Who’s Your Mama?

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Who are you as a mother? What do you say? What do you feel like? What idea is most important for you to impart to your kids? Those are completely different questions than these: What are you wearing? What do you look like? Do you have a nanny? Do you work outside the home? Do you buy organic? The second set of questions are pervasive in the mommy social network that we navigate daily. Some of these questions are answered immediately. We see what people are wearing and what they look like. Even if we are the most open and non-judgemental person in the world, our brains instantly take note, and categorize. It’s a deeply wired mechanism that is part of being human. We categorize people in order to make sense of the world and to figure out who we are. (Click here to read about a fascinating study on Social Identity Theory) Every single individual can’t stand on their own pedestal, in their own category. It’s easier for the human brain to separate people into large groups to sort the onslaught of sensory input we receive every day. This is called stereotyping. Yes, we all do it even if we don’t want to.

The place where we can make good is not taking the leap from stereotype to prejudice. We meet a mom, she’s lovely, funny, and unique, but despite our best efforts, our brain will still categorize that new friend somewhere in your brain. You will assign her to a group. Now, if you are truly non-judgmental, it will end there, no harm done. The category you’ve chosen for your new friend stays quietly in your brain. But if you start placing value judgements on her, then you’re moving towards prejudice. No! Don’t go there! Ask those deeper questions I posed above.

One of my main goals for this blog is to break down the barriers that keep moms apart. I want to shine a light on lots of real moms and parenting issues so we can all see how alike we really are, if not in our styles, then in the way that we all use a variety of styles to make up our own unique version of “mom”. That’s what a day in our lives is, a variety show…vaudeville. First there’s the organic steel cut oatmeal act in the morning, drop the kids at school, followed by a quick visit to the salon to fix your roots act, make a conference call while drinking your fifth cup of coffee (it’s not fair-trade, oops!), then grab your reusable shopping bags as you run into the grocery store to pick up a Jack’s frozen pizza (they’re cheap!), then pick up the kids and take them to soccer and German lessons (it’s not over scheduling, it’s enriching!), you alternate between knitting and tweeting while you wait, then run home to cook a vegetarian dinner so the whole family can eat together. It’s so hard to list a mock day for a mom because of the countless variables, but I hope you see the point. A mom makes some decisions that might fall into one category and other decisions that fall into another, sometimes diametrically opposed category. A vegetarian who uses reusable shopping bags, but buys non-organic food (Jack’s Pizza!?) and is concerned with her gray hair, has over scheduled her kids, but still wants to ground them with a family dinner every night. Does she paint her fingernails with non-toxic nail polish from Whole Foods, then paint her toenails with Wet ‘n Wild polish? She may, and that’s okay.

It’s impossible for your whole being (body, mind, actions, and spirit) to fit into one pigeonhole. We can’t fit into any category perfectly, but our brains put people in categories and I guess our brains want them to neatly stay there. Our brains must not want to be challenged by complexity because many mommy brains seem to spew criticism on other moms who either don’t fit into the category of their choice, or stray for some other category. “Her kids are at Waldorf, but I saw her shopping at H&M and looking at Facebook on her phone while her kids played at the park,” sneers one mom to another. Why can’t that mom love an educational institution that upholds nature and storytelling over screens, yet stay in touch with her friends online and take a break from crazy expensive organic, hemp clothing? Why would we say she’s a hypocrite, a sell-out? Because our beautiful, mysterious brains can’t handle too much complexity apparently. And it confuses how we see ourselves. Let’s push our brains to open up and make some room for contradictions, complications, and nuance. Let’s give ourselves more of a break and love ourselves a little more while we’re at it.

A sell-out would be someone who ignored her own true voice and blindly adhered to some category. She’d be selling herself out to a fear. That would be inauthentic. It wouldn’t be her. It would be boring too. Complexity makes us interesting and unique. I’ve talked to moms who’ve told me some of their decisions made them felt guilty. They were calling themselves hypocrites. “How can I be a ‘natural parent’ if I had an epidural?” “I can’t believe I used M&M’s to bribe my son. I could never admit that to the other moms at school.” Like you didn’t have enough to worry about with little Johnny emptying your box of Q-Tips into the toilet and little Katie pooping on the floor? I don’t want any mamas to be wasting their time worrying about whether they are a good “natural parent”, or “tiger mom”, or “attachment parent”. I don’t want any mamas feeling bad because they fed their baby formula right out of the gate.

Motherhood “types” are sometimes clung to with a religious fervor and it’s a bit scary. When you see it, you’ll know, and recognize it for what it is. Fear, masquerading as crazy. So don’t let it make you feel bad. A mom sees your kid with a bag of chocolate covered raisins (refined sugar!) at the park and comes over to offer your child some of her homemade flax seed granola instead. It’s the same as a religious woman proselytizing…highly emotional, subjective, and assumptive. So take that woman’s flax granola and tuck it where you’d tuck a religious pamphlet, then introduce yourself to her and ask her about what she loves to do with her kids. Let’s fight that misguided mama classification fervor with some attempts to reduce prejudice. Psychologists suggest that empathy and compassion can reduce prejudice. Let’s imagine what it’s like for that mom who has a full-time job, three kids, and a husband who works nights. Let’s imagine what it’s like for that mom who is bored out of her mind, competing with other moms at her kids’ private school, and has so much money to spend that shopping has become her only hobby. Compassion means “to suffer with”. Instead of practicing categorization, let’s practice compassion.

Here’s our action item: if our brains need to categorize, let’s make new categories. Here are some ideas: moms whose kids are in my kid’s class, moms who live on the north or south side of town, moms whose kids play with my kids, moms who are from the town you now live in, etc. These categories are less likely to lead to value judgements. Share your ideas! Send me your thoughts.

And before I let you go to pour yourself a coke into your recycled wine glass cup, I want us to remember who really matters in all this. Do our kids care whether or not we’re more crunchy or less crunchy on the crunchy mom spectrum? As a kid, all I knew was that I loved my mom, all my friends loved her, I felt safe, and I felt loved. I have no idea what category other moms put her in. I truly believe kids are oblivious to all that garbage. They just want mom. They know who their mom is. That’s what matters.

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Uncamp

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We are in a Polar Vortex now, yet our park distract just sent out their camp schedule already. I am forced to contemplate how the kids and I will spend our summer. It’s nice to daydream about the long hot days while in an icy prison, but planning camps and activities isn’t quite daydreaming. It’s a bit frustrating.

Last summer, I was astonished to see that the parks were nearly empty wherever we went. Everybody was in camp. My kids had nobody to play with unless I scheduled playdates or sent them to camp. I did a little of both of course, but I have visions of a more unstructured summer. These visions have led me to the idea of an “uncamp”. An uncamp would be parent organized while the kids are younger, but eventually, we’d create a community of like-minded families that would allow their kids a chunk of unstructured time over the summer. Camps are wonderful and the choices of specialties now are impressive, but I think kids also get an education by going out, working together, and engaging with the world on their own terms. When the kids are a bit older our kids can leave after breakfast, jump on their bikes and go explore the neighborhood together. As it stands now, I feel like any kids venturing out in the neighborhood would be sadly riding their bike around alone. Some of my most vivid memories of childhood are of riding bikes around with friends. We explored, rode to the beach, rigged up strange contraptions and pulled each other. I want my kids to have the opportunity to do the same.

So what would this Uncamp look like if I could organize it this summer? Parents would take turns being in charge of a day. It would be fairly stress-free because the time would be unstructured, allowing the kids to exercise their imagination along with their muscles. Possible locations could be the beach, a great park with lots of open field and trees, or a forest preserve. The kids would bring their lunch, a snack, and throw in a rainbow loom for some quiet crafting after lunch. Done. The parent in charge would only be responsible for safety. They wouldn’t need to suggest games or organize activities. That’s the job of a kid. Let them dig in the dirt, make a stick doll, sit on a tree branch and observe the world for 20 minutes, or make up a new version of tag.

So I just need some families who are interested. Let me know what you think. Send me a note and I’ll make it happen. There is no logistical hurdle that we can’t figure out.

Kids Around The World

“Food is expensive?” my four year old asked while watching a Japanese girl shopping with her mom in what is now my new favorite parenting aid. I couldn’t believe that I had somehow missed the opportunity to communicate the expense of food at an earlier date, but clearly any mention of it had escaped her. “Look at that little one helping out!” I cried. I tried to contain my enthusiasm as we watched a two and half year old in Sweden set the table with knives, glasses and porcelin. We were watching a series called “Families of the World” that was produced by PBS in the early 90s. We’ve now watched “Families of India”, “Families of Sweden”, “Families of Thailand”, and “Families of Japan”. I’m completely hooked, and although my girls may pick My Little Pony if they had the choice, they enjoy this series and are completely engaged while watching it.

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Taking your kids to cultural events around town and having friends of different ethnicities is fantastic. My kids and I were invited by our friend/local grocer to his temple for Diwali. It was an awesome experience, but it was just a very small step in the direction of understanding a culture. This series augmented their experience. I never thought I’d give a t.v. show such an endorsement (we don’t even own a t.v.), but this series doesn’t provide kids with a passive experience. You won’t believe the quantity of questions your little ones will be throwing your way while watching a family all lay down on a mat together to sleep for the night, or watching a boy get picked up for school by a water taxi, or a girl serve her fellow classmates their lunch of fish soup, or bathe in a bucket of water, or do an hour of chores before walking to school. All of these children in this series spark questions, that start a discussion, which turns into a rich discussion, that provokes comparison, then compassion, and hopefully moves your kids another step away from ignorance.

So sometimes, just telling your kids about a topic or a concept is not enough. Telling my four-year-old about the expense of food didn’t seem to stick. When she watched another little girl shop and say, “We have to choose our food carefully because it’s very expensive,” it made more of an impression. It was another reminder to me that the old “show and tell” was necessary. I needed a little show to go with the tell. And that show is all around us, as we walk through the neighborhood, not just on PBS.

We all want our kids to be citizens of the world and be prepared to interact with every kind of person, right? I’d like my kids to look at any boy and know that he is a brother. We are all connected. I’d also like my kids to be full of gratitude, understand empathy, and have perspective. If you agree, I know this series will be a great tool to help you educate your kids. This education is a huge undertaking and can easily be forgotten while in the throes of work, homework, and after-school activities, but it’s worth the effort.

Click here http://www.familiesoftheworld.com/ to learn more about the series. I just check out the DVDs from our library, but you can buy them as well.

I Met The Leader Of A Movement

Lenore Skenazy

And I think it’s one of the most important movements of this generation. Will our kids be able to face the challenges of the world if their childhood is bubble wrapped? Isn’t it crazy that a survey reported that 70% or today’s moms played outside every day growing up while only 31% of their children do? Fewer than a third of kids are playing outside these days? What?! Lenore Skenazy’s book, Free Range Kids, systematically breaks down all of our parental fears and explains how our kids need to practice interacting with the world at a much younger age than is the norm of late. Don’t we want a generation of independent and self-reliant kids who will grow up to be confident adults who can solve problems and not look to someone else for the answer?  We need to help get these kids ready to keep this planet on track.

I just heard Lenore speak and even though she is preaching to the choir with me, I heartily enjoyed her humor, reassurances, and call to action. In the above photo she is showing us the inane baby bath water safety duck. Because putting our hand in to test the water is not a good enough gauge of safe temperature. She pointed out that the instructions on the back actually say that an adult should always test the water as well, before putting baby in. What the hell? Another safety gadget to screw with our heads and make us question our good old fashioned common sense and mother’s instinct.

Here a just a few of the many fascinating and inspiring points from her book and articles:

-If you were trying to have your kid abducted and you left them out on the corner, you’d be waiting 750,000 years for it to happen.
-Self-mastery is necessary for self-esteem. Parent assistance is not part of the equation.
-At the age of six, they can make a grilled cheese or pancakes. Our kids are more competent than we think.
-a study found that kids with over controlling parents have higher rates of depression and are less satisfied with life
-In Germany, kids are allowed to walk to the park and hang out their on their own, unsupervised, starting at the age of four. We need don’t need to hover and follow them around at the playground. Why not start leaving them there at the age of six? Is that a good American compromise?
-In other countries, parents think it’s crazy that you’d sit down and play baby games with your kids. They don’t really need us to stimulate them. They can do it just fine on their own.
-Hire the 12 or 13 year-old babysitter. Don’t worry. Not so long ago, and for the majority of time humans have been on this planet, 12 and 13 year olds already had their own babies and the species managed not to die off with this set up.

After Lenore spoke she opened up the floor to questions and comments. Of course one of the moms in audience commented on the horrible judgement she feels from other moms when making parenting decisions. Lenore said that kind of judgement comes from fear. We’re so scared of not being a “good parent”. (A whole chapter in her book speaks to this and does a great job of calming parents down.) It’s suffocating and paralyzing.  Not a good space to come from when we’re trying to parent. So come here to Half Crunchy Mom where I will not judge you if you’re a helicopter parent or a free-range parent, or a commanding parent, or a tired and cranky parent. I know you love your child and you want to do your best. That’s what we all do. I don’t think we’re evil or stupid. No. We’re just trying to do our best.

So if you see a six-year-old playing at the park alone, know that their parent is not evil, they probably just read Free Range Kids. If you see a parent at the park taking away the endlessly morphing and creativity building stick from their child, don’t judge; they are just scared and worried, and want to do their best. Let’s ask ourselves what we can learn from that mom who is different from ourselves. It’s much more productive than judging. We all have made parenting choices that would fall under the free range and helicopter category. What have you tried that is free range? How did it go?

Mmmm Crunchy. How Crunchy Are You?

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I’m crispy apparently. This little quiz is genius! I feel confident that I can interpret “crispy” as the equivalent of what I am calling “half crunchy”. I guess I could have called this blog “Crispy Mom”. Although, if you were in high school in the 90s in Evanston, crispy meant irritated. It went right along with “salty”, which meant you were pretty mad. I don’t want to be thought of as an irritable, angry mom, so Half Crunchy Mom it is.

Take this quick quiz and see where you fall on the scale of crunchiness. Wherever you land, you are welcome here. If you are “crunchier than grape nuts”, I’ll entertain you with stories of my homebirth. If you end up being what the quiz unfortunately calls “jello”, I will share with you my love of disposable diapers and my un-organic skin care regimin.

http://themoralesfamily.us/granola.htm

Let me know what you think of the results!

Volunteering With Kids

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Okay, I’m not going to pretend here. My track record with volunteerism is abysmal. Aside from a few sessions recording my voice reading text books for special needs students, then deciding the timing was not convenient in that it conflicted with my active happy hour pursuits, I haven’t done much. Of course we get a little break after we have kids. We can’t be tutoring a youth while we have a baby hanging off our boob. However, the kids are a bit older and the free pass doesn’t work anymore.The schools are never short on their need for volunteers, so I dabbled in that a bit. But I’ve always imagined doing something like tutoring, or helping in a shelter, something, anything for people who really needed help.  But I didn’t do it. I feel awful about it, but I guess not awful enough to get my butt in gear doing a recurring service for my community.

This brings us to this past weekend. I’m always happy when a volunteer opportunity is handed to me on a platter, but I’m thrilled when that opportunity allows my kids to tag along. Saturday brought us such an opportunity. Our neighborhood school, where my daughter goes to kindergarten, was building raised beds for their vegetable garden and needed some bodies. Kids welcome to dig in the dirt alongside the adults! Perfect! We all loved it. The beds were assembled and screwed together in an hour, filled with dirt in another hour, and ta-da, that feeling of accomplishment. We walked home with our dirty, happy kids for lunch and I wondered what other volunteer opportunities there were  that would allow our little lovelies to join in. Please share. I’d love to know where you’ve helped out with your kids.

I’d love for my kids to grow up doing regular volunteer work so it’s just a part of their lives and they don’t end up debating whether they should visit the convalescent home or go to happy hour.

Half crunch, no crunch, or all crunch

My Hospital Birth My Homebirth

I greet you in the spirit of bringing moms together. Enough with all the derisive blogs and press by and about moms. We hear about attachment parenting, helicopter parenting, free-range kids, breast feeding, bottle babies, and on and on. And nobody from any of those camps seems to appreciate anything about the others. So let’s get real here. No human can strictly fit into one way of being. We aren’t perfect. We have crazy days, we are constantly making quick on-the-go decisions, and we’re complex. We are all moms. That’s it.

Amongst all these definitions and camps of parenting, I realized I’d have to call myself “half crunchy”. I had one of my daughters in the hospital with an epidural, and one of my daughters at home in a rental tub. I bring my own shopping bags to the store and eat mostly vegan, but I still have some leather boots and purses. I started a vegetable garden, but don’t compost. I tried to resist Disney princesses, but that only worked a bit. I nursed both of my daughters for almost two years, but they did not sleep in our bed.

I believe we are all like this. We’re a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And that’s okay. Love it mamas! When you see a Mom at the park talking on her cell phone while her kid is yelling for her to come over and pretend to eat her wood chip pile cupcake, don’t judge. You know you’ve done it too. When you hear a Mom talk about how all her kids clothes are organic cotton and she does her laundry with organic detergent, don’t judge, and don’t feel guilty if you don’t do that. She probably takes her kids to McDonald’s for their birthdays or potty trained by bribing her kids with M&Ms.

All of that is okay! We are all trying to make it though this wonderful, crazy world the best we can. So let’s make our little a world a nicer place by feeling compassion for each other, not judgement.