I wrote a guest post for the Criminal Element blog about where my fascination with obituaries comes from and I thought it would be fun to share it HERE.
They’re also doing a sweepstakes for a free copy of my book, THE GOOD BYLINE!
R.I.P. (Read in Peace)
If we are friends in real life and/or on any social media, you probably know by now that I’ve written a novel. You know this because I’ve talked and/or posted about it a lot. (Sorry – contractual obligation of the job.)
What you may or may not know is that the main character in my book is obsessed with obituaries. She reads the obits from eight different newspapers every day, culling through each one looking for the illuminating details of a life well lived. For Riley, this is a way to live vicariously through other people because she isn’t exactly setting the world on fire herself. And for me, the writer, the obituary page is the perfect place to find potential victims— it is a murder mystery after all.
So I end up spending a lot of time thinking about obituaries. I read books about obituaries, I subscribe to obituary websites, I cruise obituary message boards (yes, they exist!), and of course, I read the obituaries from multiple sources. If it sounds morbid to you, you’re reading the wrong obits. A well-written obituary is about life in all its fullness. And perhaps most importantly, what can be learned from that life.
However, I have noticed an unusual side effect from all of this obituary-thought. When it comes time to say goodbye to something in my life – even if it’s just a thing or something conceptual – I start thinking in obit terms. For example, my favorite white Moto leggings that recently came out of the dryer covered in a mysterious blue ink – they are dead to me now. Do these once beloved pants not deserve a final farewell? Or what about the blue and green melamine plates that I’ve had since my children were little. I recently had to euthanize them (read: chuck them in the trash because I’m pretty sure they were giving off toxic fumes), but I mourned their passing because in their non-toxic heyday they were a part of the fabric of our lives.
Be honest with me: Have you ever taken a moment of reflection upon saying goodbye to something that isn’t, strictly speaking, alive? Of course you have! You’re not made of stone! A cherished stuffed polar bear that got lost in your last move? Your new Betsey Johnson heels that the puppy chewed up? Your favorite ratty old Tri Delta Triple Play T-shirt that your spouse cut up and now uses to clean the windows on his car? Or even something less tangible like your teenage metabolism. I don’t know a soul over the age of 35 who doesn’t mourn the passing of that.
I guess it sounds a little weird and maybe it’s just because I have obituaries on the brain, but as I prepare to say goodbye to a part of myself that I must let go, I’ve decided to give it a proper send off. I’m talking about my modesty. (And no, not that kind of modesty – that kind died during childbirth. I mean seriously, there were 14 people in the room.) I’m talking about my Midwestern, aw-shucks, bragging-is-verboten sensibility that one must stomp out in the month leading up to one’s debut book launch.
This may seem kind of specific, but my writer friends out there will understand. And so will my salespeople friends. And so will anyone who has ever had try to market anything. Self-promotion can feel super douchey, but it is a necessary evil. And to be fair, it really isn’t so much “evil” as it is “business,” which to an artist can seem like the same thing— but that’s a subject for another post.
Jill Orr’s sense of modesty, dead at 43.
Jill Orr’s sense of modesty grew organically out of her midwestern roots, fueled by her mother’s inability to accept praise and her father’s habit of taking at least partial credit for “all the good stuff.” Being a terribly average child, Jill’s sense of modesty was infrequently tested. One notable exception occurred when she won an elementary school contest to guess the weight of a giant pumpkin. The prize was the great pumpkin itself, and all modesty flew out the window as she proudly displayed the spoils of her superior guesswork on her front porch. The universe, in the form of teenage vandals who came by two nights later and smashed the pumpkin to smithereens, taught Jill’s modesty the importance of staying firmly in place.
In her teenage years, Jill’s modesty was influenced by the typical adolescent features of social anxiety, acne, and a habit of taking herself far too seriously. This toxic combination brought her modesty to the edge of self-doubt, but a wealth of good friends, some mild academic success, and good old fashioned aging, pulled it back where it belonged— that sweet spot between timidity and arrogance.
Eventually Jill settled in mid-Missouri where modesty is prized almost above all else, and it is here where she honed phrases like, “It’s not that big of a deal,” and started telling people the sales price of clothing they complimented her on, “It was only like $14.99 on sale!” There was one unfortunate moment in 1997, when while at a party Jill was talking about this particular sensibility and meant to say the word “self-deprecating” but what she actually said was “self-defecating.” It took her years to attempt the phrase in public again.
In the years that followed, Jill’s modesty found a perfect home alongside her husband Jimmy, who has never accepted a compliment without immediately discounting it. Some of his favorite refrains are, “If Jill ever sobers up, she’ll probably leave me!” – a two pronged denigration – and, when talking about his golf game, “I’d have to improve to get to terrible.”
Jill’s sense of modesty was alive and well until it encountered an opposing force that proved too much: promotion of her debut novel. It is incumbent upon all authors, particularly first time authors with no celebrity, to “get the word out” about their upcoming books. This can take the form of, among other things, too-frequent Facebook posts, notifying people of personal appearances, alerts that your novel is now available for pre-order, and asking for reviews on Goodreads. It also involves showcasing only the good, never the bad, which flies in the face of everything modesty stands for.
In the end, Jill’s sense of modesty succumbed to self-promotion one month before her novel’s release. It is survived by loquacity, excitability, neuroticism, and militant optimism –which incidentally, Jill’s author friends say, are exactly what it takes to survive your first book launch.
Every generation of teenagers has their own slang. Adults aren’t meant to understand it, and in fact, that is the whole point. We chose language in part to express our identity and since teenagers naturally want to create an identity separate from that of their parents, they use different words, expressions, and phrases. It helps create distance and establish boundaries. . . blah, blah, blah. I get it; we all get it. But if you’re anything like me, you still want to know what the hell your kids are talking about.
So in pursuit of this lofty goal of understanding (and nothing at all to do with being desperate to connect with my increasingly independent children) I am going to attempt to decode the latest* teenage slang. I recently saw a similar segment on the Today Show, and when I asked my 15-year-old son if these words were used by teenagers IRL (in real life), he said, “Mom, you shouldn’t get all your information about teenagers from the Today Show.” To which I replied, “Well, they are my only source because SOMEONE doesn’t want to share his innermost thoughts and feelings with me.” And then he ran out of the room so fast he left a little trail of smoke behind him.
I want to be clear that the fallout from this will not be pretty. The moment my children read this, I will be dead to them. And not “dead” in the cool way (see #3 below)- dead in the “I have never seen this woman before” and “Drop me off three blocks from school” way. But that is a risk I am willing to take. Plus, I kind of love embarrassing my kids. Maybe it’s because it’s so easy, or maybe it’s because my very existence embarrasses them, so I figure why not lean into it? Either way, I consider it one of the rewards of parenting teenagers and those can be few and far between. So without further ado (and by ado, I mean rambling justification), here are the 10 of the most current slang words teenagers are using.
- Lit: This is how the kids say something is great. Example: “My Mom, Jill Orr, is so lit.”
- Stay woke: Originally the term “stay woke” was a warning to be hypervigilant in the face of racial and social injustice. However, when teens use it these days, it is often used ironically or as a joke to be aware of something that poses no real threat. Example: “Fletcher’s mom is decoding teen slang on her blog this month. Stay woke!”
- Dead: When something is so funny/cool/surprising that one “dies” of laughter/envy/embarrassment. Often used in text communication. Example: Ellie’s mom just told me to ‘stay woke’. *DEAD*
- GOAT: This is an acronym, used in written and verbal communication, meaning Greatest of All Time. Example: My mom is the GOAT.
- Squad goals: When your friend group has something that everyone else admires. Often used as a caption for a picture on Instagram or Twitter. Example: A mom might write #squadgoals below a picture of her with her other mom friends if they are out past 8pm on a weeknight for a non-kid related event. But considering my son’s high school recently had a “squad goals” day, I’m guessing this term is on its way to the teenage dumpster.
- Fam: Do not expect your kids to describe you as their fam. Forget that you have provided them with food, clothing, and shelter for their entire lives. Their fam is made up of their very closest friends, their inner circle, and does not generally include anyone who lives in their home. . . no matter how many times you tell them that makes no sense and that other kids would kill to call you their fam because you are super cool.
- Thirsty: Do not offer up a glass of milk if you hear your kids or their friends say someone is “thirsty.” When used by a teen, this means desperate, or overeager. Example: A certain middle-aged woman might be called “thirsty” if she tries to use teenage slang as a way to relate to her kids.
- Smh: Abbreviation for “shaking my head” to convey disbelief in the face of stupidity. Used in written communication, usually text. Example: My mom won’t stop calling herself a GOAT. *Smh*
- Slay: To do something really well. Example: I am really slaying this article on teenage slang.
- Throw shade: To voice disapproval. Example: Fletcher and Ellie will throw some serious shade on their Mom after reading this article even though it was super lit. (Oh yeah, that’s a twofer. Slayed it! Hundo P! [Bonus word: that means 100%].)
*Please note that I am writing this in December of 2016, even though it will not appear in print until February of 2017, so there is a high probability that these terms have already gone the way of other disgraced teen slang terms like: bae, on fleek, and YOLO. Apparently, the only people using these words are ten- year-old-boys on Instagram and adults having a midlife crisis.
- Did you know that the average puppy pees 1,257 times per day?
- Did you know that it takes the average puppy approximately 25 minutes to walk ten feet on a leash?
- You must never take your eyes off of a puppy for even a moment or else they will pee, poop, or chew up something that is important to you.
- You will want to invest in Visine or some other eye lubricant before bringing home your new puppy because you must watch him or her all the time (see above) and that means ALL THE TIME. You must never blink. If you blink, the puppy will pee, poop, and/or chew up something that is important to you.
- Did you know that if you take your eyes off the prize (the “prize” in this scenario, ironically, is your new puppy) and your puppy pees, poops, or chews up something important to you – you will have taught the puppy that it’s okay to do so?
- Did you know that the average puppy drinks water like a Snuffleupagus in both style and quantity?
- Did you know that it will take your new puppy approximately 1.7 seconds to completely destroy your average throw pillow?
- Did you know s/he can destroy a pair of Lululemon pants in half that time?
- You will want to rid your house and your person of anything that can be seen as a chew toy by your new puppy, for instance draperies, shag rugs, shoelaces, belts, necklaces, chair legs, fingers, toes, noses, etc.
- New puppies need a lot of love and attention. Please do not plan to go more than 30 consecutive seconds without thinking about or interacting with your new puppy. This will be seen as a sign of neglect and will be met with extreme displeasure.
- Did you know puppies show their extreme displeasure by peeing, pooping, or chewing up something that is important to you?
- Did you know that while it will take your new puppy three days to walk to the end of your driveway on a leash, if you take the leash off, your new puppy will speed to the top of your street in 4.6 seconds?
- Please plan to spend an average of 45 minutes outside during each potty break with your new puppy. Note: When you combine this with the 4x/day feeding schedule, this process of feeding/pottying becomes essentially confluent, so plan to abandon everyday tasks like doing the dishes, vacuuming, folding laundry, cooking, eating a meal with your family, showering, etc.
- Did you know your new puppy is 1000 times more likely to growl at your mother-in-law than the shady doormail coupon delivery guy?
- You will want to avoid having one of your children bring home a contagious stomach virus from school while you’re training your new puppy. This is likely to really test your limits on dealing with bodily fluids.
- You will also want to avoid trying to write your second novel while you have a new puppy at home. Your new puppy will not respect the process. (You should, however, have the requisite time it takes to complete a blog post during your new puppy’s 7.5 minute nap. Whoops – my time is up!)
**Every four years, I try to get this guy in the running. Could this be his year?**
Most people would agree that the current candidate landscape for the 2016 presidential election leaves something to be desired. No matter your political leanings, most of us find the major party candidates lacking in some way. We want Hillary to be more transparent. We want Trump to be less of a bully. We want Hillary to be more open with the press. We want Trump to recognize the inherent value of women, minorities, and people who are not exclusively straight, wealthy, Christian, gun-owning, white dudes. But as Trump himself said by way of his convention song: You can’t always get what you want.
It can be a little demoralizing. So sometimes when I need a break from the election coverage, I’ll cruise the channels until I find something less move-to-Canaday. Recently, I settled on Looney Tunes, and as I watched Wile E. Coyote (Carnivorous Vulgaris) launch yet another attack on the Roadrunner, it occurred to me that Mr. Coyote might be exactly what this country needs. After all, he is clever, determined, creative, and has an unparalleled ability to focus on the task at hand. It was like a cartoon light bulb flashed above my head as I thought, “What if Wile E. Coyote threw his hat into the ring?” Everyone talks about how we need a political outsider who hasn’t been corrupted by Washington. And I ask you, who is more of a political outsider than Mr. Wile E. Coyote?
Like Trump (Narcissist Inegns), Wile E. eschews social and political norms and lives life on his terms. Like Hillary (Femina Manipularius), he works his tail off – sometimes literally – in pursuit of his goals. But this scrappy, lovable, underdog (Canis Lupis Inferius) has a few tricks up his sleeve that neither of the current candidates can match. If Wile E. were to become the next President of the United States, we could look forward to a few key changes:
- Revitalized Defense Contracting. Mr. Coyote definitely has some sort of in with the Acme Corporation. Their catalog is filled with exciting and outside the box weaponry that could really add some pizzazz to our military arsenal. They have Dehydrated Boulders, Giant Magnets, Earthquake Pills, Oversized Rubberbands, Spring Rocket Shoes, Building Disintegrators, and Giant Sling Shots (take that, North Korea!). Plus, their turn around time is second to none.
- Superior Problem Solving. Wile E. Coyote has a long tradition of coming up with creative strategies to solve problems. To be fair, so far he’s only had the one problem with the bird, but still. His resourcefulness, if applied to domestic and international issues, could completely revolutionize the way the United States approaches a number of vexing problems. Think, for example, the effect that Wile E.’s long established tactic of painting tunnels on the side of mountains could have on our border problem?
- Taxpayer Savings. No fancy suits or lavish dinner parties required for this guy. His strict clothing optional policy and limited diet would translate into saving untold dollars over the course of his term in office.
- Self-Proclaimed Super Genius. Okay, on this point he is even with Trump.
- Transparency. Private servers and email scandals would be a thing of the past if Wile E. Coyote took office. Under his administration, Mr. Coyote’s ears would tell the American public everything we need to know. Straight up: Things are good. Straight down: Things are bad. Burned to a crisp: Things are really, really bad.
- No Useless Rhetoric. Wile E. Coyote communicates largely through short messages scrawled on craggy wooden signs. Americans could depend on Mr. Coyote to be direct, succinct, and to the point. And wouldn’t that be a refreshing change? If nothing else, it would certainly make for fewer awkward debate moments.
- Likability. This is the most superficial, yet oddly essential, qualification that the electorate demands when selecting the future Leader of the Free World. And here Wile E. Coyote has it on lock. Who doesn’t love him? That impish grin, those bushy brows, the way he snickers manically to himself when he thinks he’s come up with a good plan? Charming! His appeal transcends party lines. From the staunchest right wing zealot to the farthest left leaning liberal – everybody roots for Wile E. Coyote to silence that smug “meep-meep,” once and for all. Never mind that his success rate is zero percent, his approval rating would be through the roof.
- Never Say Die Attitude. It’s going to take more than a sluggish economy, astronomical debt, racial unrest, and impending environmental doom to rattle this coyote’s cage. He has proven, time and time again, that he will not back down in the face of insurmountable odds, no matter what the personal risk. Here’s a guy who has been blown up, smashed to smithereens, gored, flattened, shattered, burned, cut in two, and fallen off countless cliffs ending in a puff of smoke, only to rise from the ashes to try, try again. (Actually, on like this point he’s not unlike Hillary.)
- Grit. Wile E. Coyote has it in spades. He has literally never succeeded at any of his plans, but has he given up? Has he closed-up shop and developed a taste for chicken? Nope. He keeps on trying. He continually comes up with new ways to attack the problem, despite the ever-shrinking odds that he will actually be able to realize his dream. And given the current political climate, this may be his single best qualification for the next President of the United States.
So what do you think? Should we start a write-in campaign?
For years, I’ve asked my kids the same uninspired question when I pick them up from school: How was your day? And for years, they’ve answered with the same uninspired answer: Fine. In fact, we’ve been round and round on this so many times that last year my daughter begged me to please stop asking how her day was because, “It makes me want to scream. No offense or anything, Mom.” Okay, fair enough. No offense taken. That question wasn’t pulling its weight anyway.
I needed a better way to get at what exactly was going on with my kids at school and more importantly how it made them feel. (I am big into how things make my kids feel, much to their continued aggravation.) So I, like any good parent in the digital age, turned to the Internet for advice. And the Internet heeded my call! When I typed in “how to ask kids about their school day,” Google showed me list after list of questions I could ask my kids that, Google promised, would really get them talking. These questions would be the key that would unlock the secret world of my children’s innermost hopes and dreams. They would make our bond stronger, our love deeper, and bring us closer together than ever before. I wanted the key to that world! I wanted to be closer than ever before!
So I read article after article and synthesized the information to create one super list. And I got in my car and drove to school ready to be transported inside their teenage brains. I have transcribed the conversation that followed:
- What did you eat for lunch?
Why? What’d you hear?
- Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
Um, no. This is middle school. Nobody does anything super nice for anyone.
- What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
Didn’t I just answer that?
- Who made you smile today?
Mom, are you okay?
- Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse?
Is this for a new book your writing?
- Did anyone push your buttons today?
Other than you?
- Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet?
Why? What’d you hear?
- Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
I thought we weren’t supposed to gossip?
- What challenged you today?
- When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
That joke about this conversation was pretty good.
- Tell me about a new word you heard at school today.
Why? What’d you hear?
- What new fact did you learn today?
Time is relative. For example, this car ride home- while technically only five minutes long- feels like an eternity.
- If aliens came to school and beamed up three kids, who do you wish they would take?
Seriously Mom, are you having some sort of crisis? Should we call Dad?
- Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today.
Why? What’d you hear?
- What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
The bus schedule.
As you can see, the conversation didn’t give me any special insight into their world. Or take our bond to new heights. Or bring us closer together. At one point, my daughter faked being asleep to avoid answering any more questions. But it did get us talking— granted, mostly about how weird I was— but still. We talked, we laughed, we made fun of me, and then we all went inside and had a snack. And I figure that’s better than nothing. . . and certainly better than “fine.”
Because I am both lazy and an opportunistic multitasker, I like to work on my parenting skills while doing something decidedly more fun, like watching a movie. Movies are way better than hours of self-reflection. And who needs to spend time agonizing over how to impart good values to our children when Hollywood has already done it for us?
In perhaps the most perfect movie of the 1980s (which is saying something since it’s the decade that brought us Weird Science, Die Hard, and The Goonies), The Princess Bride offers parents all the information we need to raise competent, well-adjusted, thieves, pirates, and princesses. Here are ten of the best pearls of wisdom and how to adapt them into your parenting routine.
- “Who said life was fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.”
Granted, this bit of advice has been a parenting mainstay since the beginning of time (or at least since the beginning of whining), but it remains relevant today. Because it’s true. Life isn’t fair. And fairness is overrated anyway. Next time your kid bites you, take the opportunity to point that out.
- “You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.”
Never has a generation been more invested in the concept of immediacy than the kids we are raising now. Instant gratification has become the norm. But patience is a virtue (another pearl of wisdom gleaned from pop culture – thank you Trix Rabbit!), and kids need to know that there are things worth waiting for. Like love and success and a really good marinara sauce.
- “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”
When the day comes that you have to look into your child’s eyes and explain to them a painful loss, these words will come in handy. Whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs, the idea that love transcends all is universally comforting.
- “When I was your age, television was called books.”
To update this for today’s world, you can say, “When I was your age, texting was called actually talking to people.” Or something like that. This quote illustrates how every generation feels like the next is being ruined by technology, and how they are both wrong— and right— about that.
- “Rodents of unusual size? I don’t think they exist.”
Westley says this a moment before he is mauled by, you guessed it, a rodent of unusual size. This illustrates why you should teach your children to expect the unexpected. It is also a handy thing to remember when you are in Mexico. Ever seen a capybara? I have, and it haunts my nightmares. . .
- “Cynics are simply thwarted romantics.”
I think this is true. Behind every cynical snipe or jab, is a person who has been hurt and is afraid of being hurt again. Knowing this may help heal your romantic’s soft heart, or help your cynic become more self-aware. Either way, it bears repeating because everyone lands on one side of this equation or the other. Often times, both, depending on how well-fed, well-rested, and well-chocolated one is at the moment.
- “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Inigo Montoya says this to Vizzini when he keeps using the word “inconceivable” to describe things that are completely conceivable. Today, we can use this comment when our kids say “literally.” When a person under the age of 21 uses the word literally, it literally never means literally.
- “Get used to disappointment.”
This is another parenting mainstay, but one that bears repeating. If there is one problem I see over and over again in children today, it’s that they have no capacity for disappointment. This is because we, as parents, shield our kids from disappointment like it is an incoming Tomahawk missile. Medals for everyone? No keeping score? Let’s not pick a winner? Please. When we take away disappointment we also take away the hunger for achievement. It’s ridiculous. It isn’t fun to watch our kids be disappointed, but it is absolutely essential to raising a human being who doesn’t feel entitled. And I promise you, there is no greater disappointment than getting out into the world and realizing you are not the brightest star in the sky, as you were led to believe your whole life.
- “There’s not a lot of money in the revenge business.”
This is my personal favorite. (Mostly because Inigo Montoya says it in his fetching Spanish-tinged-with-Jewish-New-York accent.) But if there is one thing I hope I’ve taught my kids, it’s that old adage about how holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die. Which leads me to my last piece of advice. . .
- “Never go in against a Sicilian where death is on the line.”
I’m not exactly sure what parenting application this has, it just seems like good, solid advice.
The other night my 13 year-old son told me I wasn’t cool. He didn’t say it in a mean way, it was more like he was just stating the obvious. You are not a platypus. You are not the Queen of England. You are not cool. I was wounded. Here is the conversation that followed:
Me: What are you talking about? I’m pretty cool! (I gesture to my gray Chuck Taylor’s as evidence.)
Son: Well, you’re cool for a mom…
Me: Cool for a mom? What does that even mean?
Son: Like, if you went to a Mom party, all the other moms would talk to you and stuff.
Me: And if I went to a “regular” party?
Son: (pauses, then eyes fill with pity) Well…
Apparently, a pair of Chuck Taylor’s does not a Cool Mom make.
As much as my pride demanded an argument, after I thought about it for a moment, I realized he was right. First of all, anyone who thinks about whether or not they are cool, is most definitely not. Secondly, if I’m being honest, I never was all that cool to begin with- and I’m sure aging hasn’t done me any favors. Thirdly, and perhaps most telling, is that I’d rather go to a party filled with moms than almost any other sort of party in the whole world.
Embracing my epic uncoolness, however damaging to my ego, has had one unexpected fringe benefit. I think it actually makes me a better parent. I realize that don’t want to be the mom who thinks she’s just one of the gang, like Amy Poehler in Mean Girls. That is just sad. And more than sad, it is monumentally unfair. If I’m busy trying to be my children’s friend, then I’m sleeping on the job of being their mother. I know there are people out there who will disagree with me, but I think trying to be friends with your kids, at least while they’re young, does them a huge disservice.
Kids need structure and friends don’t provide structure. When is the last time you’ve made your friend go to the bathroom before she gets in the car for an hour? Or reminded her she will have to pay for her next cracked iPhone screen? Or screeched at her, “Because I said so – that’s why!” (Note: If you do this, you are mothering your friends and you should seek help immediately.) They may not know it, but our kids crave limits and boundaries; it makes them feel safe.
In addition, being overly close with your child can be confusing to them when in adolescence they begin the process of individuating from us. Children need to separate a little from their parents in order to grow and gain a sense of who they are, independent of us. Kids who aren’t able to do this, maybe because they feel guilty or simply don’t want to hurt their friend-parents’ feelings, can struggle in adulthood with decision-making and anxiety. And is there anything less cool than a 25 year-old who can’t pick out a tie without calling their mom for help?
It isn’t that I don’t want my kids to like me. Because I actually do. More than I care to admit. It’s just that that is not as important to me as churning out a person who will grow up to become a happy, healthy, productive member of society. After all, that is the job description under the heading, Parent. And the heartbreaking paradox of the job is that if you do it well, your kids won’t need you anymore. But maybe, hopefully, even though they don’t need you, they will still want to have you around. Even if you’re not cool.
I’m committing one of the cardinal sins of writing by basing this entire essay on a cliché, but here goes: Motherhood changes you. The thing is, clichés become clichés for a reason. And the truth is that the experience of becoming a mother, whether by nature or nurture, impacts a woman in fundamental and profound ways. It also affects a woman in superficial and trivial ways. It isn’t that you become an entirely different person the moment you hold your newborn baby in your arms, but I do believe the experience is a universally transformative one.
It is also a knife that cuts both ways. Because some of the changes you undergo when you become a mom are good ones; others, not so much. Never is this more apparent than when a new mother is in the company of an old more experienced mother. Us old seasoned mothers love nothing more than laughing at observing the ways our formerly childless friends transform from free and easy, up for anything, let’s-eat-at-8 women into sleep deprived, over-analytical, was-that-apple-you-gave-Billy-organic-locally-sourced-non-GMO-and-cruelty-free mothers. We love this because we’ve been there. And we too were mocked by the old bags wise women who came before us who rolled their eyes at our bath thermometers and bottle warmers. And they were mocked by their elders for using disposable diapers and seatbelts. It’s the circle of life.
Every new generation of mothers make changes that seem crazy to the ones who’ve gone before. But there are a few constant changes, if you will, in the experience of becoming Mom that persist regardless of the latest parenting trends.
Changes to Your Body
I will never forget when I went to see my OB/Gyn after the birth of my first child. I, with the wide-eyed innocence of a first-time mother, asked her when I could expect to lose that little pouch of fatty skin over my c-section scar. My doctor, herself the mother of four, looked at me with a perfect mixture of compassion and pity (and maybe a soupcon of amusement) and said, “Oh honey, that won’t ever away. That is yours to keep.” At the time, I thought she was wrong. I’d diet and exercise and eventually the only bodily evidence that I’d had another human being living inside my abdomen would be a tiny pink scar. Thirteen years later, I know she was right. That pouch ain’t ever going away, and no amount of yoga or gluten-free cake is going to change that. Be it a c-section pouch, disappearing waistline, saggy boobs, melasma, stretch marks, or all of the above, having a baby leaves an indelible impact on our bodies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good trade. But still. Still.
Changes to Your Level of Paranoia
The moment you realize that you are the first line of defense for another life form, the world becomes a much scarier place. Sharp corners, uneven pavement, hot plates, treadless socks, top-heavy children – they all become ER visits waiting to happen. You’ve heard of people who see the as glass half-empty? Well, new mothers see the glass as half-full. Of poison. And sitting too close to the edge.
Changes to Your Relationship with Control
One of my favorite examples of new motherhood is when my dear friend came to visit me from St. Louis with her newborn son for the day. In addition to the arsenal of baby supplies she brought to my house, she also packed a tiny Tupperware full of her own dishwashing liquid. You see, she felt she had to use her own soap because she feared mine might contain – well, I really don’t know what she thought it might contain – but whatever it was, it was far too dangerous to wash her son’s bottles with. This happens to you with your first child. You love them so much that you want to do everything within your control to make sure they are safe. So the scope of “everything within your control” widens to epic proportions. You over think. You obsess. You try to manipulate everything that comes in contact with your little one to make sure it will result in the optimal combination of health and happiness. You, in short, become a control freak. I’ve seen even the most laid back, hippie chicks fall victim to this mindset. And they’re the worst because they don’t think they’re controlling, “but could you just please make sure Susie doesn’t have any gluten or red dye No.4 at the party –it makes her irritable. Oh, and we use a positive reinforcement parenting model so if she accidentally bites your kid try talking her through what she’s feeling.”
Changes to Your Clock
Sleeping late now means anything past 6:30am. And if your phone rings at 10pm, you immediately ask, “Who is calling so late?”
Changes to Your Sex Drive
As a mother of a newborn you already have one needy creature who is all over you all the time. Your excitement about another such creature is, generally speaking, low.
Changes to the Way You Talk
Even though you have a master’s degree in linguistics, you refer to yourself in third person. You say the word potty. You talk for your infant daughter. You rhyme everything. The words you cannot rhyme, you add “ie” to the end of. Your voice is so high that only bats and coyotes can hear you. You give nicknames to all food including, but not limited to: nanners, noodlies, chick-chick, wawa, and num num sketti.
Changes to What You Think Constitutes Interesting Conversation
You used to talk about campaign finance reform and the mounting national debt, but these days you are more likely to be found discussing the color, size, shape, and frequency of poops. Here is a reality check, new mommies: this is not interesting conversation to anyone, with the possible exception of your child’s pediatrician. The same goes for discussions of sleep schedules, attachment parenting, feeding habits, nipple shields, episiotomies, potty training, and/or boogars.
The good news is that most of these changes settle with time. Eventually, you loosen up, regain your normal speech patterns, and stay out past 11pm. And the best part is that in the end, you’re left with the kinds of changes you actually want: A heart that is infinitely bigger than it was before. Patience that you didn’t know you were capable of. An amount of love and joy that you never knew was possible.
And stretch marks. Those are yours to keep.
When I was recently asked to write an article for a magazine about mothers in the workplace, I immediately thought: No, I’m not going to write about that. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, I don’t really work. With the exception of this column and the odd freelance article, I haven’t held a paying job in 13 years. (Yes, I know that being a mother is work. More on that later.) The second reason, and the more important one, is that I am a big fat chicken and really don’t like to write about controversial topics – and I’ve always thought of working vs. stay-at-home mothers as a controversial topic.
But the truth is that it isn’t really. Not anymore. Like coconut water and Kimye, I think the so-called “Mommy Wars” have been hyped up by the media and have little to do with real people’s lives. Maybe there was once a rift between the two factions back in the 1980s when the workplace was just opening up to professional women, but we live in a different world today. Thankfully we have options as mothers, and while we may not have shattered the glass ceiling yet, we have certainly shattered the glass umbilical cord. (Um, wait. No, that’s not a thing. That’s gross. You know what I mean though, right?) We have shattered the theory that women must stay in the home and raise the children while the father goes off to work. In today’s world, the debate of whether to work or stay home is more likely to go on inside a woman’s own mind than play out in any kind of public forum.
Most, if not all, of the women I know feel no animosity toward other mothers because they work outside the home or because they don’t. Over the past 13 years, I’ve talked to hundreds of mothers and not a single one has ever said anything disparaging about a mom on the “other side” just because she is on the “other side.” We might disagree about sleep schedules, formula vs. breast milk, and the number of acceptable days in a row one can wear yoga pants– but these issues have nothing to do with employment status. In the end, I think we all want to feel fulfilled in our daily lives, and no one much cares if you find your bliss in the boardroom or in the playroom.
The decision to work or not for moms is often a financial one, but not always. Some mothers work because they have to, some because they want to, and many because of a complex equation of the two, the product of which is then multiplied to the power of Guilt. It can feel like a lose-lose-lose situation. If you stay home, you lose the opportunity to build your career; if you go to work, you miss out on special moments with your child; and if you don’t have a choice, you feel utterly trapped.
So maybe the whole Mommy Wars discussion should be less about working vs. stay at home mothers, and more about how our culture still hasn’t adequately responded to the reality that roughly 70% of women with children are working. Instead of a hyped up decades old argument, maybe we should start a frank discussion about the dismal maternity leave policies, lack of affordable childcare options, and the paucity of support for mothers in the workplace? Maybe we should talk about introducing public policies that aid women who make the difficult choice to put their working lives on hold to raise children? Maybe we should be discussing the insanity that a working mother makes 73 cents on a similarly qualified man’s dollar?
These are subjects I think all mothers, and a good number of other people, would agree are worthy of public debate. This pre-fab construct of pitting mothers against mothers diverts attention from the real and serious issues facing so many of us as we are busy, you know, proliferating the human race. So maybe what we need instead of the Mommy Wars is a Mommy Revolution?
(Oh, look! I guess it wasn’t so hard to write about a controversial subject after all.)