Sunday, January 29, 2012

Equality for Men: The Right to Father

My husband turns mean and defensive when people say things to him like, "Oh can I hold baby? Is it okay with her mother?"  or "Can you ask your wife if I can give her a cookie?"
"I'm her father!  Why can't you ask me?" he'll demand, face beat red and nostrils flaring.  He can't understand why he's never looked at as the one in charge or responsible for making decisions on our daughter's behalf.  I always try to remind him that this new gender role reversal is a culture change and most people don't get it.  This doesn't make him feel better as we find ourselves frustrated at the numerous articles that talk about the new role of dads.  We don't understand how things are supposedly changing to look more like our current family dynamic, yet never see it happening on a daily basis.

The more I think about this and the more I talk to other women, I begin to wonder if our country and culture is setting up men to fail at fatherhood.  Most companies don't offer paternity leave or if they do its unpaid.  I've heard that some men who do have the benefit, don't take it because of office cultures.  They are made to feel effeminate for doing so or they are passed up for promotions or raises.  My husband was doing work on his phone while at my side the day after our daughter was born.  No one considered that maybe he too was going through a very emotional time even though he didn't have an epidural.

In America men still get paid on average more than women.  This makes it impossible in some households for men not to work.  There are also significantly more men in blue collar jobs that actually discriminate against women doing the same kind of work.  When compared to certain industries, these jobs pay more than white collar jobs.  Its not a surprise that men are then still expected to be the primary breadwinners.  And when they are  working long hours and too tired to get up in the middle of the night with a fussy baby, this continues to make moms the primary caretakers.

Now granted men can't breastfeed and its a woman's choice to do so.  But I remember being pregnant and having information forced down my throat by baby sites and people offering unsolicited advice about the nutritional value of breast milk.  I had nurses tell me its "my choice" to nurse or not but basically that formula "wasn't good" and give me complex stares when I'd say "but my husband wants to be involved in feedings."   I felt pressure to be the one person responsible for giving my kid nutrition, be it nursing or pumping.  Hadn't I done that for nine months?  Weren't my husband and I supposed to be a team after the baby was born?  We made the decision that formula was the way to go, giving the both of us equal time to rest, feed, and bond with our daughter.  

Aside from these bigger problems, there are small things that affect dads in their own communities.   A recent trip to the store with my squirmy toddler and bad back had onlookers probably thinking my husband was a dead beat as I wrestled her into the bathroom.  Truth was we didn't have a choice.  He would've changed her himself had the men's room been equipped with a changing station.   But as is the case in many places, it wasn't.

Staying at home with your child I understand hinders social interaction for a lot of parents. There are a ton of mother's groups aptly named so, but little or no dad groups.  Many mom groups are dubbed "open" but just the name makes men feel intimidated to join.   A local pre-school advertises having a "Parent of the Day" program where a parent serves as class helper.  Though the woman on the phone referred to this as "Mom of the Day."  Just because mothers are the majority of the participants in these activities, doesn't mean all of them are or that they should be.

I don't think my father changed one diaper of mine when I was a child.  Back then it was never questioned.  Now we know better.  Being a father means getting your fair share of poop diapers and shirts filled with spit up.  It doesn't mean waiting on the side until the kid is old enough to play catch.  A father's influence on his child is one that no daycare or other family member can replace.  I love the bond that my husband and daughter have.  I am confident that she will perform better in school, in a job, have healthy friendships, and have the expectation that men should be nurturing and kind.  This is the first relationship with a man she will have and she will understand what it is like to feel safe and loved.  That she should always feel this way.  And I am aware that there are many things he will teach her or pass down to her that I just can't.  Things that are only a father's place to do so.

Maybe her generation won't face these issues.  Maybe one day in the future no one will be so surprised when fathers actually do things.  All I know is that we are never going to change the current culture if we lower our expectations.  If we keep saying we are looking forward to "stay at home dads" or "fathers as primary caretakers" as being the norm and take no action to make it a reality.  Because for all the fathers out there who don't care, there plenty of fathers who do.  Men like my husband who feel despite anything else they have ever done, their whole reason for living has never mattered more than after becoming a dad.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Time

A sliver of light from the other room shined on her face as I rocked her.  She was playing with my necklace and I could see her features have changed.  My daughter is growing from a baby into a small child.  A child with great curiousity and determination.  Her brow occasionally furrows, lips purse, and mouth contorts into a new shape everyday.  Her nose though, still holds that perfect little silhouette I saw from an early sonogram picture.  The one that so clearly outlined what I knew would be a beautiful, delicate little face.

Throughout my day time seems to move so slow.  I watch the clock tick the minutes by at my desk.  Yet miles away, in my own home, hours are quickly passing.  My daughter masters a new word, a new dance, or surprises my husband with some antic he will show me video of later on.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that moments are passing me by while I’m not with her.  She is progressing at what seems like the speed of light while my adult life slowly creeps from one new thing to the next.  She is fast, new, now.  I am slow, old, later. 

Last week I missed my own deadline of posting my blog on a Monday.   I found myself struggling to find time, mental energy, and a story to be told.  Until I saw my daughter’s inquisitive eyes and felt so humbled by my love that has grown for her and the love between us.  I was so aware in that moment of the time.  The time whizzing by and the fact that other things prevented me from making the time I have carved out to devote to this.  This project that will be unlike my daughter’s childlike whimsy: timeless. 

Right now my readers and I experience these stories every week.  My daughter will not remember a thing I’ve written and only read this as an adult.  I don’t know what she will be like then.  What her beautiful little face will look like.  I just know that by the time she reads the first word I’ll have blinked and she will have become a young woman.  I will reread this particular piece and know from this moment on she kept changing. 

Tomorrow she will wake up, want her bottle immediately and a cuddle in Mommy and Daddy’s bed.  I will spend a few minutes lingering under the sheets, caressing her hair as she watches Sesame Street.  I'll try to preserve every giggle, sound, and smile before I hop into the shower and start my day.  On the train,  I'll write a few thoughts for next week's blog and thumb through the number of pictures on my phone I'll have taken that morning.  Just like the days before there will be different shots of her snuggling in bed, running around the living room, and eating breakfast.  Just like every morning I'll see a little difference in each photo and wonder where the time has gone.  







Thursday, January 19, 2012

Head Case

Last week I got to play "stay at home parent" while my husband went into the office for two days.  Day One I was on the mark.  I got up early, got dressed before my daughter woke up, made us both breakfast, and watched Sesame Street.  We then took a trip to the store for a suprise dinner for Daddy.  It was the most pleasant trip I've ever had with her.  She babbled the entire time while I sped up and down the aisles of Stop n Shop.  There was one point of crankyness quickly stifled by Cheez-its I then had to purchase.  A moment reminiscent of the times I yelled at my mother as a kid for "stealing food" when she did the same thing.

Around lunchtime I forced her into the stroller to run another errand.  While she napped I was able to clean the apartment, do work online and tried out my new Zumba tapes.  I even got a few minutes of sleep after a shower and lunch.  Day One ended with a very happy daughter, happy husband, and a mother feeling like she was on top of things for once.

Day Two as expected, went to hell.  It was raining and I was a bit more tired than usual.   My daughter's nap was short yet I still felt victorious after another completed Zumba workout , the bathroom clean, and laundry in the machine in time for both of us to eat lunch.  I thought I could power through until 6pm but my body started to feel heavy as I zoned out to The Wizards of Waverly Place. 

Determined to push through I initiated a tickle fight.  I moved an inch over and in a flash, my daughter falls off the couch.  I scooped her up and held her tight, rubbing her head while looking into her stunned little face.  Her soft spot is no longer soft right?  What do I do?  Does this equal a trip to the emergency room?  Words like "concusion" and "brain damage" flooded my head so I did what I figured any medical professional would do.  I started quizzing her.
"What does a puppy say?"  This is easy, she will know this.
"Pup!"  Oh God, repitition with a head injury is bad right?  Try again!
"No what does a puppy SAY?"
"Meow"  Oh God, I knocked the logic out of her!  Deep breathe.  Try again.
"No what does a PUPPY say?"
"Ruff ."  That's more high pitched than normal, still sounds like meow. Try something else!!
"Okay, what does a cat say?" 
"Meow"  Ok good, now if she gets the next one I know she'll be fine.
"What does a piggy say?"
"Oink" Whew!  Okay you're brains aren't scrambled, we're good.

I basked in relief for the next few minutes and rewarded her with an episode of The Fresh Beat Band while the guilt poured over me.  I kept thinking how much worse it could've been and how soon my husband would leave me and demand full custody.  I decided I'd break the news after dinner, once I'm confident she can still stack blocks. 

A little later we get ready to pick up Daddy from the train.  Getting her into her car seat I lift her up too quickly, knocking her head on the inside roof of the car.  From the sound of it I knew I wasn't getting off as easy as before.  The pout to end all pouts turns her smile unrecognizable.  She touches her head as tears well in her eyes.  "Oh God!" are the only words I can say to sum up "How could I possibily do this again?!" 

"I'm sorry, Mommy's sorry, you're ok" was the mantra for the next few minutes as I kept kissing her head and hands.  She tried to hold back her tears, swallowed hard and rubbed her eyes.   Impressed by her effort to calm herself, I momentarily think she will end up being a very strong woman.  She then reaches up and gives me a kiss, as if to say, "Its okay Mommy, I forgive you.  I know you're just a hot mess today.  Don't worry, I'll still be able to do math."

Once my husband was finally home I felt a bit safer.  I had survived two potentially harmful head injuries in and dinner was still hot on the table.  The day was almost salvaged until about an hour before bedtime when my neighbor came over.

As she and my husband talked, I see my daughter trying to sit with her feet first on her chair.  Time slows down and there is an invisible pool of jello between her and I preventing me from getting to her before her head smacks against the floor.  Hysterical screams ensue and I'm both shocked and angry that this happend yet a third time today.  My husband grabs her while I shake off my disbeliefe and run for her Cookie Monster ice pack.  We show her how Cookie will give her boo boo kisses and she lets us rub her head. 

I know if I WebMD "three blows to the head in one day"  many scary things will come up so I just stand there trying to breathe and not think about the combination of events.  I wait while my husband soothes her, hoping she will turn and want Mommy at some point. My arms are always eager to heal and with my new growing insecurity, I feel I need some soothing myself.  

Finally her tear stained face looks for me.  I snuggle her into my chest and she lets out a sigh.  We are both exhuasted from today's unplanned lessons on Murphy's Law.  I kiss her cool head and hold her tightly, surprised at how eager I feel to return to work tomorrow.  I'm certain she is feeling the same.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tantrums: The Beginning of The Dark Age

According to Merriam-Webster, a tantrum is defined as "a fit of bad temper."  The origin of the word is unknown, yet it's first known use was in the year 1714.  I'm putting money on a red faced woman, wearing a tight corset, her lovely petticoat tarnished with tiny jelly handprints, being the first person to shout, "Stop it with this....this....tantrum!" along a crowded cobblestone street.

Tantrum has become a primary word in my household as my daughter turns 17 months. She has entered what I'm calling The Dark Age where everything seems to stress her out.  Things she did before with such whimsy and curiosity have now put her over the edge. Anything that displeases her, be it a stuffed toy, a book, or most frequently, her parents, suffer her wrath.

It all started out with some dramatic throwing back of her hands followed by equally pathetic whines.  Funny at first, it somehow turned very ugly very quickly.  I knew I had officially entered the danger zone when I took a dirty piece of food away from her the other day. She let out an ear piercing scream, turned beat red and stomped her feet up and down with her arms flailing.  I looked in disbelief.  I've only seen this behavior in malls and outside toy stores.  Yet here in my kitchen was a child who has now turned me into the parent I formerly pitied.

The arrival of this behavior has kicked my patience to the curb.  I find myself saying, "I'm not down with this tantrum crap," and let my daughter slump down to the floor, stepping over her to continue what I'm doing.  I know this may be a teaching moment. I know I should practice patience and speak to her in the voice of Glinda the Good Witch, but it feels like I'm negotiating with a terrorist.  

If a tantrum were to occur after I've had adequate sleep, a refreshing shower, and breakfast, I'd likely float down beside my screaming cherub and whisk away all her anger with a tussle of her hair.   But this is reality and as a parent I'm never prepared for anything at any given moment.  So when she turns into the beast, I do my best to tame her, being very careful in public not to attract attention and find myself the star of  "Frazzled Unfit Mother Makes Daughter Cry" on You Tube.

Truth is when her head is spinning around, I'm scared of the temporary evil possessing my sweet child.  We could be snuggling and reading a book one minute and then I'm questioning what psychotic being was shacking up in my loins for nine months the next.  My heart breaks and blood boils.  I temporarily shut down from the noise.  My brain can't handle the sound or the visual.  Its like a car alarm going off while you're trying to watch your favorite TV show.  The anticipation of it ending wears on you until you just can't take it anymore and something's got to give.  You either get lucky and hear the "boop boop" of a far away remote or you shut your TV show and remain pissed off.  

Aside from the emotional and physical pain for both me and my daughter, I'm met with utter confusion.  When do I have the, "I know you're frustrated and can't communicate," attitude and when do I pull out the "No means no and cry about it if you have to, I'll be over here," card?  So often the word "no" becomes the most annoying sound to my inner ear, but somehow takes affect.  Other times I succumb to her demands, lose my power position and walk away angry, mad at her for not giving up and myself for giving in. She is smarter than we think she is.  She knows at this very young age how to manipulate us to get her way, leaving us amazed this lesson is learned so young and practically self taught.

Out of all the new parents I know, its comforting that no one else has cracked the code.  We all walk around on eggshells with our anxiety levels high, waiting for a screaming fit to erupt out of no where.  We prepare our ammunition of sippy cups, pacifiers, coloring books, squeeze toys, favored stuffed animals and portable DVD players with numerous Sesame Street videos.  We check our inventory and feel confident.  We look at our spouses, agree that "We got this"  and go about our days ready for a counter attack.

Somewhere up in the heavens, a woman smooths her petticoat.  She smiles down at us as we enter grocery stores, prepare for bed time, and strap in for long car rides.  For she has watched many battles over the past two hundred and ninety eight years.  And she knows exactly who the victor will be every time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012: Ready, set....wait!

After hearing her only say Daddy for months I never thought the day would come, but with one word, my daughter and my entire world of communication has changed.  As New Year's Eve approached she finally mastered saying Mommy.  So clear and crisp, my name now dances on her little tongue, its sound solidifying the invisible bond between us.

With her new found power, she got me to sit with her to watch Babe the movie.  After I dozed off a few times I realized we had been sitting for almost an hour.  She had been sitting for an hour.  On my lap.  Still and silent for a long period of time without the aid of straps or buckles.

Who was this child?  Still a baby in so many ways here were new pieces of her personality coming together as her first calendar year on Earth came to a close.  Little glimpses of the child she is growing into peeking through.  Evidence she is learning everyday.  I was stifled with surprise as the things I'd been wanting to come for months finally arrived. 

The past year I found myself questioning whether or not she would achieve certain milestones. If things like her sleeping and eating patterns would change and of course they all did with time, and with no influence of mine. I can't help it.  Like my daughter, I'm very impatient when it comes to pretty much anything. I'm the speeding hare knowing full well the tortoise is going to beat me at every race. I can't help it. Its who I've always been.  But I'm finding it's clearly not who I can be now.

All of the things I want for 2012 have to do with my need to control things and as a parent, that ability has been stolen along with sleep past 7:30am.    I grew up thinking my parents were adults and thus free to make unlimited choices.  Conversations with my friends this week confirmed how delusional I was.  Everyone seems to be making strategic moves on life's giant chess board.  Some of us are holding off on having more kids because two in daycare will be too expensive.   Some are making home renovations for more space.  Others are looking for new jobs or deciding to stay at current ones because of benefits.   All of us are desperate for more time with our children, with our spouses, and in turn find ourselves just waiting for change.

However, change is result of action isn't it?  All New Year's resolutions are action based.   Heading back to the gym, making more time for ourselves, going to Home Depot to finally fix that creeky step.  The challenge as parents is that what we want to attain and do, aren't a result of action but lack thereof.   I can't buy a house right now.  I can't lose 20lbs by the end of the week.  I can't pay off all of my debt tomorrow.  So what can my resolution be?  Being patient?  Continuing to be slow and steady?  How can being patient and doing less be proactive and yield results?

In the spirit of being like everyone else and developing a resolution, I think 2012 will be the year of my cultural assimilation.  The culture being that of a parent.  2011 was a test and I survived, but as the terrible two's quickly approach I'm going to have to bring my A game.  I'm going to have to stop being "more" of everything and instead focus on being "less."   Less negative when things don't go my way, less of a control freak and eager to turn a tantrum into a teaching moment, less eager to create my life and instead just watch it unfold.  I will be less anxious about the seeds I planted in 2011 and have more faith that they will soon start to bloom on their own.

This time next year I hope to look back at these words and consider how crazy I sounded.  How naive I was as a first time parent and how overcoming parenting obstacles have made me wiser.  My daughter will be so different by then and so will my family.

Perhaps 2012 will bring me the gifts of being comfortable with the unknown, the ability to be patient, and in turn not drive everyone around me insane.  By December I may be pleasantly surprised.  I may find myself the all-knowing tortoise proudly rounding the frazzled hare and everything falling into place.