On the eve of my 14th wedding anniversary, my husband called me selfish, detached, and a bad mother. Well, to be fair, he said I was a good mother 95% of the time, but what I heard was, "You're a bad mother 5% of the time," and that was 5% too much. So, while I may be an ubiquitous mom, apparently 5% of the time (if you ask me, it's way more than that; I think my husband was being generous) I am not such a great ubiquitous mom. And frankly, as I told him, being a mom isn't what or who I am--it's just one of the roles I play on TV. Just like being a teacher is an integral part of what and who I am. As is being a writer, and a friend, and a wife, and a runner. But I am more than the sum of my parts, and so I'm moving on to bigger, scarier, and more honest things. I am more interested in being Jen than in being Mom or being Mrs. Somebody. So maybe one day I'll come back here and that whole concept of Ubiquitous Mom will be more like Ubiquitous Jen: all Jen, all the time! God help those of you who know and love me. It's going to be a brave, new world.
Last night (well, about a year ago of last nights by now), a friend shared a link to photographer Ali Smith's latest project, Momma Love, on my Facebook wall with a note saying, "Saw this and thought of you." While grateful to be aware of such a cool bit of self-published work (that will hopefully and probably get picked up by a publisher or investor), this and other books such as Spending the Holidays with People You Want to Punch in the Throat and I Just Want to Pee Alone, which are written by or feature writing by "fellow" bloggers whose work I have been following for the past few years also serve to make me feel ridiculously "left out."
When I started this blog after my daughter was born, there weren't all that many "mom blogs" out there in cyberspace, or if there were, nobody really knew about them. Then, on June 10, 2010, "Why Having a Toddler is Like Being at a Frat Party" went viral, followed by a deluge of really witty, sarcastic, and frank writers whose blog posts were flooding the internet. I tried to keep up for a while. I followed the advice to sit down and write something every day, to aim to post something new every week. I had dreams that one day something I wrote would go viral, and that suddenly I'd be the next big mom blog. My blog would be featured in articles like "Top 100 Mom Blogs" and Slate magazine would be calling to ask me to write a column, and then Salon would want me to write for them, and then who knows who would be calling. People would follow Ubiquitous Mom on Twitter and I'd create a Ubiquitous Mom Facebook page. That shit would be trademarked, yo. I'd be so prolific, I'd have to publish my essays in a book, maybe even write a "momoir" or heck, a memoir. Maybe I wouldn't get rich off my writing, but I'd be heard. Well, seen. And I'd be wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket called Validation.
I'm a full time teacher, though, so writing every day got subsumed by the need to grade writing every day, and then this happened. My kids needed me, my husband needed me, my students needed me, my friends needed me. I needed exercise, and sleep. My blog evaporated. What sprinkles existed weren't enough to keep the water flowing. The puddles dried up. The well went dry. I couldn't, or wouldn't, or just didn't make time to write. I squeezed out a few things here and there, but the habit didn't stick. I started posts that never got finished, with great titles like "Narrowly Avoiding Death by Minivan" that I will now have to rename (we ended up with the minivan after all).
But the urge to share my thoughts with the world (albeit the very small world who still follows this blog or is forced to read it because I shamelessly self-promote what is probably very bad writing) constantly threatens to break the dam that has been containing all my ideas (I think this metaphor has been beaten to the ground by now), so here's something to bridge the gap (yep, still working the dead metaphor). Maybe my next idea will be as good as this one was.
Growing up, my mother had more than a few rules we had to follow: beds were made first thing in the morning, floors and carpets were vacuumed daily, chores were completed on Saturday mornings, and toys/things were picked up and put away when we were done using them.
My mother was inflexible when it came to these rules, which I found difficult as a child and frustrating as a teenager. I thought she was ridiculous to insist upon vacuuming or swiffering daily (and now find it sad that I don't remember a time before the Swiffer), cleaning up dinner dishes as soon as dinner was over, and doing chores first thing on a Saturday morning, especially when friends were calling to make plans I couldn't join in on until after chores were completed.
Once we'd reached the lucky point in our lives to hire a cleaning person to come biweekly, I thought maybe my mother would relax some of these rules. Instead, I found she was even more insistent upon putting things away and in their places. She cleaned before the cleaning woman came, and to this day uses cleaning day as an excuse to get organized.
Now that I have my own house, I understand the need to be rigid when it comes to cleaning and putting things away. I, too, insist upon beds being made first thing in the morning (even though this currently means I have to make them). I, too, vacuum (almost) daily. I, too, expect dinner dishes to be cleaned up, dishwasher loaded, and pots washed as soon as dinner is over, whether we are entertaining or dining as a family. And I, too, clean before the cleaning lady comes.
I begin to get irritable when too many things have been taken out of their places to be used by various members of our family, whether that means books, toys, computers, or tools. Dog hair is the bane of my existence. Clutter makes me cranky. I am compelled to clean and straighten, to a fault: I have been known to put glasses still in use into the dishwasher, or throw away things we need, such as the year I threw away shopping bags from Christmas that had cash gifts still hidden in them among the folds of tissue paper. (And yes, I did dig through the trash to reclaim the gifts.)
My husband and I often joke about my having O.C.D., but when is behavior compulsive, and when is it simply neatness? Was my mother a victim of a disorder, or just insistent on cleanliness and order? Is my behavior compulsive, or necessary? Most days, I feel compelled to pick up anything out of place before I can sit down and relax. I wish I could ignore the books, crayons, newspapers, and toys strewn about the living room. I can't understand (and sometimes am jealous of) the way the other people in my house can take the time to step around or over objects in their way without bothering to pick them up and move them somewhere (or preferably, move them not just somewhere but where they actually belong).
So, my only hope is to follow in my mother's footsteps and enlist my children and spouse as allies in the war on clutter. Ella helps me empty the dishwasher in the morning before we leave for school. She is learning to make her own bed. She clears her dishes from the table when she is finished eating. And Ben is already learning to put things away, albeit not often in the right places. And my husband, realizing the difficulty in finding things when they aren't where they are supposed to be in a house full of too many things belonging to too many different people, has become less resistant to, almost a proponent of the "put it away when you are done with it, not two days later" philosophy I've worked hard to get my family to adopt.
As my son's first birthday looms, I've been been thinking a lot about how excited I am to be heading into the "second stage" of breastfeeding. Now that he's not only eating, but heartily enjoying, all solid foods, it's no longer necessary to pump at work, and he's so interested in the world around him that nursing is no longer the only way to comfort him. In fact, the older he gets, the more tricks I've needed to keep up my sleeve in order to calm him down, get him to sleep, or keep him busy. As happy as I am that breastfeeding is now so simple and "easy," I also miss the early months when I could count on a breast to soothe his cries or put him to sleep. And, as happy as I am to welcome a little more freedom, I am equally frustrated by the waning support an extended breastfeeding (EBF) relationship gets--from family members, friends, and the general public.
Anyone who's ever breastfed past six months, in public, or at all, will tell you they've been asked "How long are you going to keep breastfeeding?" This question has a negative connotation by its very nature, and often leaves even the most committed moms feeling at the very best, angry or annoyed--and at the worst, somehow ashamed of their choice to feed their baby what nature intended. Because somehow, even well into the second decade of the 21st century, breastfeeding is not yet seen as the default choice--the expected choice.
While I have seen a shift in attitudes in the five years since I first breastfed my daughter, it is still unsettling how little the general public--including moms still breastfeeding their under-one-year-olds--knows about the benefits and ease of breastfeeding beyond that first year, aka "you're STILL nursing?!?"
When my daughter was born, I knew almost from the beginning that I wouldn't be rushing to wean her from the breast just because she "could" drink other milk. After it took us nearly four months to establish a comfortable breastfeeding relationship due to oversupply, hyperactive letdown, plugged ducts, mastitis, and the general awkwardness and lack of knowledge that many first-time moms have with breastfeeding, I was convinced I would let the kid nurse until she was ready to stop, dammit! Once she'd turned one, I had a few fleeting thoughts of regret that I hadn't capitalized on the "she doesn't know any better, and if she does, at least she can't verbalize it" time for weaning (aka around one year of age), because the older she got, the more adamant she was about needing to nurse. Granted, the older she got, the more I was able to request that she only nurse in the privacy of our own home, and then only at designated times (first thing in the morning, before/after a nap, before bed, in the middle of the night). I'd be lying if I didn't admit to a few anxious nights sitting up late reading Mothering Your Nursing Toddler and How Weaning Happens, looking for clues as to how to gently suggest to my approaching-two-year-old that maybe she didn't need to nurse anymore.
The funny thing was, the more I read, the more convinced I was of the negative effects forceful weaning might have, not just on my daughter, but on myself as well. While I was somewhat skeptical about my comfort level with breastfeeding a four-year-old, I knew if I couldn't positively reinforce my daughter's own desire to wean earlier, then I would nurse a four-year-old. By the time my daughter turned two, she was only nursing once a day, for a few minutes, first thing in the morning--a nice, comforting snuggle in Mommy and Daddy's bed before setting off on another day of joyously independent exploration and play. The day we moved into our new house was the last day my daughter nursed, and it was a happy parting for both of us.
When our son was born, I wondered what my daughter, would think about my nursing relationship with him. The true test of how "successfully" she weaned was coming, and I just hoped the outcome was positive. At first, she expressed no remorse that she wasn't the one being nursed; in fact, she was ecstatic to copy my behaviors by "nursing" her own baby dolls and carrying them around in makeshift slings. Then, gradually, she started regressing. First, she wanted to be "wrapped up like a baby"--so we swaddled her in a blanket and pretended to rock her to sleep. Then, she wanted to pretend to drink out of a bottle. Finally, one day, she said it: "I really wish I could have ba [breast milk]."
Luckily, a gentle reminder that breast milk is for babies was all it took for her to happily return to playing with her dolls. Later that week, she pressed the issue again when she stated how much she missed being able to nurse. I contemplated telling her she could, if she wanted to...but I could tell from the look in her eye (playful, coy) that she was just testing me. Instead, I swooped her onto my lap in a cradle hold and rocked her back and forth, cooing in her ear, "you'll always be my baby, my baby..."
She giggled, tolerating me for a minute (and reveling in every minute, I'm sure), then pushed off my lap and went on her merry way. Some days, it's hard to imagine she'll be in kindergarten in the fall...others, it seems she's just about ready for high school. Although sometimes the days were slow to pass, the years have flown past in an instant. And since our son is most likely the last child we'll have, I'll count myself lucky to get to enjoy an extended breastfeeding relationship with him, no matter what the critics may have to say about it.
Once upon a time, we stayed in touch with family and friends by getting together. As families and friends started living farther away from each other, the phone had to suffice. Then, time became more scarce and email became more prevalent. With the advent of "smart" phones, we began texting. And then, finally, there was Facebook.
All of these things--phones, email, text messages, social media sites--have been designed to make "staying in touch" easier, faster, better. So why do we feel so alone? And why is it, the more we know about our friends (via places like Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus), the less we actually learn these things firsthand? Or, is it firsthand if it's a status update and you're reading it?
I have never been one to eschew technology. I embraced texting on my phone and couldn't wait to get a smartphone so that I could have it "all" at my fingertips. The day I got my iPhone was better than Christmas, birthday, and graduation rolled into one. But when I recently sent out an email inviting twelve friends over to hang out, and got five responses--no, not five positive responses--five TOTAL responses--I had to ask myself, "Where did everybody go?" Because this, you see, seems to be the norm in my life, and I suspect, others as well. Invitations are sent via email, Facebook Events, Evite, or, pity the thought, the USPS, and if the party planner is lucky, 50% of the guests will bother to respond either way. I am guilty of this as well; I don't preach from a guilt-free pulpit. My daughter has been invited to birthday parties I have "forgotten" to RSVP to. Our family has received invitations to holiday parties and weddings we could not attend and so therefore did not RSVP to. I consistently receive Facebook and Evite invitations that barely register in my conscious mind.
And yet, somehow, it feels like I am the only one feeling shunned by this behavior--this habit--of not acknowledging that someone, a real flesh and blood person, has explicitly and specifically reached out in hopes of cultivating a real-life gathering of real-life people. First, it was the phone. I would call friends to say hello, check in on their lives, and share something from mine. Instead of a phone call back, I'd get a text: "Thanks for ur call, all good here, how r u?" Then, I started tossing emails into cyberspace, never to see the boomerang again. Finally, I resorted to "poking" friends on Facebook, sometimes to enjoy getting "poked" back. Now, if I want to know how or where somebody is, I need to check the Facebook news feed. If I am lucky, I can send an email to a friend via Facebook and actually get a response. If that doesn't work, then posting on someone's Wall usually does.
It doesn't feel like enough. I miss my friends. I miss feeling like I actually know something that the whole world didn't find out first because I hadn't had a chance to check Facebook all day. I miss getting phone calls from friends, even though I mostly know they don't call because they are trying to be polite and not call too late at night, or during the dinner-bath-bed rush that most weeknights consist of. Maybe they've even stopped calling because I was guilty of not returning too many phone calls myself (if they were after 8 pm, then probably). Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but talking on the phone feels like the best replacement to actually being in the same room with someone, since we're all too busy or too far apart to make that happen on a regular basis. And, well, if you happened to be in the same room with me recently, then you should know just how much I treasured that opportunity.