Bubbles and Beebots

Why Reverse Psychology Works On Vikings

Ah, parenting… that stage of life where you not only have to force yourself to exercise and choke down vegetables, but also convince people far less rational than you to do the same.

Frankly, it’s hard not to give into peer pressure sometimes. Everyone in my house now campaigns for a steady diet of jellybeans and pizza… while I have to pretend that making yet another meal from scratch really does sound better than someone bringing melted cheese to my door.

But I figure the prevention of scurvy and colon cancer is part of my parenting duties, which means talking my kids into eating real food.

At first, I thought my older daughter Brontë was a tough sell. She could be defiant, especially around age 2, and would try refusing meals in favor of starchy snacks until we eventually starved her out…

But I was completely unprepared for Bridget.

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Freaking out after accidentally tying herself up with the front-seat seatbelt

We call her “Bridget the Viking.” She’s a blue-eyed blonde with a face so angelic that her cuteness made the doctors who delivered her gasp.

“I’ve delivered a lot of babies,” one told me, “And always say they’re lovely, even when they’re weird-looking, but she may honestly be the cutest baby I’ve ever seen.”

I was so flattered, having no idea I’d just birthed a Viking.

Bridget has a good heart and an overwhelming zest for living, but she was a lunatic from the start. She kept us up all hours with her berserker rage and was turning over furniture from the moment she started walking. There’s something about an angelic blonde baby throwing end tables across the room with freakish strength that just chills you to the bone.

Bridget’s independent streak borders on the self-destructive. She’ll refuse to do what you told her, simply because you told her to do it. She’d rather take the punishment than give up her options.

Bridget started drinking bottles of hot sauce just because she wasn’t supposed to. People were acting nervous about her tasting them, so her curiosity finally got the better of her… she once ate an entire packet of red peppers because her big sister yelled that she couldn’t do it, and she’s now turned drinking hot sauce into a party trick.

Don’t believe me? My cousin wasn’t sure. Knowing my penchant for hyperbole, she once dropped by my house armed with an extra-spicy bottle of habanero hot sauce covered in warning labels and just… casually… left it on a table to see what Bidgie would do.

Here’s the part we managed to capture:

I mean, what kind of thrill-seeking is this!? How will she keep topping this experience? She’ll be bungee-jumping while snorting moon rocks by the time she’s ten.

But while she’ll literally drink a cup of hot sauce, she won’t sit down to dinner for more than a few seconds before flipping around, impatiently yelling: “DONE!”

Because you’re supposed to sit down to dinner and Bridget’s chiefly motivated to do things she’s not supposed to do. Like work out elaborate schemes to stash chocolate chips in our couch cushions.

Well, having such a challenging kid has taught me a couple of essential truths about human nature. They are:

1) Having something taken away is more motivating than the opportunity to gain something of equal value

I learned this while attempting to manage Bridget’s constant bloodcurdling screaming in the car.

She doesn’t like being in the car, and sometimes we have to be in the car. So I had to listen  to her unfettered Viking berserker screams for months on end. Sometimes, they scrambled my brain so hard that I’m surprised I never hit anything.

I tried everything to stop her: talking her out of it, soothing her, yelling at her, trying to figure out what was wrong, turning on music, giving her a toy… nothing worked.

Until the day I took her toy away and would only give it back when she stopped shrieking. That worked like a charm. The Bridget-screaming-in-the-car phenomenon disappeared for good.

So… the same toy that didn’t make her feel any better when I first offered it to her suddenly became vitally important to not lose. This is human nature: we are more motivated by losing things than gaining something of equal value.

2) We value things more when we have to work hard to get them

Bridget’s inherently suspicious of anything handed to her or expected of her, but loves anything she had to sneak.

I guess it makes sense… A guy who’d stalk a deer for days, in pounding rain and bitter cold, before stashing it’s trophy head above his sofa would probably be disgusted by finding that exact same deer carcass left on his doorstep.

And so it is with Bridget the Viking, who is such a walking embodiment of the forbidden-fruit-tasting-sweeter principle that I finally incorporated it into her training.

I started hiding fruit around the house:

Bananas on the counter where she could barely reach them.

Grapes on plates, just inside the bottom cupboards.

It worked. I’d hear her quietly scooting a step-stool into the kitchen, a muffled rifling through the cabinets, and wild giggling as she made off with a grape.

She’d keep this up for hours, sneaking away whole plates of grapes and bananas that she’d left touched when I’d offered them at breakfast.

And after weeks of all but refusing dinner, she was sneaking into the kitchen last night to swipe bite after bite of the pesto lasagna I left cooling on the counter:

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The Giddy Pleasures of Being Deep in Sin

She was desperate for those bites, straining on the highest tippy-toes she could manage to grab spoonfuls of pesto pasta above her head and balance them all the back to her face. She savored every last one of them as though she’d been starving, rolling her eyes back in her head for several moments before scrambling to nab the next.

Until dinner was finally brought to the table, whereupon she took a couple of bites of pesto pasta before dropping her fork like it was on fire: “DONE!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Parents Keep On Parenting

As many of you know, I recently wrote an article trying to explain baffling parenting behaviors which is currently being reamed throughout the childfree subreddit universe. challengeThe leading criticisms involve my failure to explain what makes children worth all the hassle, despite this never having been my article’s intention.

Well, that sounds an awful lot like a challenge.

And intellectual challenges can be downright fun. Just last month, I wrote an article about how every major American holiday glorifies one of the seven deadly sins and despite being a fan of Disney, I’m currently kicking around the idea of explaining the sick & twisted values many Disney films promote.

Yet picking up this childfree subredditers’ gauntlet will mean trying to explain the inexplicable, rationalize the illogical, and transform the uninitiated via hypothetical vision… this doomed quest probably has about as much chance of succeeding as inventing a mathematical formula for defining love.

Why do I say that?

Because despite all the arguments about needing to replenish the workforce or have someone to take care of you when you’re old, having kids still doesn’t make sense on paper: You put your body through a terrible ordeal, then spend many sleep-deprived years catering to an irrational being who must be constantly fed, soothed, changed, and trained into socially-acceptable behavior while fighting you every step along the way.

It really doesn’t seem like a good deal, right?

I have to imagine many childless people wonder if we secretly regret having children but aren’t allowed to admit it. That would make sense, except… most people who have a baby end up trying to have another one.

Why?

To be honest, most parents don’t need to work the reasons out on paper because they instinctively make sense. We already know we wouldn’t give up our children for anything. The only difficult part is explaining why we feel this way to people who don’t see the point.

But I’m about to give it my very best shot…

1) Because We Don’t Want To End Our Story

Many of the more strident childfree folks think we’re crazy for the pride we take in breeding, considering that every other animal on the planet has been breeding since the dawn of time.

But there’s another way to look at this.

Around 3.7 BILLION years ago, the first bacteria started teeming around dead rocks on a sterile planet. It was a miracle… that delicate bacteria turned into cells which evolved into amoebas who spontaneously mutated into fish, and so on, in an epic Darwinian battle of 10 – 14 million species, 99 % of which are now extinct.

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Every step along the way, from the first vulnerable flash of cells through the lumbering age of dinosaurs, though every geological shift and catastrophic extinction event, every fight for limited resources leaving trillions of disembodied enemies and starved animals in its midst, led to YOU… with your app-filled smartphone and instantaneous drive-through coffee options.

Over billions of years, countless generations fought off neighboring tribes and vicious animals while your foremothers gave birth without any pain relief, facing the potential of dying in unspeakable agony every time. They managed through famines, wars, and droughts. Nature selected the luckiest and best equipped over millions of years, each generation holding onto survival by the skin of its teeth, in hopes of passing along that torch one more time.

Up until you, who could either snuff out that unbroken line like a candle while vegging out to Netflix, or allow your story to keep playing on for thousands of years.

2) Because Looking Into Your Child’s Eyes Explains The Universe

We’re a complex species that’s invented everything from air-conditioning and bullet trains to vaccinations and space ships. We’re so far removed from our primate ancestors that it’s easy to forget we’re all still animals deep down.

That is, until someone who once wasn’t once there looks to you with the kind of ancient recognition that transcends space and time. At that moment, you become a god who doesn’t feel worthy, a flawed human being whose every move, perspective and judgment will affect the mind behind those shining eyes for as long as they’ll recognize anything.

And you’ll spend the rest of your life struggling to wield that overwhelming power in the face of your mortal confusion.

For moments, you realize that underneath the surface, we’re all still the same primordial beings driven by the same primal urges that have dominated everything from mice to giraffes since the very beginning.

Food, fear, love, sex, and death…that’s what it’s all really about.

When cats go into heat, they don’t understand the broader implications of what they’re looking for. They only feel an immediate urge, and why shouldn’t they? Take care of that urge and nature works out the rest.

mama.jpgAnd yet, the moment they have kittens, they collapse into purring, snuggly heaps. They’re not only primed to nurture those kittens, but willing to do anything and everything to protect them despite having no socially-trained biases toward doing the “right” thing. Same with Mama bears. Same with dogs, or wildebeests, or hyenas, or any other mammal on the planet.

Sure, some animals will abandon or even eat their young, but only for specific survival purposes, unless they’re insane. No species that fails to nurture its offspring lasts very long in this epic Darwinian survival battle.

And we’re no different. Whether it’s caring about getting a promotion, trying out the latest mascara, or shelling out our hard-earned cash to buy the latest BMW after noticing the airbrushed beauty in the ad, the grand puppet master beneath the surface remains our overwhelming need to pass on our genes.

The invention of birth control may temporarily obscure this fact, but it’ll smack you square in the face from the first moment you look into your newborn’s eyes.

3) Because Love Matters More Than Money

People with pets live longer than those who don’t have them.

Now, I don’t want to  get off on some tangent at this point, arguing about whether having pets is actually similar to parenting. You could make a good case for pets being easier to deal with and I wouldn’t disagree… you can’t leave kids at home with some food and water while you go out partying with your friends and kids will definitely challenge your authority in much more ingenious and creative ways.

dog baby.jpgBut my question is: why do people choose to have pets at all? You have to clean up their poop while shelling out your hard-earned money to feed them, fix them up when they’re sick, load up on flea-prevention methods and compensate for any damage they caused to your apartment.

So unless your particular pet is literally earning its keep, the math of pet ownership also doesn’t work out on paper. What do you get in return?

Companionship. The belief that you matter to someone, that someone loves you and cares if you ever come home. It’s enough to add years to your life and the same reason Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol is considered a tragic figure, despite having all that wealth.

Now, I realize that many people will still be tempted into making arguments about why cats or dogs are better than children, but that’s not my point. My point is that intangible factors make an enormous difference to our happiness. Even if your dog is awesome, he still represents a net loss of money and freedom.

As do kids.

Yet, people still want them.

4) Because Kids Aren’t “Cool”

And I say that with the utmost respect.

They don’t care about listening to independent bands no one’s heard of and won’t decide whether to like you or not based on your music collection or the stylishness of your clothes. They also won’t be disgusted by your overeagerness to be with them.

Because kids like what they like, unafraid of anyone judging them as they tear off their clothes and scream while running around in wild circles. They’ll unabashedly worship Mickey Mouse and take more delight in chasing bubbles than you’ll probably ever take in anything again in your entire life.

Sure, this disregard for public opinion can be an inconvenient quality, like when kids start throwing spontaneous, epic tantrums about such unbearable oppressions as having to drink water out of cups that are red…

But it also brings a lot of unbridled enthusiasm to the table, because kids don’t yet get the appeal of all-encompassing, world-weary blasé.

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Kids haven’t been burned yet, so they don’t affect quasi-sophistication by keeping others at a distance or automatically assuming everything’s going to end in doom.

Kids don’t understand that running along a beach is free, so you’re not supposed to revel in feeling the sand beneath your feet or giggle about chasing seagulls until they fly away.

Kids appreciate the simple pleasures in life like the amateurs they are, not understanding that anything harder to come by is supposedly better, or that the highest mark of intelligence is a default stance of misery.

What idiots, right? Except that most people are nostalgic for childhood. Whatever reminds them of that time before cynicism sucked their souls into crispy husks remains strangely compelling.

Children help bring that back. They even appreciate you at your very dorkiest.

A joke that bombs with other adults will make your children choke with laughter. My kids find it downright awesome when I make car sounds while pushing them around the grocery store, telling them we’re about to head down “cheese street” for more cheddar. They know all about Cerealopolis and the hidden valley of Cheerios.

It doesn’t matter if I do this in yoga pants with my roots coming in and countless grown-up observers assuming I’ve lost my mind… my kids might randomly grab these judgey strangers while yelling “GROCERY MONSTER,” and I can’t help but chuckle as the unexpected contact makes the grabbed adults go rigid.

My kids help me escape the prison of caring about “cool.” I can appreciate the simple things in life without feeling simple-minded. The ecstasy they feel in just being able to run at full speed toward a squirrel is infectious… and the unclouded observations they bring are profound.

I know that someday my children are bound to have to have problems with my lack of coolness, finding me embarrassing and having issues with my selected style of jeans. It’s because they’ll need to feel independent, having to go through many stages to achieve that end.

And I know I’ll make many mistakes along the way, despite trying my best. And they’ll be angry about them.

But no matter what, on some level they’ll still want my approval.

Because no matter what, they want me to love them. There is no trial period. There is no baseline of hipness for me to satisfy. It was a done deal from the first moment we met.

This is unconditional love in its truest form and I’ll try my very best to be worthy of it.

5) Because They Make Us Better People

While I’m not saying kids are the only way to become a better person, I do think they generally have this effect. Because children teach us at least as much as we teach them…

You learn to be patient.

You learn to value someone else at least as much as yourself.

You learn to have faith in your choices because you’re forced to make decisions even though someone’s bound to criticize your every parenting move. But you can’t just run away, so you learn to deal with it.

Even better, you learn to appreciate deeper layers of your world…

You know how you always notice more details when watching a movie for the second time? Well, watching kids learn about the world is like reviewing life all over again.

And when you consider life, you could just as easily make the same arguments about it not working out to our benefit on paper as you do with having kids.

For what is life, if not an endless series of waking up before we want to and fighting irritatingly slow traffic to get to boring, routine jobs that probably wouldn’t miss us, then coming home to figure out dinner before settling in at night to rinse and repeat?

We get older and older, struggling through fatigue as we watch our bodies break down and our dreams of changing the world elude us. Why not just collectively put our heads in the oven to escape the endless cycle once and for all?

In the end, it’s not the big things that keep us going, but the simple pleasures… something funny that a friend once said. A steaming croissant we once ate on a chilly morning at sunrise. A perspective-changing talk we once had over wine at a moment when we’d almost started believing everyone else was evil.

And kids bring these moments of clarity back. They claim to have just turned into a mermaid, except you blinked and missed it. They try teaching the cat to walk. They ask you where China is and if you’d like to take them there someday.

They bring you out of the world you thought you knew to remind you how it’s all still a mystery.

They’ll make you feel irreplaceable.

Because you are.

In the most unique yet boring ways.

My Childfree Post Hits a Nerve

Stephen King once said that if you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society will be numbered.

And I’m finding his point reassuring as I watch my 5 Points I Want the Childfree to Consider article get shredded across the childfree subreddit community.

I’ve never spent much time on Reddit, to be honest. It’s the virtual Mos Eisley Cantina: a wretched hive of scum and villainy where hacked-off limbs barely rate second glances, a den of anonymous hostility and unbridled trolling…

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“We don’t serve their kind here.”

Still, you can’t help being curious when people are talking about you. It’s gratifying to have written anything interesting enough to warrant its own discussion threads, even if those threads mostly consist of people wanting to kill it with fire.

You need thick skin to speak your truth. But in my case, constantly wondering whether my critics even read the article softened the blow. Defeating my logic might’ve been devastating, yet my critics seemed far more interested in contradicting points I never actually made.

The two most common complaints were that I:

  1. Think everyone should have children because anyone who doesn’t is a bad person, and
  2. Didn’t convince them that parenting is wonderful enough to make them change their minds.

It’s actually quite baffling, since I directly said that choosing not to have children is a  reasonable, respectable choice that society should accept.

And if I’d wanted to talk people into the glories of parenting, I definitely wouldn’t have used public tantrums and the lack of American leave benefits as major selling points…

I’ve always tried to be very honest in my blog, never pretending that every aspect of raising kids is wonderful or that it doesn’t sometimes challenge you to the very limits of your emotional and physical well-being. Yet despite the entire nature of my article being the need for greater empathy on both sides, I’m just left feeling as though I’d sold out the whole parenting experience.

Apparently unable to grasp the idea of neither side being “wrong,” these critical subreddit members seemed more interested in either having their own choices validated or being convinced to change their minds.

And since they don’t understand why anyone would want children, they can’t be talked into reconciliation.

So maybe a different approach would help. In my next article, I’ll try explaining why so many of us believe parenting is worth the hardships.

 

A Followup Childfree Interview at The Rinky-Dink Life

snotHello, gentle readers! Sorry I’ve been out of touch (too out-of-touch to even wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy new Year) but my family came down with a wave of nasty sickness for the past week.

I’m sure other parents will know what I’m talking about, here. We all love our kids to pieces, but they really are walking petri dishes sometimes, what with all the touching and chewing on every random object they see. It’s sink-or-swim challenge to everyone’s immune system, I suppose.

In the meantime, I was contacted by the lovely Brittany at The Rinky-Dink Life for an interview. She writes a fantastic blog about the childfree lifestyle, which made it all the more surprising that she wanted to speak to a mommy blog author!

Apparently, she was intrigued by my last article, 5 Points I Want The Childfree to Consider, and wanted to ask some followup questions. She wrote up the interview here and I encourage you to check it out and leave feedback.  She’s an excellent writer who had many interesting questions and I think starting dialogues between parents and people without children is a great idea.

And I also hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas ( or Hanukkah, or Solstice, or winter break) and a very Happy New Year!

5 Points I Want The Childfree To Consider

childless-peopleI don’t know about you, but to me, it feels like there’s a growing divide in this country between parents and the “childfree.”

The childfree set are tired of hearing they’re selfish and that’s understandable. For centuries, it’s been assumed that all right-thinking women are desperate to have babies and there must be something terribly wrong with those who don’t.

So maybe a backlash was inevitable. Tired of not being taken seriously, many women tried to rebrand their glorified baby-factory image by distancing themselves from motherhood as much as possible.

But frankly, I think some have taken the backlash way too far.

Beyond choosing not to have kids themselves, many now feel entitled to an entirely childfree existence. They scowl at kids on sight, demanding we ban them from airplanes, restaurants, and public life in general.

Don’t parents, they often ask, understand how unbearable it is to have to put up with their snot-nosed brats?

Sometimes they blame the parents themselves, since they’re clearly too narcissistic  and inconsiderate to bring their little monsters to heel. These attitudes were maybe best summed up the viral story about thoughtful parents distributing “I’m sorry” goody bags to their fellow airline passengers (here).

That story was passed around for ages, inevitably followed the kinds of hostile anti-child comments that would easily be considered hate speech if they were spoken against any gender, religion, ethnicity or race.

The crazy thing is, childfree people, I used to more or less think like you do.

After spending my twenties unsure of whether or not I even wanted children, an accidental pregnancy in my thirties catapulted me straight into motherhood.

And since I’ve now been on both sides of this equation, I’d like to share my changed perspective. I’ll start by answering some of the questions I frequently hear bouncing around the childfree set:

 

1–Why must people assume women who don’t want kids are selfish? Isn’t this an outdated idea? I’m tired of people questioning my life choices!

daycareI completely understand. Beyond all the logical reasons you may not want children, it’s infuriating that society still thinks its abnormal while simultaneously thinking it’s natural for men to focus on their careers.

But you know what? The situation doesn’t improve after you have one, because you’ll then be guilt-tripped about what kind of mother you are. Going back to work means you’re materialistic and selfish, whereas staying at home makes you a lazy sell-out.

No one will call the father selfish, by the way, for going back to work.

You, however, will be judged for breastfeeding or using formula (you’re either making people uncomfortable or not trying hard enough), for what you feed your kids (it’s either elitist or unhealthy) and for how quickly you get back into shape (not fast enough).

And by the way, aren’t you going to try for another baby? Don’t you also want a boy/girl?Why not?

Fact is, haters gonna hate. No matter what you do, there will always be judgmental people shaking their heads at all your life choices. It makes them feel better about their own.

2–Why are parents so obsessed with their children, posting so many pictures and acting like bearing offspring is an incredible feat, even though animals have been doing it since the dawn of time?

I-have-a-life.pngConsidering how many people post pictures of their lunch across Facebook, do you really have to ask?

And those folks just made a sandwich. We made PEOPLE.

Let me ask you this: Did you ever grow one of those avocado seeds in elementary school? The kind where you stick toothpicks in the seed, put it in a Dixie cup filled with water, then stash the cup in a window?

I bet that little seed in a Dixie cup was the first thing you looked at every day when you walked into the classroom. You noticed every tiny change and got really excited when it started to split after a couple of weeks. It blew your mind when a little green sprout finally popped up, even though you’d already walked past thousands of fully-grown avocados in your lifetime without giving them a second thought.

But this was different, because this was YOUR seed.

Well, parenting is like that. Except instead of jamming toothpicks into a seed and waiting a couple of weeks to see it sprout, you grow the seed inside your own body for almost a year then nearly kill yourself trying to squeeze it out.

And instead of becoming an avocado, this seed is capable of abstract thought, hilarious responses, and imprinting your identity for life. We probably go overboard, but doesn’t everyone?

Because no matter how many kids you’ve seen before, it’s different when it’s YOUR kid. Kind of like how everyone thinks it’s a big deal when they’re in love, getting a promotion, or receiving a compliment, even though these things happen to millions of other people every day.

 

3–Why don’t parents *do something* about their screaming kids? Don’t they know how grating it is to hear that when you’re trapped in a grocery store/restaurant/on a plane?

crying.jpgYes. Yes we do.

Because we’re standing right next to them, where it’s even louder.

And believe me, if we knew a surefire way to stop it, we would’ve already tried it. On top of listening to painful screaming, we’re also dealing with everyone’s dirty looks and are embarrassed as hell.

If you don’t see us flinching, it’s probably because that screaming kid woke us up 37 times a night for the past 3 months, and we’re currently approaching life with a thousand-yard stare.

But quieting the kid just isn’t that easy.

Very young children aren’t rational beings. They don’t stop yelling whenever we tell them to. Sometimes, they just keep on screaming even after we’ve fed them, changed them, cuddled them, and done everything we could think of to make them shut up.

And using chloroform is frowned upon. We can’t just grab a parachute and jump off the plane. We can’t always exit the grocery store. As much as non-parents like to talk about how leaving would “teach kids a lesson,” most toddlers don’t actually consider the end of a boring errand that big a threat.

Besides, parents need to eat too. If you don’t want our kids screaming in restaurants, then you’ll have to occasionally hear it in the grocery store.

But perhaps you still think it would be more considerate to leave. Well, my kids always started screaming when they got bored, which meant we’d been at the store long enough to really pile up the shopping cart. Leaving would mean abandoning the cart, so store employees would have to put away all of our groceries and we’d still end up going home without any food.

And there’s only so many frozen pizzas a person can eat.

 

4–Why are kids nowadays so entitled? Why can’t parents act like parents instead of being their kids’ friends?

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Because we’re scared. It’s better to have an obnoxious child than be called “abusive.”

Because back in the golden days of yore, there was more of an it-takes-a-village mentality where children were viewed as a collective good and other adults helped out. Discipline was viewed as a necessary evil, since it was understood that children naturally will test your limits, trying to figure out whether or not to take your authority seriously enough to do things they don’t want to do (which includes anything besides running around naked, screaming, throwing things, eating candy, and grabbing everyone’s stuff).

Now, there’s more of an I-shouldn’t-have-to-deal-with-your-kids mentality, coupled with sky-high expectations and the belief that any parenting tool beyond using a reasonable, quiet voice is damaging.

And while I agree that it’s a good thing we’ve put the days of whipping your kid with a switch behind us, experts now say that raising your voice or putting kids into time-outs is cruel. Because it scares them, or makes your love seem conditional, or triggers abandonment fears, or isn’t nurturing their creativity or, for whatever other reason, is damaging their psyches beyond repair.

So, how would you, as a hypothetical “real” parent, handle your screaming kid on an airplane?

And what do you do when that method doesn’t work?

Because it probably won’t. All your tools for creating consequences have been forbidden until the kid is old enough to have an iPhone to take away.

It doesn’t help that we tend to view parenting in terms of personal sacrifice: you’re supposed to ignore all of your own boundaries and needs to make children happy, or else you’re a horrible person. Kids, on the other hand, should never feel uncomfortable or have to put up with petty annoyances, because that would represent a gross violation of their rights.

Just ask your fellow passengers.

5–If a woman chooses to have a baby, why should I, or my employer, bear the brunt of it? Doesn’t demanding parental benefits only make it harder for women to compete in the workforce?

maternityleaveNo, lagging behind the rest of the civilized world makes it harder for women to compete in the workforce.

You see, 50 years ago, most moms stayed at home. Now, most work. The rest of the world seems to get that.

But not us. Despite all of our wealth, the US is the only country in the world besides Papua New Guinea that doesn’t guarantee any paid maternal leave at all. Beyond not allowing moms proper time for recovery and bonding with newborns, this policy also slaps huge financial penalties on families with new kids and pushes many moms out of work.

And if they weren’t pushed out by our lack of maternity leave, ridiculous work hours, and lack of vacation time, the staggering costs of daycare might do the trick. Daycare now costs more than college tuition and is, by the way, highly subsidized in other countries.

Deciding to stay home is fine, but we shouldn’t be forced into it. Wasn’t feminism supposed to be about giving women more choices?

Because while not everyone needs to have kids, someone does (unless we want our species going extinct). We won’t continue having employees and employers unless we do.

Yet instead of viewing this as a collective good, we tell women they should’ve “kept their legs closed” when they start demanding reasonable work/life policies (yes, I’ve actually heard that argument thousands of times).

Many women are forced to take lower-paying, lower-status jobs because they need flexible hours, which contributes heavily to the gender pay gap. Should women really be disproportionately shouldering the economic burdens of childcare like this?

In short, while everyone thinks our society bends over backwards to accommodate children, we actually don’t. It’s a lot of cutesy lip-service drenched in resentment.

And if you don’t think you have to care about this because you don’t have kids, you’re wrong. You may end up having kids one day. Even if you don’t, you’ll still be recognized as female, and therefore as a potential breeder who might inconvenience employers and taxpayers someday. Why invest in you?

And do we really want only non-breeding women to succeed? Or to always have the next generation grow up in relative poverty? Seems evolutionarily  irresponsible to me.

I hope I’ve given everyone some things to think about. I welcome any other ideas, comments, and am even happy to throw down with you, if that’s your style.

Except I really don’t think we should stay on opposite teams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 7 Deadly Holidays

Last week, a friend of mine wished everyone on Facebook a happy Thanksgiving by calling it the “eat whatever you want without feeling guilty” holiday.

She’s right, of course. Officially, Thanksgiving is about being grateful, but we all know the main focus is usually on making a ridiculous amount of food then trying to eat as much as possible.

It’s gluttony, really. One of the seven deadly sins.

Not that I’m against it. Giving into temptation every once in a while helps us build up enough willpower to truly deprive ourselves.

It’s an old idea. The Catholics have a long tradition of  letting loose during the Carnival festive season right before buckling down into all the self-denial of Lent.

Maybe they’re onto something… America may not have a Carnival festival per se, but we DO have 7 major holidays, which just happens to be the same number as the official deadly sins.

Coincidence?

1- Thanksgiving: Gluttony

ckthanksgicing.jpgOfficial purpose: Being grateful for what you already have

I already  covered this one… On Thanksgiving, we’re all supposed to prepare a massive feast involving turkey, cheese-covered green beans, and a variety of seasonal gourds.

We then invite our families over to collectively lay siege to this food pile, not stopping until everyone is sleepy and no one can buckle their pants.

That’s when we break out the pumpkin pie…

2- Halloween: Lust

halloween-socialismOfficial purpose: Making yourself look unappetizing

Traditionally, Halloween is about kids dressing up in scary costumes and going from house to house,collecting candy. So maybe, for kids,  Halloween is about gluttony. They weren’t all that jazzed about eating turkey, after all.

But for adults, it’s the holiday where good taste fashion rules fly out the window. Naughty nurses, naughty witches, and naughty tavern wenches are EVERYWHERE.

It’s the one time of year women feel free to channel their inner dominatrix, parading around in glorified bikinis, weapons, and heavy eyeliner. Ironically enough, this all happens when it’s super cold outside.

3- Christmas: Greed

christmas

Official purpose: Caring about everyone else

Sure, Christmas is about the birth of our savior, trees with pretty lights, traditional songs and family togetherness. It’s lovely.

But who are we kidding? For kids, it’s all about the presents. They dream up wish lists for months, write letters to Santa, and wake up at the crack of dawn on Christmas, hungry to tear into that sweet new pile of toys.

And we parents absolutely break ourselves to make that possible.

4-New Year’s Eve: Sloth

best-funny-new-years-resolutions-2015-memes-6Official purpose: Welcoming the challenges of a whole ‘nother year

NYE is basically a grownup’s holiday that mostly involves going somewhere to sit around and drink until the clock strikes midnight and everyone kisses each other.

I’m gonna argue NYE is all about sloth, because it’s not only the holiday that involves the least work (unless you’re throwing a giant party), but also the one where everyone expects to magically improve their lives.

Yeah, we just cheer for the brand new year, thinking this new year will automatically make great things happen without us having to do anything. Okay, maybe we throw out a New Year’s resolution or two, but we definitely won’t be starting them until tomorrow.

5- Valentine’s Day: Envy

its-valentines-day-batman.pngOfficial purpose: Being grateful for your significant other

This is the holiday where some lucky women receive enormous bouquets of roses at work, in front of all their jealous coworkers, while others wonder why their deadbeat boyfriends/husbands never send them roses at work. Because apparently that guy has gotten a little too comfortable and it’s probably just a matter of time before he stops even bothering to sniff the armpits of his shirts before getting dressed to go out.

This is the day when people in seasoned relationships get to envy the emotional rollercoaster of fresh new relationships, and people in new relationships get to be disappointed when a bunch of dramatic gestures don’t end up leading to an incredibly romantic proposal.

Even worse, single people have to sit around being single while the whole world celebrates being in love. Hearts, chocolates, and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes… it’s the schmoopiest, most in-your-face kind of romantic comedy love propaganda on the planet, designed to remind anyone single just how tragic it is to be alone.

Of course, all those bells and whistles put a lot of pressure on couples. What if you’re exhausted and all you really feel like doing is ordering in a pizza and watching Netflix? This wouldn’t be a problem if you were single. Single people have nothing to prove and can do whatever they want. Lucky bastards…

6- Independence Day: Wrath

4th-july-jokeOfficial purpose: Patriotism

It’s tempting to say the 4th of July is all about Pride, because we Americans are feeling pretty smug about how awesome our country is and how smart we were to hide behind rocks while the British Redcoats lined up with giant X’s on their chest.

But I’m going to go with Wrath instead.

Why? Because the one thing that distinguishes Independence Day is our collective need to watch fireworks.  (Maybe we set them off ourselves, or maybe we go watch a professional show… it depends on how your city ordinances deal with handling explosives).

And while fireworks are beautiful, their thundering noises, flashing lights, and thrilling potential danger have been commemorating the weapons of war since 1777.

That’s right, everyone casually eats watermelon and well-barbecued meats while fondly remembering how we really decimated the British with our musket fire and cannon balls. Cause that’s what we ‘Muricans do to folks who TAX US WITHOUT LETTING US REPRESENT.

You wanna TAX our tea?? Well, we’re gonna THROW IT INTO THE WATER and start DRINKING COFFEE INSTEAD.

You like them apples, England?  How about you guys waltz into your nearest Starbucks, sip some lattes and think about what you did…

7- Easter: Pride

easter.jpgOfficial purpose: Celebrating the resurrection

Admittedly, saying Easter is all about the deadly sin of pride may be a hard sell. But I’ve only got one holiday and one deadly sin left, so I plan to plan to rationalize that square peg into this round hole until my theory completely fits.

So… what about the fact we think we know what we’re doing, even though we’re all  celebrating Christ’s resurrection with a bunch of bunny rabbits and colorful eggs?

Does that seem reasonable to you? That a giant rabbit, who hides baskets of chocolate from children, should be a fitting symbol of our messiah’s return from the dead?

Of course. Because we all know what we’re doing here. Why shouldn’t we call this holiday “Easter,” which comes from the Teutonic fertility goddess “Eostre,” which we celebrate in the Spring with a bunch of fertility symbols, like eggs and rabbits?

Nothing weird about that.

And while we’re on the subject of pride, how about the way we celebrate the holiday by hiding baskets and eggs from little kids. Kids have trouble finding them even when we put them in really obvious places, which makes us feel pretty smart.

Easter, the day we get to feel like geniuses by outwitting a pack of tiny children.

So, am I completely off the mark here? Because I’m basically saying that while we set up these holidays to celebrate the greatest of human virtues, we kind of end up reveling in the worst.

Not that it’s a bad thing. Maybe we need these “safe,” official spaces to get out all our selfishness. Maybe it makes us better people for the rest of the year.

Or maybe we’re inventing new holidays to do it better. I mean, what the heck is Black Friday about, if not our willingness to trample our countrymen to get our hands on a bigger TV?

UPDATE: After reading this post, my blogging buddy Amanda at Just in Queso wrote a hilarious post where she assigned the 7 deadly sins to characters on the show Friends. You should check it out: Sins and Friends.

(And read her other stuff too. It’s really good!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sibling Torture Tactics: Psychological Warfare

My two-year-old daughter Bridget has been trying really hard to talk lately. She goes on long monologues at the dinner table, flinging her arms around and shaking her fist to emphasize her point.

taco cat backwards.jpg
Maybe this was it

Frankly, I have no idea what she’s talking about. Whatever it is, she feels very passionate about it. Something about tacos and cats, which are apparently vital issues within the baby community.

I’m so glad she’s finally learning to talk, though, because she’s been at a major disadvantage when dealing with her big sister Brontë, who is four. Brontë literally talks nonstop from the crack of dawn until I’m tucking her into bed, which must be so intimidating.

Two years is a huge advantage in toddler time. Brontë is bigger and stronger and can reach more, say more, and knows more things. She constantly bosses Bridget around and muscles away her toys whenever my back is turned.

All Bridget can do in response is scream uncontrollably or hit Brontë in the head with a nearby object. And BOTH get her in trouble.

Brontë’s got the home field advantage. She’s even been convincing Bridget she can read. She grabs the bedtime story book when I’m finished and convincingly pretends to read every page to her sister, making up a story while pointing to words.

I didn’t fully grasp her motivations until last week, when Brontë grabbed my clock radio instructions, unfolded them, then walked over to Bridget.

“It says here,” Brontë began, while staring intently at the giant instruction square, “That the bedroom is Brontë’s and Bidgie is just allowed to sleep over.”

Bidgie blinked.

“And number 2,” Brontë pretended to read, “The toys are Brontë’s and Bidgie is not allowed to take them. Number 3 says Bidgie can’t close the door.”

“Psh,” said Bridget.

“I dunno, Bidgie. That’s what it says.”

But Bidgie’s not rolling over without a fight. What she lacks in verbiage, she more than makes up for in sheer bravada.

When Brontë dazzles everyone with adorable stories, for example, Bridget will stun the audience by picking up a bottle of hot sauce and drinking it.

Or, Bridget will aggravate her big sister by wreaking havoc on her pretend world. Like the other day, when Brontë took  Princess Pink Ballerina and the Handsome Prince out for a joyride in the  fantasy pink ballerina car.

The moment Brontë ran away, distracted by something or other, Bridget crept up to the car and replaced the prince with a giant green dinosaur:

dinosaur.jpg
It’s hard to drive with super-short arms

And you’d be surprised by how much attitude Bridget can work into two- or three-word sentences. Yesterday, she had the following conversation with her sister:

Bidgie is sitting in the bathtub when Brontë wanders up…

Brontë: Hi, can I get some candy please?

Bridget (handing her pretend candy): Here!

Brontë: Thank you! This isn’t enough candy though. I come here all the time. Can I get more candy?

Bridget: Buh-bye

Brontë: Can I get some strawberry ice cream?

Bridget: Here.

Brontë: Thanks! Do you have any chocolate ice cream?

Bridget: NO.

Brontë: Can you make some?

Bridget (crossing arms): Buh-bye.

Honestly, I was a little relieved when this conversation ended. I thought it might take a turn down “around the corner fudge is made” street.

That’s such a likely scenario with my kids, I can only assume Bridget didn’t have the goods.

My Daughter’s Mutinous, Stabby Pants

pants.jpgSo, I caught my daughter smacking her own butt this morning while yelling, “BAD! You’re WRONG! You need to STOP IT!”

It was a perplexing situation, one I hoped to better understand. So instead of telling her to cut it out, I tried to uncover what strange manner of 4-year-old psychology had driven her to this desperate point…

Me: Umm… what are you doing? Why are you spanking yourself?

Brontë: I’m NOT. I’m spanking MY PANTS.

Me: I see. Okay… why?

Brontë: Because they won’t do cartwheels and somersaults the way I want them to.

Me: That’s an interesting dilemma.

Brontë: They’re being WRONG pants!

Me: Well… you do realize that *you’re* actually the one that does cartwheels and somersaults, right? And that right now, you’re really just spanking yourself?

Brontë’s eyes got big for a moment before she swiveled around and stomped off, muttering, “DAMN IT, stupid pants!”

As I thought: Don’t laugh don’t laugh don’t laugh don’t laugh… 

Because I really shouldn’t encourage swearing, even when executed perfectly and to hilarious effect.

But I can definitely see why she’d be mad at those pants. First, they mess up her cartwheels and somersaults. Then, they trick her into smacking herself and looking silly in front of her mom.

They were definitely being WRONG pants that deserved everything they got.

Advice for Men: Cracking the Fat Pants Code

look fat.jpgMany guys who have been in long-term relationships will, sooner or later, find themselves staring down the barrel of the following question:

Do these pants make my butt look fat?

According to male comedians, this is a very stressful problem. You’re not sure how to answer this question without either lying or starting a fight. It may even feel like a huge, manipulative bid for forced compliments and you’re not sure how to handle being put in this position.

Well, I’m here to help.

You see, I think what we have here is a male/female communication problem. For whatever reason, men tend to speak directly whereas women deal in subtleties. While you think it’s a loaded question, we’re not actually trying to set you up.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t wrong answers. Here are a few examples, followed by our likely emotional response:

Do these pants make my butt look fat?

 

honey-do-these-pants-make-my-ass-look-fat-no-your-ass-makes-your-ass-look-fat-8f2e4.png
Hardee har har…

1- “No, that bowl of ice cream you scarf down every night makes you look fat.”

(You bastard, calling me fat! What about you cramming down cheeseburgers while you sit on your farty butt playing Call of Duty all day!? How DARE you judge ME? Stupid photoshopped magazine women…)

2- You get all nervous and scared before saying, “Umm… no, umm… you look fine.”

(He didn’t even look! Why is he so freaked out? He obviously thinks I’m a hideous whale and now he’s LYING to me about it. He’s probably lying about EVERYTHING ELSE TOO.)

3- Without even looking, you say “I don’t know. Whatever. I don’t know anything about fashion.”

(This is obviously important to me, yet he can’t take 30 seconds out of his day to give me his honest opinion. Just like how he doesn’t  care about what color we paint the living room. He’s not invested in me or our relationship.)

trap.jpgOkay, so this seems like a trap. No matter whether you say yes, no, or I don’t care, you’re still bound to be wrong.

But here’s the thing: women who ask this question don’t actually want you to evaluate their figure.

See, women’s fashion is infinitely complicated. We’re always trying to strike a delicate balance between looking like we just stepped off a Mormon compound or looking like we charge by the hour.

We want to wear clothes that are flattering, but may not be sure whether we can pull an outfit off, so we want a second opinion. We don’t want to walk outside looking terrible, but also don’t want to be insulted. So…

We don’t ask:

Am I fat?

We ask:

Do these pants make me look fat?

The difference is subtle, yet important. We’re giving you a pants parachute. We’re saying, “Go ahead and tell me if I shouldn’t wear this, but definitely blame it on the pants.”

 

To illustrate, I’d like to share an example of someone answering this question perfectly. Granted, it was a girl, which meant she held a huge advantage in navigating female psychology.

I was attending college in Los Angeles at the time, getting ready for a party. I had put on a silver-sequined skirt and kept studying myself in the mirror, unsure of whether or not it was working for me.

So, I decided to ask my roommate Ellen what she thought…

Me: Ellen, could you please come over here a minute and give me your opinion? I want to wear this skirt to Sara’s party but I’m not sure if it looks good on me or not. What do you think?

Ellen gets a real serious look on her face before walking around me in a circle, carefully evaluating every angle of the skirt.

Ellen: Hmm. Okay, you know what? I HATE that skirt!

Me: Umm.. okay.

Ellen: Because that skirt is doing HORRIBLE things to you. It’s making it look like you have a BIG SQUARE ASS, but you definitely DO NOT HAVE a big square ass, so I’m not sure how it’s doing it.

She walks around me a couple more times.

Ellen (looking angry): You know what? Take off that skirt and give it to me right now!

I take it off, wondering what’s she’s planning on doing next.

Ellen grabs the skirt, marches over to the trash can and chucks it inside. Slamming down the lid, she says, “I NEVER WANT TO SEE THAT SKIRT AGAIN. That skirt was INSULTING YOU. It was taking your nice figure and making it LOOK LIKE ABSOLUTE CRAP.”

And then she stomped off, leaving me giggling while looking for something more flattering to wear.

Now, you see how she did that? She let me know I looked horrible in that skirt and should never, ever wear it out in public, without hurting my feelings one bit. Because she blamed it all on the skirt.

That’s the trick. I hope this helps.

One note of caution, however: I don’t recommend throwing away your significant other’s clothes. This was a bold (though highly entertaining) move that would be too risky for most guys to attempt.

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Living Room

Being a parent teaches you a lot about human psychology. Toddlers, for example, think the world revolves around them.

I’m not trying to be critical here, because this is a normal stage of kid development. It’s not malicious, they just live in a self-focused universe where everything is one giant movie starring them as the main character with everyone else in a supporting role only existing to advance the plot.

Sometimes this causes a breakdown in communication, like when I ask my husband about his day at work and he can’t answer because our four-year-old daughter Brontë keeps interrupting with, “I DIDN’T GO TO WORK, I’VE BEEN PLAYING ALL DAY!”

And sometimes, it can be downright hilarious.

Take, for example, the surreal confusion that recently ensued when our two-year-old daughter Bridget was wandering around the house, looking for me.

It went like this:

Bridget (wandering around): Mommy? Mama?

Brontë (from the next room): I’m not mommy, Bridget. I’m “Brontë.”

Bridget: Mooooooommmmeeeeeee…

Brontë (walking in): I’m NOT mommy. I’M JUST ANOTHER KID.

Bridget (looking around): Mommy?

Brontë (speaking slowly as she puts her hands on Bridget’s shoulders): LISTEN TO ME, Bridget… I’m NOT your mom. I’m your SISTER. My name is “BRONTË.”

Bidgie blinks and Brontë throws her arms in the air before stomping off and grumbling, “HOW does she not know this by now??”

img_3678Brontë was so frustrated by her sister’s cluelessness, she even looked a little scared. Like she was pondering whether or not her baby sister actually had a screw loose.

And when I explained that Bridget was talking to me, Brontë only looked more scared. Like maybe everyone in the house, except her, had lost their mind. Because we were clearly both there for the whole conversation where Bridget couldn’t recognize her own family members, so how is mom not understanding how serious this is?

I couldn’t help laughing, which only made things worse.

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