What I learned about Pansy..er..’Positive’ Parenting

My entire morning was spent calming my child because she intentionally bit herself. Yes. Seriously. She chomped down on her delectable little Tootsie roll of a finger, and then blamed me for it. She blamed and whined and cried and screamed for a solid 15 minutes. And I was powerless to stop it.

I have no idea what transpired over the course of the last week, but my child, my bright, verbal, advanced little angel has turned into a combative, rude, attention-seeking stranger. I am heartbroken. And confused. And pissed that I thought we made it through the ‘Terrible Twos” unscathed.  Clearly, I was mistaken. We are green horned rookies who need all the help we can get.

I have been scouring articles and chapters of books looking for the right way to go about handling the new ‘stage’ in my daughter’s life, because I am clueless. Unbelievably, I can’t seem to find one titled “What to Do When You Are 6 Months Pregnant and Your Two and ¾ Year Old Wakes up One Day Hating Your Guts” (WTF, writers? You’re missing out on a GOLDMINE of an opportunity!) Anyway, all this advice-seeking has succeeded only in making me feel like a parental failure because I do approximately 10% of the ‘right’ things, according to today’s giant trend of ‘Positive Parenting’.

Do you know about Positive Parenting? No? Okay. Here is a role-playing synopsis:

The Xanax Parent

Circumstance: Child happily lights kitchen on fire with flint rock and kindling while mother is in the bathroom. Mother walks out to find her kitchen engulfed in flames and smoke. She removes child from burning structure and quietly says, “Little Jimmy, I know fire is pretty, and it would be really fun for you to watch our kitchen go up in flames, but smoke inhalation is very dangerous to your health, so we can’t do that right now, okay, buddy?”Child screams and punches mother in the eye, causing immediate orbital blindness and swelling. Parent responds: “I know that you are angry right now because you can’t burn our house down, and I understand that you hit me because you needed to show me you are angry. But hitting is painful to mommy. I can understand why you feel frustrated. Let’s go for a walk to the park and get some ice cream.”

Okay, obviously I am exaggerating a hair, but to be honest, I can’t hop on the ‘No Time Out or Raising Your Voice under Any Circumstance” wagon that is currently barreling through modern-day parenting psychology. It is impossible. Sure, it would be super nice for me to calmly, coolly, explain to my babe the ins and outs of why things can’t work her way all the time, and for her to immediately grasp the concept and happily skip away and find a quiet game to amuse herself. But, for us, this magical land of whispers and butterflies doesn’t exist. In our house, if you spit milk in mom’s face, you get a time out because you are old enough to know better, period.

But, reading all this pansy-parenting technique did seep through my skull a teensy bit last night, when my daughter was trying to purchase coloring sheets on an app on my iPhone. Of course, she was frustrated that I had to keep taking the phone and clicking ‘no’ to the purchase and resetting it to the screen she could play with. And I was frustrated by having to stop brushing my teeth fifty times to do so. Then, I it dawned on me that she’s smart enough to learn which app choices she can click on and which she can’t. So, I showed her to steer clear of the pages with the little blue locks on them, and to click the little ‘x’ if she accidentally chooses the wrong one. And guess what?! She did it! And she was so proud of herself. And I was proud of both of us.  Don’t get me wrong, if she had smashed my phone off the ground in frustration, I would have gotten pretty pissed and she would have had a consequence. But, it didn’t come to that, and for the most part, we had a pretty smooth evening.

So, realistically, part of me knows that I will always be that fish wife mother who bellows from the first floor to the third. Maybe I’ll cry right along with my kids when we are having bad days. Maybe I’ll never do consistent discipline as long as I am raising two year old Tasmanian devils. But, I am happy to say that my own application of Positive Parenting, as skewed and off the charts as it may be, is something I can work with for now…along with the grace of God and a little vodka, of course. (Don’t worry. I will wait a few more months for the vodka).

Clearly, she is not lacking in her ability to express herself.

Pregnant, with Guilt.

I’m pooling in guilt. Guilt. Everywhere.

I am guilty of feeling neglectful to both of my children, one of who has yet to even arrive.

I halfheartedly read bedtime stories at night and grit my teeth while my daughter flops around on my lap, pushing the baby sideways inside me. I pray that she drops off to sleep soundlessly, that she does not need my comforting because I can’t wait to lay her down and be able to breathe again. There is little room for her to fit on my lap right now, my guts push into my throat, turning a once savored ritual into nightly torture. And it is only getting worse. I am so uncomfortable, I push her to the side. I keep pushing her aside.

I am running out of room for everything. I am running out of patience. Of endurance. Of time.  I am just running, toward or away from what I don’t know. Rushing, pell-mell, harum-scarum from one thing to the next, and suddenly, I am six months pregnant. Six.

With my first, I celebrated the passing of each week. I counted her kicks, read developmental books religiously, rested my hand on my belly for 90% of the day. I focused on being connected to my pregnancy the ‘right way’. I never laid flat on my back. I purchased every baby-wrap, sling-thing, I read the owner’s manual of her car seat from cover to cover, I inspected my breasts as regular intervals to make sure they were gearing up to do their job. I never bathed in water over ninety degrees. I rolled my car windows up on the highway to seal myself away from harmful vehicle emissions. A moment never passed in which I forgot I was growing a life inside of me. I was a committed pregnant woman.

I am guilty of being too busy to commit to this pregnancy. I am a mom now. I am packing lunches, finding panties, cleaning bath tubs. I am grocery shopping and vacation planning and life living. I am winning small battles of toy-picking-uppage, I am combing through hair lines for ticks, smearing SPF 70 on still-soft skin. I am cooking and cleaning and laundering. I am too pregnant to be the same mom I was before. I am too much of a mom already to be as good at this pregnancy as I was the first. I’m half-assing everything. I am worn. I am worn the fuck out.

I need a remedy for my guilt. I need a serum, an elixir, an answer to why I can’t just be an every-woman. I need this to be over so that I can get our life back to its organized chaos. I am so tired of being this tired mom. I am so tired of being pregnant.

I remember

When I was small, my family vacationed together. Not ‘family’ as in my parents and me. Family as in my entire family. My grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, their children. All of us, packed into three cabins at the edge of Seneca Lake for a week. I was small, I think I was four years old when those three cabins were leveled to make room for condos, when we stopped going together and started vacationing in our own mini-units. I was only four, but I can remember the smell of each of those houses, the shapeless lolling of one muggy day to the next, the slope of our lakefront lawn.

I distinctly remember our caravan on the highway. Pick ups, jeeps, mini vans, packed with fluorescent colored plasticry, floatation devices shoved in the cracks and spaces of a truck bed, sleeping bags whipped up into the air like boat sails, the wary look of passers-by on the highway, stepping on it to get out of the path of potential flying debris. I remember my mother’s voice crackling over the walkie-talkie, at least six of them tuned into the same station, the frequencies stretching between the vehicles – no one had cell phones back then. I remember eating at a diner on the way, the glare of the patrons as they hurried to finish their lunches and get away from our noisy clan. I remember my uncles laughing extra loud to expedite their departure.

There was a floating dock anchored far out in the water. We built a train of rafting women and children, of big toe to finger to big toe again, paddling out to a wooden floating island, where we would lay together and soak in summertime. There was food. A lot of food and sunshine. I collected worn ‘sea’ glass on the rocky shore, gems of smoothed over greens and blues, beer-bottled trash rolled around on the bottom of the lake long enough to turn to treasure for my three year old fingers to find.

There are parts I recall with clarity: smacking my head on the coffee table in the big cabin, the high pitched rush of my aunt’s words debating the need for stitches with my mother. I remember looking up at my father’s face through a foot of water, waiting for him to pluck me out to safety after having jumped from the dock to his arms when he wasn’t looking. I remember being chased and snapped at by an angry mother goose in the parking lot down the road from the ice cream and gift shop when my cousins were ‘watching’ me. I remember the row of saw-shaped teeth on the water monster that was pulled from the depths by the fish commission, and the smell of its rotting scales. I remember falling asleep in my mother’s arms on the screen porch, pinching her cool earlobe between my fingers.

Then there are the things I think I remember, that have been repeated and recounted so many times throughout my life that I swear I was old enough, awake enough, present enough to have witnessed. My favorite of these practiced memories was the night of ghost stories on the lawn. My Uncle John, our family’s consummate trickster, had dressed in all black, walked down the shoreline and snuck into the water, where he waded beneath the docks and waves for yards and yards, creeping toward where they sat.  At the perfect point in a particular ghost story, my uncle charged out of the water, scaring the shit out of everyone, drunk and sober alike. I think he even scared himself a little. Surely my two year old self was sound asleep upstairs in the wooden framed bedroom, but I swear I remember the pitch of his yowl as he lunged from the dark water.

And last weekend, some twenty odd years later, the same family packed up and set off to another lake house. A larger, more opulent lake house, with chandeliers and anti-gravity chairs, a place with a bathroom per bedroom, where leather couches replaced the old, scratchy burlap cushions. This time, my car was packed to the brim with floaties and snack food, forgotten sunscreen and baby monitors, and we sent text messages to communicate addresses and GPS coordinates instead of the old CBs. This time, my two year old was soundly asleep upstairs in our air conditioned bedroom while my husband and I sat lakeside with my family after dark on the patio.

Regardless of the inevitable changes within our clan, with the addition of new children and toddlers and the growing of the on-the-way babies, despite the advanced technologies and luxurious conditions of modern day, one thing stayed the same. The combination of a lake, a long weekend, and my obnoxious family together equals a hell of a lot of fun, no matter how many years have gone by. The only difference was my awareness of the speed of time, of how a vacation for me as a child was an endless stay, and a vacation as an adult is a speck of precious coveted space spent together, gone too fast.

    

Epiphany

I wake, still exhausted.

Mentally, physically, emotionally, exhausted.

Every part of my energy is diverted to somewhere more important.

I think this baby is sucking the words from my fingertips as she grows and grows. She’s storing them for fodder. For later, when she is two like her sister is now, to tangle and weave in a pattern of hilarity and sadness.

My oldest climbs the mountain of comforter and slides down into the bend of my shoulder, to a place she can still fit despite the size of my growing belly.

“I want to keep you, Mommy,” she says to me, begging to stay in our bed for one second longer, to breathe in the pocket of warm cuddled air for one moment more. Every part of me says yes. But I have to drag myself away from my child, on to the day that waits.

I inspect my face in the mirror. Pimples. I am fifteen again. My hormones rage and scratch beneath the surface of my nearly bridled insanity, finding little release, they burst through my skin, scarring me. I look away. Twenty six and pock marked. Yet another indecency chalked up to being pregnant.

I pull on my pencil skirt, wrestle my not-short not-long hair into something passable, find my best stilettos, toss them to the back of my closet, and slip into black flats, plain and ordinary, befitting a pregnant woman. I skip the red lipstick, instead opting for a salve to help my chapped lips. I am thirsty nearly every second of the day.

What I am to you is not real

What I am to you, you do not need

What I am to you is not what you mean to me

You give me miles and miles of mountains

And I’ll ask for the sea.

Damien Rice croons from my car stereo. I am crying. Why am I crying? I force the corners of my mouth downward, tightening the tears inside, and put it in park. My daughter squeezes my neck, thankful for the release of the five point harness in the car seat. She trots off to her day, left knee, right knee, hefting herself to the top of my mother’s steps. She turns and waves to me, I blow her a kiss through the open window, and she catches it in her palm with an open smile. My heart expands with a bottomless love and gratitude, calming me.

My day drags on, its pattern worn into the bob and swivel of my desk chair. I stay on autopilot until 5, when I am free again.

Night time rushes forward, pork is braised, vegetables steamed, ice cream rationed. Bath time comes and goes with little to no fuss, kisses and tickles reign for the last hour of light. Finally, I can rest again. Being a mom is a tricky business. Being a mom with a baby in her belly is trickier

We watch as our next American Idol is kinged. My husband’s fingertips stretch wide across my abdomen. I wonder how long it will last. How long will his hand look so large on my belly? The days are numbered, though they feel endless to me.

His eyes fly open wide. “Did you feel that?! Was that her?! I felt her. I FELT her!” Suddenly, I am washed in awareness, of clarity, understanding that this very moment, the look on his face, this is why I am able to do it. This is why I can clamp my eyes shut, dig my fingernails deep, and hold on through the very high highs and very low lows of the next five and a half months.

As she turns and settles inside of me once more, I fully connect to the reality of our changing family. I am terrible at being pregnant, but I am a ferocious mother. This little bean, this tiny belly baby, she is our newest piece, and together we can finally feel her. She is real.

When it matters, it matters.

Sometimes, my panties get in a knot for reasons that flare on the political side. I am hesitant to say that I am politically educated, because that is a gross understatement. But I know what is right and what is wrong, and if there is a pertinent situation for me to speak my mind, I damn well speak it. Arguably, everything in politics is pertinent to me, I realize this, but I specifically react to situations that represent me, my family, my life, directly.

Luckily, I have not been a victim of job loss due to pregnancy, but I know too many women who have.  Granted, my jobs have not been physical, and they require very little of me in that sense, but that does not mean that every woman has the same luxury. Many women choose to work in physical fields, and they deserve to maintain those jobs regardless of their ‘state’. I came across this post today from Broken Condoms, and immediately read into the movement. I urge you, whether you are pregnant now, have been pregnant in the past, plan to be in the future, or love someone who is pregnant and working, write to your representative and learn about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

 

Dear Congressman Marino,

Few instances arise in my life and work that spurn me to action on a political level, but the support needed for this particular movement is of the most importance to me. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, and an employee. My success in all of these facets hinges on my ability to provide emotionally and financially for my family. I have worked since the legal age in Pennsylvania, uninterrupted, for the entirety of my 26 years. To think that a pregnancy could strip me of the ability to do this is unjust and frankly, unfathomable.

At a time in history when it is common, and in many circumstances necessary, to have both parents in a family working full time, at a time when economic hardships touch both sides of the poverty line, at a time when family is often the last thing left intact, we cannot permit unfair treatment of a valuable resource to our country, the pregnant woman. It is with this in mind that I ask you to wholly support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

As a pregnant working mother, I can say with unmatched certainty that ‘pregnant’ is not synonymous with ‘impaired’. The simple act of carrying a child does not impede our mental faculties, it does not exempt us from our duties of employment, and it does not deter our desire to provide for our families. If we as workers are able to meet the requirements asked of us by our employers, we should be granted the benefit of a full term pregnancy while behind our desk, at the wheel, at the head of the classroom, or wherever our calling lies.

As a mother, worker, and resident in your district, I beg of you: Please support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Kindest Regards

McKenzieR.Haraschak

Awareness

I skittered through a funeral on Monday of a woman I did not know. Her daughter is an acquaintance of mine, not a close friend, but friendly none the less. Briskly, I walked over the matted red carpet, eyes cast downward, hotly aware of the scarcity of familiar faces in the closed room. It smelled of lilies, of every casket I have walked beside in all of my life. The air was heavy, abrupt laughter drifted through the alcove, a sin, a breach of contractual grief. I hugged the dead woman’s daughter, she firmly hugged back. Quiet, resolved to the finality of the day, she dropped my hands and moved along to the next person in line.

I was not part of the funeral procession. I did not know the family, did not have a strong enough connection even to stay for the services. It was borderline inappropriate for me to have attended at all, but I could not stay away. I walked to my car, my heels clicking and wobbling along the broken sidewalk, and climbed into my car.

Later, I sat at my desk and read the obituary of a man who was a client of the company I work for. In seven days, he would have celebrated 48 wedded years with his wife. Seven short days. The thought of this, of being the wife left behind, of having woken up next to the same man for half a century, and suddenly after 47 years, waking alone, shattered me. My gut twisted. Quite plausibly, that could be me, or equally, my husband. I pushed it out of my mind, willing myself to move on with my morning.

That evening, after tucking my daughter in for the night, I sat beside my husband on our couch, together again after a long 12 and a half hour work day. He smelled of the ice rink, of sweat and winter. I breathed him in, finally relaxing. “That woman I told you about?  The really pretty one? I found out that she passed away today. It is so sad.” He said, reaching for my hand. Anxiety grasped my throat. Another one, gone.

I went to bed and dreamed broken dreams, of loss and suffering. I awoke in a sweat, my right arm twisted through the thin black strap of my night dress, the hem sucked around and beneath my bottom leg. I untangled myself and sat up, looked at my husband soundlessly sleeping. I laid my hand on his chest and waited for it to balloon with breath. It did. Relief seeped in to the muscles in my shoulders. Quietly, I walked across the span of our room, checking our balcony for what I don’t know, and crossed the hallway to where Vi lay, sleeping. I placed the same hand on her chest, and waited. She rolled away from me, disturbed by my probing. Mollified, I went back to bed.

In the darkness, listening to the hum of the baby monitor, I realized, it is not death I fear. I am a believer. I am a good soul. I have made peace with the unsavory parts of my past, I have forgiven myself and forgiven others. I lead a peaceful, rich life. I do not fear passing on. It is in the leaving behind where my fear is firmly rooted.

Perhaps it is the concoction of pregnancy hormones that has my mind tilted this way. Perhaps my bringing new life into this world is perfectly congruent with the passing of life. Perhaps it is all very normal. Possibly, it has been this sudden exposure, the repeated assault of the effect of death that has me tied up. Whatever the reason, despite the choking anxiety, I am grateful for this discomfort. It has prompted me to be more aware of my gratefulness. It has reminded me to drink in every drop of life I am given with my family intact, as so many around me can no longer do.

Oh, hello, Sybil! It’s me, Sanity.

I lost my mind on Tuesday night. Our big Announcement Day. The day we went officially public about our pregnancy on our Facebook accounts and on my blog. For a few hours, I was certifiably insane. And my husband will testify.

I sat at home, my iPhone crashing and freezing every few minutes with all of the FB chirps that came through. I felt much loved by all of the kind words, surprised at the outpouring of excitement from people I haven’t seen in years. And then came a text from my husband.

Husband: Look at my book. Okay or no?

Now, if he needed to question whether or not the post was ‘okay’, or ‘no’, chances are that NO it is not ‘okay’. Hesitantly, I clicked on the notification from Steve Haraschak. And there it was.

“This is how men announce pregnancy” linked to a picture of Seth Rogan’s stupid mug in a poster for the movie Knocked Up.

 

And here is where I lost my mind.

 

WHAT A FUCKING ASS. Seriously? Knocked UP?! We TRIED for this baby, you jerk. How can you liken our sweet little seedling to the offspring of some random drunken hookup between a stoner loser and a girl way out of his league? How is this even remotely amusing? How did you not think I would hate this? How do you come UP WITH THIS SHIT?  YOU. ARE. DEAD.

 

On and on my mind reeled for a solid hour until he got home, where he found me reading bedtime stories to Vi. He pensively sat at the base of the rocking chair I sat in, the post having long been erased from the annals of Facebook history, and reached for my right foot to rub. I jerked it out of his hands and spat “I DO NOT feel like getting a foot rub right now.” Calmly, as any lunatic would, I continued reading Mercer Meyer to my oblivious two year old. He sat. He waited. He held his breath. And I continued to steam.

 

After getting the kiddo settled, I stomped downstairs and immediately assaulted the dishes. I scrubbed and banged pots as loud as I could to make damn certain he knew PRECISELY how pissed I was.

 

Husband: “Baby, leave those dishes, I’ll clean them up while you’re in the bath. Come and sit with me for a while.”

 

Verbal response: “No, I will do it now.”

Response in my head: “No, you MONSTER. I do NOT want to sit by you. How can you even SUGGEST such a thing at a time like this? ”

 

After every speck of dust and grime had been scrubbed from my pans and countertops, I huffed in and plopped myself down on the couch a solid three feet away from my husband. He reached for me. I turned away. He scratched my back. I stiffened to his touch. It was as though Charles Manson was trying to win my affection right there in the living room.

 

“McKenzie, I swear to you, I never meant to hurt you. I am an idiot, I thought it was funny. Truly, I never would have posted something that I knew would upset you. I am so sorry.”

 

And then I sobbed. Endlessly. Bottomless crying, wracking my whole body, dry heaving, gasping for breath, snot dangling from my reddened nose. Ugly ass crying. And it continued on for 15 complete minutes. During which time, he held me. Despite the hate I had flung at him, despite knowing that he was completely justified in not apologizing in response. I cried and cried and cried. Not because I was that hurt by the stupid post. It wasn’t very funny, I admit, but it wasn’t particularly gutless either. And certainly it was not worthy of 4 hours of blind anger. It wasn’t worth making my very caring husband feel like total shit. Because he IS the kind of guy who says the perfect thing. He IS sweet, and funny, and considerate, more considerate than any person I know. I cried because I allowed these ridiculous, encompassing hormones to ruin a night, to get so out of control that they hurt me and hurt him. It was shameful. It was embarrassing and terrible. I truly am very sorry, and I hope that I never allow them to escalate to that point again.

 

But. It is a big step up from the fourth week of pregnancy, when I chucked a full bottle of Kiwi Strawberry Gatorade at his head while he sat unsuspectingly on the couch. Cheers to progress!