type this, but I think my biggest issue with Z's current preschool is that it's not enough like.... daycare.

Crazy, right? I mean, I used to call Z's old daycare her "school" because the word "daycare" gave me the heebee jeebies.

I know I'm looking back through some rose-colored, memory-faded glasses but I really miss her old daycare back in Pasadena. I miss knowing that she had a "primary teacher" who was responsible for knowing her likes and dislikes, for reporting to us at the end of the day how her day went, what she ate, when she pooped. I miss getting to hang out in the classroom and feeling like I really knew what her day was like when I wasn't with her.

I miss her getting to play and learn and learn through playing and playing to learn and not correcting me when we play pretend school at home by saying glumly "No Mommy. We don't play in my school, we do works.".

They took care of her in her old daycare. They were not perfect (as I have to keep reminding myself) but they knew her and listened to her and cared for her. And they let her freaking play.

Last week, she told me that even when she asked, her teachers wouldn't help her in the bathroom. They told her she was big enough to wipe herself. Which, um, SHE'S NOT. NOT QUITE. When she told me this, I wanted to cry. The girl needs just a little bit of CARE, people. SHE'S THREE. How about you help her get to where she doesn't need help in the bathroom. She's almost there, we're working on it too. BUT SHE'S NOT THERE AND SHE ASKED FOR YOUR HELP.

*stepping away from the caps lock*

We toured another daycare/preschool last week and while it probably wasn't the right fit for us (it's not convenient, it's quite large and felt corporate-y, they only have full day, they allow 1/2 hour of "educational TV" which seems silly because HELLO if I wanted my kid to watch more TV I could keep her at home.) it was a good jumping off point to assess what we really want and where to look next.

We're still tortured about all this and every day we flip - "Today she said she loved her teacher! And she has friends! We have to keep her there!"- and flop- "Today she said she didn't want to wear a uniform, didn't want to go to school every day, didn't want to do 'work' because they aren't very fun. We have to move her.". It's exhausting.

We tour yet another preschool/daycare on Wednesday. We hope to come to a decision soon and, if we move her, move her by the first of the year.


Conversations with Z: the confusing agnostic mom edition

Driving in the car, raining.

Z (age: three and a half): It rains a lot here.

Clueless But Hopeful Mama (age: getting older by the second): It sure does. That's why everything is so green.

Z: Yeah. In California, plants were always brown.

CBHM: That's true. Plants need lots of water-

Z: -or they die. Do all things die?

CBHM: *GULP* Yes, Z, all living things will die at some point.

Z: Will I die?

CBHM: Yes, Z, one day you will die.

Z: When?

CBHM: A very, very, very long time from now. When you are a very old woman (*FERVENT PRAYER SAID HERE*)

Z: Do all people die?

CBHM: Yes, Z, all people will die at some point.

Z: Can we still walk around?

CBHM: When we're dead?

Z: Yeah.

CBHM: No.... well.... our bodies can't.... um.... I honestly don't know.

Z: Can we ask the 'puter when we get home? Can we ask Google?

CBHM: This is one question that I'm not sure Google can answer. What do you think?

Z: I don't know. What do you think?

CBHM: Well, some people think that when you die you go to a place called Heaven and I bet you could walk around there. Or even fly! Who knows?

Z: Silly people! People can't fly!

CBHM: Well, since none of us has ever been to Heaven, we can't really know what happens there, now can we?

Z: Can I go to Heaven?

CBHM: I hope some day that you will go to a place like Heaven. And I hope it's a really, really, really long time from now.


Step off

CG came back from talking to our neighbors about hiring their teenage son mow our lawn.

"It was weird. I was asking him questions and his mom kept answering for him like he wasn't even there." CG says, wrinkling his brow.

"Sheesh, that's annoying. She ought to step off." I say, shaking my head.


E lies on her play mat, toys strewn around her.

She is eyeing her current favorite, a crinkly "book" that she loves to squish in between her hands.

It is too far away for her to reach it.

I fidget in my chair as I watch her. She puts her head down and tries to push off with her feet, grunting, inching slightly closer. Next, she surfs on just her belly, arms and legs flailing in the air as she eyes the book. She goes no where and puts her head down, softly whimpering in frustration.

My heart cinches in my chest and my toes nudge the book closer. She renews her excited inchworm attempts for just a moment before face planting and wailing some more.

I quickly push the book into her hands and she gleefully rolls over to her back and crunches the book between her hands while I watch her, guilty and relieved.


Z runs to me, whining and crying about how she doesn't WANT to share her bike. "So tell M that. Use your calm, clear words." I instruct, glancing sideways at our four year old neighbor M who is sitting on Z's bike, ignoring her pleas.

M, the four year old who's allowed to roam the cul de sac unsupervised and always seems mystified by our family's rules about things like wearing a helmet and not barking out orders, stays put and more whining commences from Z as she comes running toward me.

I close my eyes. Let them work it out. Peer interactions have their own rhythm.

I open my eyes. She's only three. She'll benefit from a little help in challenging peer negotiations.

"M?" I call out. "Z's being quite clear that she's not ready to give you a turn on her bike and Z?" I say, turning toward her, "I expect you'll let M know if and when you're ready to share your bike?"

"Yes!" Z yells as she triumphantly jumps on her bike and pedals off.

I watch them round the cul de sac and wonder for the hundredth time today if I found the right balance between helping and stepping back.


Because you are the second child

Dear E,

(I haven't even started writing and I'm already choked up.)

You are almost 6 months old. When your sister was this age, I spent hours just sitting with her, watching her, singing to her, reading to her, NOTICING her. (When she was this age, I was also exercising for an hour every day, and had enough free time and optimistic energy to tell CG: "I think I may try to use her nap times every day to teach myself Spanish." HAHAHAHAHA.)

Because you are the second child, we were told we should ignore you, pay more attention to your big sister. You wouldn't know any better.

That's pretty much what we've done. At three and a half, your sister requires a lot of attention and interaction and you, generally, comparatively, don't. I nurse you when you're hungry, but I'm often trying to eat something, read a story to Z or help her get dressed at the same time. I come to you when you cry, but I'm often being trailed by a crying Z, who's isn't about to be outdone. Because you are the second child, there just doesn't seem to be enough time for anything but the basics. Your basic needs are met but the days race by in an endless blur of activity and as I'm putting you down for the night, I am often struck by how little I've actually had a chance to sit and notice, really NOTICE, you that day.

Us virtually ignoring you does have some benefits. You are currently THRILLED to have your diaper changed. It's like you've suddenly got the spotlight, the parental attention you crave, and you don't want to lose it. You open your eyes as wide as they'll go, stomp your feet and trill your tongue into endless screeches and giggles. Even when getting your boogers sucked out, you gaze at me in rapturous adoration and giggle when I begin this most unglamourous activity.

Because you are the second child, you've figured out you need to take what you can get.

The documentation of your life thus far is yet another example of the true cliche: the second child always gets the shaft. We took pictures of Zoe every. freaking. day. Literally. You? Well, about once or twice a week I stop to notice how gorgeous, how luminous, you are and I prop you up where there's decent light and run for the camera and try not to trip over the clutter and try not to upset Z by giving you too much attention and try to keep the dog from licking the camera lens and practically break a sweat (there's my workout!) trying to capture just one little moment for eternity because I don't want to forget this moment of you EVER.

As a first child, Z has a pretty full baby book, actually a "baby's first year" calendar with stickers for each milestone. I wrote in it each time she started a new food or changed the way she smiled or made a new sound or pooped a new color (alas, there is no sticker for that one).

I bought you a similar baby-milestone calendar before we left Pasadena and... I have no idea where it is. When we started feeding you rice cereal last week, I went looking for it and quickly gave up and ordered a new one from Amazon. What this means, of course, is that I'm going to have to make up the first five and a half months' worth of milestones.

I hope you don't hate me for this particular form of revisionist history. I'm sure you smiled for the first time somewhere in.... June? Let me just close my eyes and randomly apply a sticker somewhere here....
That's Z's milestone calendar on the left, complete with pictures and detailed information. Yours is... currently blank.

In future years, when you are sure that I don't love you as much as your sister because of these inequalities, I hope it will be clear that what I lacked in meticulous, detailed memory keeping, I made up for in adoring, if scatter-brained, enthusiasm.

Today, I tried to take a decent photo of the two of us, and struggled.

But I will keep trying because I don't ever want to forget these sweet, fleeting days.

Because you are the second child, I know just how fleeting they are.

Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Friday Fragments (including followups and Facebook)

On Wednesday night, E slept from 6:30 pm to 5:30 am. SUCCESS!

On Wednesday night, I slept from 10 pm to ...4ish am due to the boulders I was sleeping on top of. Oh right, there's THAT problem with night weaning.....

On Thursday night.... we were up three times. ARG.


A few days ago, on the way to school after yet another miserable struggle to get out the door, Z said to CG "You know why I don't like school?" and he said "No, why?" and she said "Because there's no toys there, only works. And you have to use the works the right way or you might break them. I like to play and you can't really play there."

We have an appointment to tour another preschool on Monday morning.


I don't know if it's my sleep deprivation or what but I have narrowly avoided posting several unfortunate status updates on Facebook lately. Yesterday I got halfway through typing

CBHM wonders if anyone else has one armpit that's smellier than the other

before I stopped myself.

This is why I don't Twitter. (or "tweet" or "twit" or WHATEVER. See? I don't even know the proper verb.)


I'm dying to hear what Erin named her baby girl! YAY!!


Schedule? What schedule?

If you've been reading for awhile you know this: when Z was a baby, I read many, many baby books. My favorite was "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby". While not well edited (read: painfully repetitive and disorganized), the concrete information about how to help your baby sleep better was a great, great help. Z was, for the most part, a great, easy sleeper and I really believe it was half her and half that book.

The biggest take home messages for me: put the baby down drowsy but BEFORE they are truly tired ("Perfect timing produces no crying."), promote motionless sleep (ie. Try not to let them nap while in a car, stroller, bouncer etc.) and keep a consistent, natural (tuned into their biorhythms) schedule.

These proved to be HUGELY helpful and frankly EASY to enforce when I had only one kid. I lived my life according to Z's nap schedule and bedtime. Because she went down easily, stayed asleep and woke up happy, these seemed like they were well worth the effort and occasional inconvenience (Anytime someone gave me an issue about my strict naptime adherence I would say - in my head, of course, PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE IN THE HIZOUSE- "You know what's really inconvenient? A SCREAMING BABY.") She took her first nap at home at 9am, her second nap at home at 1pm and her bedtime was 7 pm. For, like, A YEAR.

Keeping my current baby on this, or any other, schedule? IMPOSSIBLE.

Because, of course, E has a natural schedule and Z still has HER own natural schedule. And never the twain shall meet.

Okay, not never just infrequently.

Mornings are ... fine. Early. But fine.

E's first nap? Usually happens... sometime in the morning. And it often looks like this:

(I love her eyelash hat and her miracle blanket that I plan on swaddling her in until she's 25.)

Due to Z's schedule, E often gets put down for her nap in her carseat and then carted around town. This will not work for much longer.

Lunch time is a blur of a tired, preschooled Z eating or NOT, me desperately trying to stuff something resembling actual food into my mouth while nursing E and getting her down for her nap sometime in there. It's a new roulette-wheel-spin-of-CRAZY each and every day.

Dinner is the same BUT WORSE, with E sort of needing a third nap because she didn't get her full two naps because of Z's schedule so E needs a super early bedtime but I'm also cooking dinner and trying to keep Z busy/happy/NOT DRIVING ME CRAZY. I feel like an octupus who's missing several necessary limbs. There are only so many things I'm capable of doing at once.

And now we've started this insanity (where's my ninth limb??):
Feeding E rice cereal is supposed to help with her current night waking (read: MOMMY'S TIRED LET'S TRY STUFFING FOOD IN HER MOUTH). She started waking at night after her cold/ear infection a few weeks back and now she's decided that daytime is for .... anything but nursing and nighttime? IS CHOW TIME.

This happened with Z too (that would be the "good sleeper, for the most part" part in the first paragraph). She got a cold when she was around 7 months and stopped sleeping through the night and we suffered for a few months and we tried everything and it got worse and we finally.... let her cry it out. It was awful for two nights and then we were wondering what took us so long because it worked! And she was so happy! And we were so happy! SUCCESS!

And I thought to myself at the time: I will not let the next one go down this path and get to a point when we need to let her cry it out. I will be more careful about nursing at night if the baby's been sleeping through for months and months and I will NOT let it get to a point where we contemplate crying it out and .......

Here we are. Wondering when and if we are going to need to let her cry it out.

For now I am clear: I think she's way too young. At only 5 months, in my opinion, she still needs to know that her cries matter, that we hear them. That her needs will be met.

So I'm trying to wean her from night feedings a bit. Which is a long, tedious, tiring process which, frankly, annoys both of us. And I'm working on being a bit more scheduled in her daytime naps.

I seriously hope the night waking ends soon. Because I'm not ready to let her cry it out but I am so ready for some SLEEP.

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