On Behalf of My Daughter

Yesterday, I was at the mall doing a bit of back-to-school shopping for myself and as I was browsing the racks and simultaneously chatting with my 14 month old daughter, two of the saleswomen at the store noticed her pigtails and pink shoes and exclaimed, “Why aren’t you adorable? Hi, cutie!” I prompted Louisa to say hi, and she smiled shyly, and then I continued looking through the rack of blouses. The saleswomen kept chatting with one another, remarking, “Oh, doesn’t she make you want to have another?” To which I found myself smiling, because, yes, for my husband and I, our daughter does make us want to have another baby. But then, their conversation continued and I felt my inner mama-rage set in…

“Oh, but girls are so hard. I’d take five boys before I’d have another girl,” one of the women commented. “Ugh, I know. Girls…” I gritted my teeth and quickly pushed my daughter’s stroller out of earshot and to the other side of the store.

Can I tell you that I can’t even count how many times another woman, another mother has said that same thing to me–in front of my daughter? Boys are so much easier. I don’t want girls–they’re way too hard.

I know that most of the women saying this are not ill-intentioned, and I’m sure, they love their daughters, nieces, and granddaughters just as much as their sons, but I cannot tell you how maddening these comments are as the mother of a young girl. And how it boggles my mind that it is socially acceptable to say this to me (as a proud mama) and in front of my daughter…

We live in a world where most families still prefer sons, where in some countries daughters are given up (or worse) just because of their gender, and one in which women still have to fight for equal pay and recognition for doing the same work as a man. I worry that, although women’s rights are so vastly different than a century ago, our daughters will still grow up in a society where they will be up against double-standards. I worry that if our daughters hear from the very beginning–from other women–that they are more difficult or not wanted as much as boys, aren’t we setting them up to already have to prove themselves otherwise? Aren’t we already setting the stage for negativity and low self-esteem issues that many young girls battle?

And why are they more difficult? Maybe it’s that some studies show that girls are often more verbal at a younger age and so start voicing their opinions and ideas before their male counterparts? Is it because of what we foresee as the scary teenage years–the years in which they will be potentially moody and hormonal, and struggle with friendships and body image, and possibly sexual relationships? What about boys–shouldn’t we worry about those same things for our sons?

I honestly don’t know what it is that makes us say these things about our daughters, but as the mom to a strong-willed, curious, funny little girl (and an aunt to some pretty strong-willed, curious, funny boys), I don’t want my daughter to ever think she is less than. And so I write this plea to think twice before making what might seem like a harmless comment, on behalf of my daughter.

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Year One: What I learned about mothering, working, and co-parenting

It’s been quite a long time since my last post. Since November, I’ve returned to work as an instructional coach, done work in Denver as a math consultant for 10 days–using both of my school vacations, traveled to attend the NCTM Annual Conference as well as a few teacher workshops. During the school year, I started working with a colleague who joined the coaching team this year (yay!), found myself working on being more direct, and crying a few times when the work-life balance seemed to get the best of me.

This isn’t even touching on all the learning and loving I’ve done as a still new mom and wife. So before I start (hopefully) blogging about the current events in my life as a mom and educator, here are a few things I’ve learned in Year One as a full-time working-outside-the-home new mom:

Leaving our children while we work is harder on us than it is them. While it makes my heart hurt whenever my daughter cries as I leave for the day, I notice that the crying always stops before I close the kitchen door behind me. Some have called it “mommy-guilt”, but for me it’s a genuine wish to be there with her each day–not wanting to miss the majority of her awake hours each day and miss seeing her explore and excite in her ever-expanding world. I am lucky that for rolling over, my husband caught it on his iPhone and she started walking on a Saturday:)

Having a supportive community at work is HUGE. I am lucky enough to work at a school where even the co-directors are new parents. One of the other instructional coaches and I were pregnant together and still love to drop by each other’s offices for updates on our little ones. Another colleague with whom I’m good friends, had her twins two months after Louisa was born and returned to work a few months after me. It was cathartic to share with her some of the ups and downs of returning to work, and share with her the mom-envy we sometimes had of our stay-at-home husbands. I’m not saying non-new-parents aren’t supportive, but that it helps tremendously to have others to talk with who understand my intense desire to talk about my daughter’s sleeping and eating habits.

Being a parent does change my perspective (a bit) on classrooms and teaching. I used to HATE when people would tell me that my not being a parent put me at a disadvantage as a teacher. I would still never say that to one of my colleagues, because I still think I did some of my best teaching and learning way before I even thought of becoming a parent. However, I do think being a parent has added a new dimension to how I view classrooms and instruction. I really notice whether the children in a classroom are valued and loved as people first, if they are seen and heard. I watch how teachers interact with and talk about their students and imagine my daughter in their care for thirty-plus hours a week. I find myself pulling my Teaching Children to Care off the shelf more and more frequently (and will be pulling it out again to reread as a parent)–thank you Ruth Sidney Charney!

Just like the students in our classrooms, each of us as mothers is different. My sister and best friend are both pregnant right now (and mothers already to some pretty adorable boys) and my dear friend and sister-in-law just gave birth to her beautiful son two weeks ago. I cherish each of my phone calls, texting “conversations”, and visits with them, as they help me cope with all of the uncertainty and celebrate all of the milestones of the past 13 months. But, we each have our own stories, our own struggles and what makes me cry, makes one of them laugh, what is important to me is irrelevant to them…and that’s okay. These differences are what are helping me learn and grow as a mother and friend.

Co-parenting is amazing and amazingly hard. I’m saying it here: parenting with my husband (whom I adore) is difficult. I want him to do things my way, to spend his days with her while I’m at work the way I dream of spending my days with her. But he doesn’t dream of his days like I do and so we get annoyed with each other and get resentful when the other offers suggestions on how to feed her or what to feed her or how to wrangle her into a clean diaper. I secretly, or maybe not quite so secretly, enjoy that she is a mama’s girl right now and flaps her arms up and down in joy whenever I enter the room and cries and clings to the gate at the top of our stairs each morning that I leave. But, I adore watching her climb over to him in our bed after I bring her in from her morning nap and she pushes her little face in his neck and kisses his face; I can’t get enough of it.

I love being a mom. Before we had Louisa, before I was pregnant, I was a workaholic who loved her job. I went to conferences, read piles of professional books, harbored secret “crushes” on my teacher idols, worked 10-12 hour days and then went home to write and respond to emails and read more. I took on extra work with committees, started consulting and loved it all. Don’t get me wrong, I still crave learning and love being a part of an amazing school where I am constantly challenged, and (as I sit on a flight to Denver headed to do some work with math teachers) I love working in other schools with some of the smartest teacher leaders with whom I’ve ever worked. But, if I could give it all up for just a little while, I might, might just be tempted to spend my days and weeks only as Louisa’s mom and Chris’s wife.

I’ve also learned that my free time is often taken up with household chores or relaxing with some brainless tv show, and it’s clearly hard to keep up with a blog. But, I’ve been inspired by some amazing women and men who really do seem to find time to “do it all” and I’m going to try to be more dedicated to writing and reflecting as I start Year Two…

motherhood–a realization

Louisa slept in her own room for the first time last night.

It’s taken me awhile to get to the point where I’m ready to have her in there and not in her sleeper next to my bed. We’ve been discussing it for over a month. Chris has actually been suggesting it for even longer, but I kept telling him I wasn’t ready and that the AAP recommends keeping infants in your room until 6 months of age. She’s not yet 5 months, but I there was a part of me that knew it was time. The part that understood my husband and I would sleep better, and that Louisa would probably sleep better too. And so after each discussion, Chris would smile and shake his head. He saw me those first few nights at home sleeping with my hand on Louisa’s belly or feet, so he knew that it might take this mama a little while longer to let go.

Last weekend, we finally finished decorating her room (she couldn’t start sleeping in there until it was done!)–we hung the shelves and the pictures and all that’s left is moving the rocker back in.

Yesterday, before Chris headed to work, we were discussing it again. “It’d be good for us,” he pointed out.

“But the AAP says…” I argued back.

“Yes, I’m sure they do, but she’d be fine. It’s up to you, though. Do it when you’re ready,” he relented.

And then bedtime came last night, and I looked down at my little girl as I dressed her in her 6-9 month sized pajamas, and thought that maybe he was right. So I quickly moved the monitor and sound machine into the nursery.

After we finished her bedtime routine of singing and nursing, kissing her and laying her down in the crib, I slowed backed out of the room and closed the door. I turned on the monitor and watched as she played with her feet and whimpered a little, before settling in and falling asleep with one little hand tucked under her head.

The pride I felt (that my baby girl fell asleep on her own in her own room) was mixed with heartbreak (she didn’t need me)…and as I sat there watching her on the monitor, I realized that my life from now on will be filled up by moments like this.

5-Minute Friday

I recently stumbled upon a website called “Lisa-Jo Baker: tales from a Gypsy Mama” http://lisajobaker.com/. I honestly don’t remember how I found it or what I had been searching for–I’ve been doing a lot of web searches lately at three or four in the morning when I’m up feeding L but not quite awake. The searches range from “cloth diaper systems” (we’re starting as soon as I get our system set up!) to “3 month old sleepier than usual” (she was taking lots of naps). So, I’m not sure what led me to Lisa-Jo Baker’s website, but I found myself reading and I subscribed to her email. That’s how I found out about her 5-Minute Friday writing challenge where she posts a word or topic and invites others to just write for five minutes. The idea is that on days when you don’t want to write, just push yourself, just write for five minutes. I could use that today (after the excitement of putting my first post out there, I was a little nervous to try again, hesitant to pick a topic). So, thank you, Lisa-Jo. Here goes….

Race…

Before Louisa was born, I was always in a hurry. In a hurry to get to work because I pressed snoozed one too many times. In a hurry to get from my classroom to a meeting to another classroom. In a hurry to make one more chart, send one more email, make one more copy. And it wasn’t her birth that slowed me down, but the car accident I was in 7 days before she was born.

In my pre-motherhood life, I never could say “no”–not when it came to work. I didn’t want to say “no”. The busier I was, the better. I loved (and still do love) sharing my ideas, being involved, and helping my colleagues. Teaching excites me. I could talk about curriculum or students or a single lesson for hours. So, even when at 37 weeks, my doctors admitted me into the hospital to monitor the baby and my fluid levels, I still wanted to work. I stopped teaching, but wanted to finish the work that I could. It literally felt like a race to the finish. Could I get it all done before the baby arrived?

That’s why I was at work that Tuesday. I was meeting with my two of my colleagues to look ahead at coming year’s calendar and units of study. It was a meeting I had scheduled so that I could support them in their planning before my impending leave…We met all day, but then I left right at 3, which wasn’t typical, but I had errands to run. Yep, I just had to order the new bureau for our bedroom and then from there, I’d be running to get my nails done. All part of getting ready, right?

Well, it was rush hour as I headed back through the city from the furniture store. I looked down, or over, for a moment and realized, “Oh, I have to slow down–there’s a car in front of me.” But, instead of hitting the brake, I hit the gas and crashed right into that car.

I won’t and can’t describe how terrifying that car accident was. My car ended up being completely totalled, but everyone involved, thankfully, walked away with very minor injuries, if any. I spent the night in the hospital because I did have a few contractions. But the baby was okay–actually, the baby and the fluid levels, ironically, looked the best they had since my 37 week appointment.

That next morning, I finally realized I couldn’t race anymore. I had to let go, at least for a little while. Since then, life has redefined “busy” for me…it’s not running from here to there. “Busy” this week was getting outside three times in one day with my daughter 🙂 I’m sure “busy” will take on yet another meaning when I’m back at work, but I think (I hope) I won’t be in such a race.