How to Have Tough Conversations With Your Childcare Provider

Your child care provider is one of the most important people in your family’s life. Bringing up concerns isn’t always easy.

If you’re a working parent, your childcare provider is likely on the short list of people who can make your life much easier or much harder. When things are going well, you feel at ease as you work, knowing that your little one is getting just the sort of love and attention you know they need.

When you have a miscommunication, though, or your expectations aren’t being met, it can be tough to feel productive at work and the stress takes a toll.

Perhaps your little one let slip that they’ve been watching TV each day when you have a screen-free agreement with your care provider. Or maybe you notice your child coming home in a wet diaper each afternoon. When a situation like this arises, use the tips below to plan a conversation with your care provider that ensures you both leave confident and clear about your expectations. Engaging in these tough conversations is a vital part of maintaining a positive relationship.  

1 | Start with praise

Most people enjoy hearing what they do well. If you’re committed to staying with your childcare provider, there’s probably a lot that you love about how they take care of your little one. Be specific as you thank them. “We are so grateful to have you in our lives. I love the way you talk to Jonah, you’re so warm and communicative with him. His eyes light up with you talk to him and I know his language development is on track in large part because of how you communicate with him.” Opening the conversation with genuine praise lets your care provider know how valued they are and ensures that they are as open as possible to any concerns to come. 

2 | Highlight common goals

When you highlight the goals you share (even if you were the one who initially set them) you remind your caretaker that you and she are a team. (“I know that we both want Jonah to grow up to be as healthy and happy as possible and that developing his imagination is a priority we’ve talked a lot about.”) Highlighting your common goals and the steps she’s already taken to reach them, helps pave the way for your care provider to buy into the request you’ll make later in the conversation.

3 | Share your expectations

This is often the difficult part of the conversation; it can feel awkward to bring up something that concerns you with someone you trust. As you begin this part of the conversation, ensure you’re doing so without judgment. Don’t accuse your caretaker of breaking the rules intentionally: “I know you’ve been letting Jonah watch TV,” or ask them questions you already know the answer to: “Have you been letting Jonah watch TV?”

Instead, frame the issue as part of an ongoing conversation: “I know we’ve talked before about our preference the Jonah not watch any television – as he grows and becomes a little more independent, I want to make sure we’re still on the same page about him remaining screen-free.” Phrasing your request as a future-oriented ask, instead of an accusation about what’s already happened, helps your care provider get on board in a positive manner.

 4 | Help them make a plan to follow

If your trusted care provider is doing (or not doing) something that you’ve asked, there’s probably a reason. Part of your job as an employer is to help them identify the barriers to success and make a plan to alleviate them. Do they feel pressure to accomplish other tasks such as cooking and cleaning during their childcare hours? Has your little one had a recent change in routine that may be making things more difficult? Do they have personal issues that makes what you’ve asked suddenly more difficult?

Offer something like: “I know it can be really hard to get lunch ready when Jonah needs your full attention as well. Would it be helpful if we prepared his lunches the night before?” Or: “I’ve noticed that since Jonah dropped his nap, he tends to get cranky and sometimes asks for TV in the early afternoon. I’ve found that reading a book to him, helping him set up a quiet project, or putting on some soft music usually helps him get over the afternoon hump without using screens.”

5 | Really listen when they share their feedback and adjust your expectations as necessary

Sometimes, as parents, we hold care providers to much higher standards than those we hold ourselves accountable to. Make sure you’re listening to what they have to say and remember that they’re just people, with good days and bad days and feelings, too. Try to give where you can to make their job easier without sacrificing your priorities. “It sounds like with the new baby in the mix, it can be really challenging to keep Jonah entertained on rainy days. In the future, let’s plan to have you offer several activities before screen time in situations like this, but, if nothing seems to be working, make sure you limit it to 20 minutes and let me know when I get home so I can squeeze in reading a few extra books at bedtime.”

6 | Thank them for the openness and for the love they show your little one

Caring for kids is exhausting and most parents ask their care providers for something unique – we ask them to both behave professionally and to invest an incredible amount of emotional energy and love into their work. Make sure your care provider knows how much you value not just the work that they do and love that they show your child, but also the openness of the relationship.

 

What Will I Be Missing if I Don’t Have a Baby?

Having kids or not having kids. It’s hard to quantify what you miss out on when making that great big decision.

None of my friends have babies. All the ladies that I’m most fond of are scattered across the country working cool jobs or in medical school or grad school or, if it’s late, in the bars next to their cool jobs and med schools and grad schools.

They’re all hard-working, fun, ambitions women who have no plans for babies any time in the next five years, if ever.

They are also, as I’ve come to find out since having my son, very curious about pregnancy, childbirth, babies, and motherhood. As the lone mommy, I find myself answering questions about motherhood almost every time we talk.

Most professional women in their mid-20s have begun to think about whether they want children, but most don’t have a lot (if any) mommy friends who they’re close enough with to ask about the intimate details of motherhood. I wished, when I was pregnant, that I had had others to learn from. So when they ask, I’m more than happy to share.

I get a lot of questions about the mechanics of things, how pregnancy feels and if labor hurts and how bodies know how much milk to make. By and large, I don’t have trouble answering these questions. In addition to being a real-life mom, I have a masters in maternal and child health and far too few opportunities to share information on these sorts of fun topics.

There is one question I get though, only from my friends (and sometimes acquaintances) who are still wondering if motherhood is for them, that, while easy for me to answer, doesn’t give them the answer they’re looking for.

Will I be missing out on something if I don’t have a baby?

The thing is, if you chose not to have kids you’ll be missing out on a lot. You’ll be missing out on pregnancy, on feeling your body grow and change in a way you have no control over – all to make room for a whole new person.

You’ll miss out on hearing a first fluttery heartbeat in a dark ultrasound room, and on realizing that the bubbles you’ve been feeling in your pelvis are actually your baby’s kicks. You’ll miss out on feeling more powerful than you’ve ever felt before in the moments after giving birth and the rush of love and joy that flows through you in the weeks and months and years after.

You’ll miss out on birthday parties and tiny backpacks. You’ll miss out on watching a person with your eyes and your partners nose grow into someone all their own in the most magnificent miracle of life you could ever imagine. You’ll miss out on seeing the world through the eyes of a two-year-old and then a four-year-old and then a six-year-old.

You’ll miss out on helping someone figure out what they like and what they don’t like and how to get by in the world. You’ll miss out on being someone’s most important comfort and deepest source of love. You’ll miss out, basically, on an entire life. A life that’s not your own but, somehow, comes to define yours in both obvious and subtle ways.

The thing that makes this answer incomplete though, is that you’ll also be missing out on something, a whole lot of something’s really, if you do have a kid.

You’ll be missing out on career things and travel things and spontaneous things – the entire course of your life will be different. It’s hard to say just what you’ll miss out on because, really, life’s a mystery, but it’s certain that you’ll miss out on really big, really cool things if you choose to become a parent.

So, to my friends who are undecided about what they want for their future, I usually add that babies are a beautiful thing if you want one, and probably much less beautiful if you don’t. No matter what choice you make, know that you’ll be missing out on some things for a chance to experience others. There’s simply no getting around the trade off.

In time you’ll probably feel pulled in one direction or the other, and when you do, the things you miss out on begin to matter less and less.

7 Tips For Being the Most Natural Parent of Them All

Natural parenting isn’t a game of half measures. If you really want to do it right, you’d better go all the way.

Dear Soon-To-Be Natural Mama,

I heard you were looking into water birth and checking the labels on baby lotion, and thought I’d head over to say, “Hi,” and teach you a thing or two about natural parenting.

When I was pregnant with my son, I ate mostly organic food and took Bradley birth classes. I was proud of the natural environment I was creating for my boy, and couldn’t wait for him to get here so I could keep on being the natural, organic, crunchy mom I fancied myself to be.

Then he was born, and I started spending time with other moms in online natural parenting groups and – wow – I did not know what I was in for.

The way eyebrows were raised at the mention of letting my boy eat cake on his first birthday, or moving him to his own room at 16 months, you’d have thought I was letting him chow-down on lead paint before he could crawl.  

I’ve come to realize that I fail more than I succeed in the natural parenting game. Despite my failings, I’ve learned quite a bit about what it means to be crunchy. Though most of the mamas out there are normal and nice and just looking out for their little ones health and safety, there is a good chunk of the crunchy mama community that can be, well, a little bit competitive.

If you’re ready for a challenge, though, and have a burning desire to out-natural all the other mothers in your circle, I’ve got some tips I think might help: 

Getting Pregnant

Some women use ovulation predictor kits to get pregnant. Or they time their cycle and chart using their temperature.

Don’t do this. Use natural family planning, and learn to feel your eggs drop. If you miss that magical, fertile feeling, know when you’re going to ovulate by syncing your cycles with the lunar calendar, and with the cycles of your ancestors.

During your fertile time of the month fill your bathtub with essential oils and ask your acupuncturist to send positive energy your way. Wonder out loud, and with great frequency, why some women resort to technology when they could just spend time getting to know their bodies.

Prenatal Care

When you get pregnant, don’t take a pregnancy test. Wait until you feel kicks to confirm your baby is there. Eat purely. Avoid unnecessary testing. Trust that your baby is growing as it should.

Find a doctor who can tell everything they need to know by placing both hands lightly on your belly and closing their eyes. Ask for ways to lengthen your pregnancy, don’t give birth before 42 weeks.

Sunbathe every afternoon and visualize your child forming. When you see a misbehaving child in the grocery store, whisper to your partner about how it’s probably because the mother was stressed during pregnancy.

Sex and Gender

Some parents ask the doctor not to share their child’s sex during the 20 week anatomy scan. Be better than that. Don’t find out your baby’s sex, ever. Close your eyes until they’re swaddled after birth and learn to bathe them blindfolded to ensure you don’t raise them with gendered expectation.

When they’re old enough, ask them whether they’d like to share their thoughts on sex and gender with you. If they say no, accept it, it’s their choice. Shake your head in silence anytime you see a bow on a baby girl’s head.

Delivery

Most women have a hospital birth. Some ladies give birth at a birth center. The best mothers give birth at home. But you can be better. Find a stream in a forest near your house. Ask your birth shaman to meet you there, and to purify the water upstream. Light candles. Burn sage. Ask that everyone be silent as your child emerges.

Carry them home still attached to their placenta. Darken your home to liken it to your womb, and spend the first six weeks of your baby’s life shushing to the beat of your heart, so they feel safe and attached. Make sure your birth photographer only posts the most goddess-like images of your labor.

Potty Training

Some “natural” parents use cloth diapers. Don’t. Don’t use any diapers at all. Develop the kind of attachment that gives you the power to know what your child needs before they grimace and grunt.

Spend their first two months of their life looking into their eyes and holding them over an antique chamber pot. Make sure the chamber pot is locally sourced. Make sure it’s handmade. Make sure your child is pooping into something rustic and free of unnatural dyes.

Make sure you share that “training” is a cruel word to apply to children (they’re not animals after all) anytime someone mentions potty-training their own kid.   

Feeding

Some parents breastfeed for a year or two. You should breastfeed longer and make sure your milk is more pure. While you’re breastfeeding, eat a vegan, soy-free, gluten-free diet. Most days you should eat only nuts. Go meet the man who grows your cashews. Make sure he doesn’t snack on processed foods as he harvests your lunch.

When it’s time to add solids to your baby’s diet at two or three years old, make sure you’ve grown a wide variety of vegetables that they can choose from. Make sure your garden has been fertilized by nothing but breast milk. Let your child harvest their first food. Felt a gardening hat and whittle them a trowel for the experience.

Bring your own food to birthday parties and holidays, make sure to slap the fork out of anyone’s hand who dares offer your child cake from a box. Educate them on the dangers of red dye.

Baby Classes

Some mothers take their children to mommy-and-me music. Others put their kids in sports. If you’ve raised them naturally enough, your child will be much wiser and more independent than other babies, so they’ll have different learning needs.

Enroll them in weaving classes and a monthly foraging seminar. If you don’t know where they get the yarn in weaving class, buy a sheep. Learn animal husbandry. Feed your sheep organic food so her wool will be soft and thick.

Help your child weave her own foraging pouch. Make sure she collects acorns, berries and mushrooms during her monthly seminar. If you can’t eat the bounty of berries she collects, help her mash them into a paint paste. Use the paint paste to write thank you cards to her teachers. Post pictures of her artwork (with a description of how the paint was made) on Facebook.

If all this seems hard, well then, maybe natural parenting just isn’t for you. If that’s the case, please feel free to meet me at the park. I’ll be the one with the kid in the popsicle-stained, non-organic cotton tee-shirt.

 

Why Every Boy Should Have a Doll

One mother’s quest to provide her son with more options later in life by making sure he plays with dolls now.

As I tuck my son into bed each night, I read him a few stories, tell him about his day and give him a big kiss on his forehead. Just before I leave the room, I pull his blanket up over his shoulders and make sure one of his favorite baby dolls – Carmen, Joey, or Carlo – are tucked snugly under his arm.

At night my son finds a simple comfort in holding tightly to one of his dolls, but during the day their relationship is much more active. He walks them around the house and sings to them while he snacks at the table. He brings them along to the grocery store and to his babysitter’s house. He rocks them and feeds them and teaches them how to play with his other toys.

I’ve never heard a negative comment about my son’s love for his dolls but we do, very frequently, get compliments on how sweet it is to see our “daughter” caring so sweetly for them.

While there are still segments of the population who won’t allow their sons play with “girls toys,” as evidenced by the outrage surrounding Target’s 2015 move to make their toy sections “gender neutral,” by and large we’ve evolved to the point that most parents “let” their sons play with dolls.

When the discussion of boys and dolls arises at the park or in an online forum, I often hear progressive parents share that they have no problem with their son playing with his sister’s dolls or that they would absolutely buy their boy a doll if he ever asked for one. Rarely, though, do I hear parents share that they’ve bought their boy a doll unsolicited or that they filled his nursery with them before he arrived.

What parents fail to understand is that if all they’re doing is “letting” their boys play with dolls, they’re still sending the message that dolls aren’t really for them and thus denying their boys a plaything that’s both fun and developmentally valuable, as well as the opportunity to develop an interest in care and nurturing work.

Before my son was born, I dug into research on the best developmental toys for babies and toddlers. Though I have fond memories of my own Baby All Gone and Bitty Baby, I was surprised to learn of the multitude of ways that dolls and care play can positively impact children as they grow.

From cognitive and motor development to social-emotional growth, no other single toy comes close to the impact that dolls can have. As I watch my son feed and dress Carmen with a focused concentration, I appreciate the fine motor skill practice he’s getting. As he kisses Joey on the head after accidentally dropping him, I see him developing empathy and an ability to look outside of himself.

And, perhaps most exciting of all, as I watch him act out scenes from preschool or our own home life with Carlo, I get to watch him work through big feelings and explore and experiment with different choices, personalities, and responses.

Though kids are born with a temperament and with elements of their forthcoming personality, they are, in many ways, a blank slate when they arrive. They don’t know how to hold their own head up, or roll over, or put on their clothes. They have little appreciation for manners and almost no understanding of social norms.

By our teaching, they learn how to shake a rattle and hold a spoon, how to scribble with a crayon and to bang the keys of their little pianos. We also teach them how to play with their toys. If a child doesn’t know how to roll their cars out of their toy garage or connect the pieces of their train set or rock and feed their dolls, they won’t enjoy playing with them. Why then, do we place the undue burden of developing an interest in (and then learning to play with) dolls before we consider him interested enough to buy him one of his own?

hank with dollThe push for girls in science, technology, engineering, and math in the past few years has come with a wide offering of STEM-oriented toys designed specifically to help girls develop an interest in the subject matter. As a society we understand that girls are underrepresented in the sciences not because they’re not good at them or uninterested in them, but because they’re guided away from them, both implicitly and explicitly. And so, with the advent and marketing of STEM toys, we’re trying to do better.

With boys, we seem to still believe that they’re just not interested in dolls and care play and, when they grow into men that are underrepresented in teaching, nursing, and other care fields, we scratch our heads and wonder why.

Dolls aren’t the only toys that my son possesses. I’m not interested in forcing him into liking any one thing or pushing my own likes and dislikes onto him. He has cars and trucks and blocks and coloring books and sports equipment. I buy toys for my boy based not on the interests he has at the moment, but on the interests he may develop if a new toy sparks his imagination.

We, the collective “we” that includes parents, family, teachers, and society at large, teach our kids how to live and love and have fun in this world. Let’s stop denying boys access to dolls simply because they don’t ask for them. We should work to introduce a range of toys to all kids, to stop categorizing toys as boys or girls or gender neutral and to provide the material goods that will help kids develop the interests that might later drive their passions.

My son got his first baby doll before he showed the faintest interest in dolls; he wasn’t yet a year old and his primary interests were limited to nursing, watching someone make silly faces at him, and looking upwards as birds or planes crossed the sky. And now, my little boy, sweet and energetic and loving, can often be found wearing baby Joey in his baby doll Ergo as he races his cars through the house. And I couldn’t be happier.

Can a Feminist Have a Gender Reveal Party?

When I became pregnant with my son three-and-a-half years ago it seemed like a few people here and there were having “gender reveal” parties to announce the sex of their baby.

From time to time a set of pink balloons or a slice of cake with blue frosting would appear on my Facebook feed. I would both smile for the happy parents and shudder for the unborn baby whose genitals usually appeared, circled, in an ultrasound picture in the same album.

The formula for a gender reveal party is basic: you gather your friends and relatives for the celebration and then either slice a cake, or fire a gun into a box filled with appropriately-colored chalk dust, or shoot silly string at your partner in the color representative of your unborn baby’s gender. Everyone cheers and then begins planning your kid’s life based on their anatomy.

These parties, while sometimes cute, have always grated at my feminist consciousness – why act as if a baby’s genitalia has anything to do with who they’re going to be? Why begin stereotyping and putting kids into a box before they even arrive and why, just oh my gosh why, would you bring guns to something about babies?

Sex vs. gender

I first began to understand sex and gender as distinct concepts in college. As I moved through my undergraduate sociology courses I started to understand that the binary I’d always taken for granted was really more of a continuum. Through readings, research, and rich discussion, I began to understand the systems and institutions that breed misogyny and sexism and the ways in which my own girlhood experience fit into the larger picture. 

Most women who grew up as girls have stories of adults and authority figures forcing femininity and gender compliance upon them in one way or another. When I was a girl I saw these experiences as unfair and the perpetrators as cruel. I didn’t understand that they were part of something bigger.

The middle school teacher who told me I was “asking to be raped” for letting my bra straps show through my shirt was trying desperately to maintain the status-quo surrounding responsibility in sexual violence. The softball coach who screamed at my team to be ladylike was trying to get us to understand that our worth, even in places where it shouldn’t matter, always came back to what sort of woman we were. And the man who called my parents landline to whisper dirty words about what I wore when I dared jog on my own street after school was trying to maintain power and control over my actions from a distance.

Back then, I put on a jacket and quit softball and stopped running, but in college, when I began to see how everything fit together, I vowed to make the world something different both professionally and in my personal life.

Gender-neutral parenting in an overtly gender-biased state

As a parent, I’ve kept my promise and work hard to raise my son in an environment in which he feels free to express himself exactly as he is. I don’t want him to ever feel either boxed in or entitled because of his gender. We do the basic, enlightened parent thing, by ensuring he has a range of toys and celebrating all his interests and we dress him in a manner that, while probably a little “boyish” is based most intently on his comfort and ability to move and play. And while the bigger things may seem to matter more, like letting him participate in whatever activities he wants, we remain particularly mindful of the subtler messages he’s sent. 

We monitor our language at home (there are no firemen or policemen or lunch ladies, only fire fighters, police officers and cafeteria workers) and work hard to make no assumptions about how he’ll choose to identify or live his life in the future. I don’t assume that he’ll get married or that if he does he’ll marry a woman. I leave the door open to all possibilities as he chats about his friends and his feelings. I’ve hushed more than one person who suggested he’s a “lady killer” or a “flirt” and I don’t let him spend time with people who say things like, “boys will be boys.”

Right now, in the state where I reside and where I grew up, these opinions and ways of raising a child are thought of as either reasonable and responsible, or completely ridiculous and dangerous. North Carolina is the current epicenter of the fight for trans rights and, most basically, recognition that the old way of thinking about sex and gender – as a binary wherein men and women naturally have different interests, talents, and desires – is erroneous and damaging. 

My Facebook feed, a mix of my peers from high school, college, and grad school is split pretty evenly between those who are currently boycotting Target and those who express embarrassment at living in such a backwards state.

Though I attended a few rallies against HB2 and plan to advocate, campaign, and vote for politicians who will bring change, I haven’t been on the front lines of this fight. The battle over HB2 is largely in the hands of the courts and, as the legal system works, I will, like most people, watch from afar and vow to keep living my life and treating people in the way I think is right.

Is there such a thing as a feminist gender reveal method?

Just after HB2 was passed at the end of March 2016, I discovered I was pregnant. Getting pregnant was hard this time, and took longer than we’d hoped, so the joy of seeing the first heartbeat and hearing the familiar, fast-paced sloshing, brought extra sweetness.  

When the doctor told us that technology had advanced since my son’s birth and that an early blood draw designed to test for chromosomal issues could also tell us the sex of our baby, we were thrilled. Though we would never agree to extra testing just to find out the sex of our baby, the prospect of knowing if I was carrying a son or daughter before I’d even finished my first trimester was thrilling.

When you’re pregnant there is so little that you know about the person you’re carrying. You don’t know if they’ll be interested in art or science, or if they’ll like sports and the outdoors or prefer to spend their time inside with a book or a musical instrument. More pressingly, you don’t even know if they’ll be easily soothed or spend their first four months crying.

So, when offered a chance at information, even information that’s relatively insignificant to who they are (but certainly not insignificant to how the world will treat them) my husband and I decided to jump. 

I found out that my first child was a boy sometime around 17 weeks when we had our routine anatomy scan. The anticipation built and built and, when the technician finally revealed the news, my husband and I both grinned and teared up. We’d be having a son. In the darkened room, holding hands with my high school sweetheart and first love, it was a truly special and beautiful moment.

This time, with early testing we would have the opportunity to know our babies sex just before 12 weeks gestation. The doctor would call with the results over the phone and, if my husband wasn’t around when she called, I’d find out by myself.

Faced with the prospect of finding out by phone, and on my own, whether my baby was a boy or girl, I suddenly began to understand the power and the pull of the gender reveal party. I understood the allure of the suspense and the joy of finding out, with all those you love around you, whether a son or daughter will be coming your way.

The part of the sex-reveal I felt most drawn to was the part where you find out at the very same time as those you love what sex you’re baby is. To accomplish this, though, it seemed you needed to use colored symbolism or some other generic, socially understood “code” for either male or female.

Sure that there were others who wanted to hold a similar event without the sexist undertones, I spent hours looking everywhere I could think of online for a non-sexist idea. But when we’re asked to reduce a human sex to symbolism we are apparently, as a people, not very creative. Even after eschewing the most horrible themes (Touchdowns or Tutus, Camo or Pearls) each idea seemed reductionist and horribly stereotyping.

I considered following Jezebel’s (parody) advice of baking a vanilla cake stuffed with quotes on thin slips of paper, but when I looked for quotes about masculinity and femininity they, too, seemed rather reductionist. (Also it would be weird to eat a cake with paper in it.) 

“A slab of blue frosting or a gathering of pink balloons.”

As I puzzled over whether I would hold a sex reveal party my thoughts circled back, each time, to my son. It was him, and the desire to parent him right, that helped me decide there simply was no ethical way to hold a sex reveal party.

My son is already living in a world, and a state, that’s determined to keep things binary. I won’t be another person who does the same. There was no way to both tell my son that everyone likes different things and that he’s free to be whoever he wants, and then to reduce his little brother or sister to a slab of blue frosting or a gathering of pink balloons.

When the doctor called with my test results I found out that my baby is low-risk for any of the genetic issues we tested for. When she asked if I wanted to know the sex, I asked her to please write it down on a piece of paper and that I’d be by later in the day to pick it up.

Midday, my husband picked me up from work and we swung by the doctor’s office. As I ran back to the car with the envelope in my hand I grinned with anticipation. In the front seat, unbuckled and facing each other, I tore into the envelope. When I read the results, holding hands with my first love, we both teared up and grinned. It was a special and beautiful moment.

In Pregnancy and in Life, It’s All Temporary

The intense states that come and go in the weeks of a pregnancy are, in many ways, a prelude of what’s to come.

Next week I’ll be 10 weeks pregnant. Soon it’ll be time to tell our friends. We’ll start shopping, just a little bit, and thinking about baby names, and I’ll get out the box of maternity clothes I shoved onto the top shelf of my closet a couple years ago.

A few weeks after I start wearing those maternity clothes, I’ll begin to feel the kicks below them, and I’ll begin settle into the reality that a baby is coming.

When the second line appeared on that pregnancy test stick, I was both overjoyed and reserved in my excitement. There wasn’t surprise as much as quiet satisfaction that my time, maybe, had come, and a silent prayer that this time it would last.

Before the second line there was a year of trying, with an ectopic pregnancy in the middle. There were ovulation predictor kits and trips to the doctor. It wasn’t easy like it was with my son, and the months between when I wanted to be pregnant and when I became pregnant were hard. Despite my desire to be patient and relaxed and calm, I found myself charting my temperature and buying early pregnancy tests and making promises to myself, every month that if I was pregnant, I would feel nothing but gratitude for every ache and stretch mark and contraction.  

Nearly as soon as I became aware of my pregnancy this time I got sick. The nausea started in the morning and stretched itself throughout the day. I threw up every day for a month and still feel sea sick throughout the day most days.

With my son, I was sick for almost an afternoon, just long enough to be grateful that morning sickness wasn’t my thing. As I threw up each morning this time my little boy ran into the bathroom and patted my back. “I sorry mommy, feel better mommy,” he murmured. I vowed to remain grateful for the sickness as it meant my baby was growing.

There was cramping at the beginning, too. Attune to every twinge, I worried with each tightening in my belly that the baby was already gone but each time I called my doctor I was told that it was normal to experience cramping; that unless I was bleeding it was probably fine. So I decided to relax and reaffirmed the promise I’d made to myself to find gratitude in the aches and pains. And each time I saw the heartbeat, fast and fluttery, I calmed. 

The exhaustion came more slowly but more forcefully than the nausea. At first I began to crave afternoon naps. Then my bedtime began inching earlier and earlier. Then I could barely keep my eyes open through the workday. And then my husband found out he would be working out of town Monday-Friday for a month and I worried about how I would care for my toddler. During that month, weeks five through nine, I did nothing but work, pick up my son, and struggle through dinner before putting us both down for an insanely early bedtime.

Though I had vowed to remain grateful, the exhaustion made it difficult. I was frustrated about my inability to get anything done and wondered when it would pass. When would I feel like myself again? I walked on the treadmill at work to stay awake but my productivity suffered. I normally work with a deep focus during my office hours to be sure my time away from my son is as well-used possible, but each day I left with half of my to-do list unchecked.

I stopped cooking, I stopped cleaning, and I stopped working at night as the precious few hours after my son’s bedtime that I usually use to get things done disappeared to exhaustion. I whined and moaned to my husband. I complained to my mother. I wanted desperately to feel energetic again.  

I’m still sick and I’m still tired but now, as I begin to feel the uncertainty and the nausea and the exhaustion of the first trimester leaving my body, I’m encouraged by the cautious promise of a baby. And I can appreciate how temporary it all really is.

As a parent, I should know by now that things pass as quickly as they come and that no stage is permanent but, in the moment – the moment of feeling so utterly unlike yourself – it can be hard to remember that it won’t last.

When (I’m saying “if” less and less as the weeks pass) my little one is born, I’ll be the mother of two and I’m sure my world will shrink again. Just as it was in the first few weeks of my son’s life, everything will be about healing and making sure there is milk and learning about the person we’ll be raising. This time it will also probably be about managing the expectations of a toddler and retaining as much normalcy as possible in his earthquake-shaken world.

And I’ll be tired. Exhausted. Unable to do anything but the most basic of tasks. And I’ll be okay with that because it will, after all, be temporary.

What Does it Mean to Want a Girl? 

As I puzzled over my desire for a girl, my husband wondered why I was stressing when we had no control over the outcome anyway.

I’ve always wanted to be a mother.

When I was a little girl I’d line up my dolls and stuffed animals like children and sing for them as I cooked or cleaned or changed their clothes. As a teenager I began dating my now-husband and, wise beyond my years, I made sure he wanted babies too, before we got too serious.

When I envisioned my future family, as I often did, I always saw a pile of kids – four or five at least, wrestling in a big green yard or sipping lemonade on a wide front porch. My children would be well behaved and smart and funny. And they would all be girls. I didn’t have anything against little boys, I just never imagined them as a part of my life.

So when I became pregnant with my first child, I spent the first 16 weeks imagining finally meeting one of my daughters and watching her play, learn and grow into the strong, world-changing woman I knew she would be. And then we had our anatomy scan and I learned I would be having a boy and, surprisingly, I felt nothing but joy.

Since his birth my son has brought a depth into my life I didn’t imagine before he existed. He’s adventurous and sweet and affectionate and, having now spent countless hours in mommy and me classes and at the park observing other families, I’m confident that his boyness has far less to do with his personality than his natural inclinations or the way we’re raising him.

I’ve made a conscious effort over the past two and a half years to check myself on how I parent him, I want to be sure that I’m raising him free to be himself, whoever that might turn out to be. And, while his sex will impact the way the world interacts with him, I hope he never feels either boxed in or entitled because of his anatomy.

My little guy has done a lot of growing since he came into the world and, this winter, he’ll be growing again, this time into the role of big brother. His little brother or sister is due exactly a month before he turns three and, to help him get acclimated to the idea, we’ve been reading a lot about babies and talking about how life will be different and he’s been rocking and diapering his dolls diligently.

During the months my husband and I wanted to be pregnant, but weren’t yet, we talked a lot about what life would be like as a family of four. Would it be chaotic or calm? Loud or relaxed? Would we feel like we’d made a good choice or be in totally over our heads? We looked forward to a new baby with the same excitement we’d had as we looked forward to my son. The only difference was that this time, instead of longing deeply for a girl I felt totally at ease with being surprised- I knew now, after having my son, that having a boy or girl was far less than important that have a baby with a big, wonderful, unique personality.

I was surprised then that one of my first thoughts after the double lines appeared was, “I hope it’s a girl.” My desire for a little girl was, apparently, alive and well. By the end of the week, I’ll know whether the baby I’m carrying is a girl or boy, but the wait to find out hasn’t been nearly as maddening as my own self- analysis regarding my desire for a little girl.

I know, both academically and from experience, that gender is fluid and that their biological sex determines almost nothing about who a baby will become. But still, I want a girl. Is it because of the clothes? Or the interests I presume she’ll have? Or the fact that I want to be able to share my experiences with someone whose body matches my own?

Though baby girl clothes are so cute that, daughter-less, I can hardly pass them by without taking a peak at Target, I don’t think it’s the clothes that drive me towards wanting a girl. I’ve always dressed my son neutrally and without fuss and I’m sure I’d dress a daughter the same. In fact, with a due date so close to my son’s birthday this baby will undoubtedly be wearing my boys clothes, no matter what happens to be under their diaper.

I’ve wondered if my desire stems from wanting a child with traditionally “girls” interests as many presume a daughter would have, but I don’t think that’s it either. My son loves care-play and has quite a collection of dolls. He also enjoys cooking in his kitchen and likes to sit and color if given the right supplies.

A daughter might like these things, or she might not, but, either way I’ve never cared what I’m playing with my son as long as he’s having fun. As my kids grow up, I’m sure that how they like to spend their time will evolve but, son or daughter, their interests will only overlap with mine as much as they happen to.

Though due to social and societal conditioning, it’s probably more likely that a daughter would go get her nails done with me  that a son would, I’m really not that into going to the salon and would much rather spend the day hiking.

As I puzzled over why I seemed to want a girl a friend suggested that perhaps I’m subconsciously drawn to wanting to raise a child who will share the experience of womanhood, at least physically, with me.

And perhaps there’s some truth to that. I do look forward to helping my girl love her body and herself and teaching her how to be strong, but that in itself seems like a silly reason for a preference, and, honestly, I want all those things for my son as well. We already talk about loving and respecting our bodies and the bodies or others and I feel proud of how much he already seems to understand his and others physical autonomy.

After much digging, I think the answer for my desire is simple – I want to recreate the family I grew up in. I grew up with both a brother and a sister and feel, deeply, that having them for siblings shaped me into who I am today. We’re all still very close, and very close with my parents and so, I think, I want to make a family that looks like mine did so it will turn out like mine is- loving and happy and bonded. I also want my son to have a sister and my daughter to have a brother- I got to have both and benefited deeply so it’s my hope that my children will too.

As I puzzled over my desire for a girl and what might be driving it, my husband wondered out loud why I was stressing so much over the self-analysis when we had no control over the outcome anyway. It’s true, I have no say in whether I’m having a boy or girl, but I still wanted to know why I felt the way I did- an over-reliance on gender stereotypes? A feminist failing? No, I think just a desire to have a happy family and a subconscious idea what that looks like.

When we find later this week whether my baby-to-be is a boy or girl I’m sure I’ll be overjoyed either way. Maybe my picture of a happy family will stay the same, or maybe it will change. In time though, my child will be born, loved and safe and healthy, and I’ll be grateful for whatever life has in store.

The First Hurt

As a mother, unfortunately I can’t be everywhere always and my arms only reach so far.

In the evenings my boy gets wild.

Drunk with exhaustion, he spins and laughs and dances. He jumps on the bed and squirms into his pajamas. And then he crawls into my arms and we talk about his day and he falls asleep, dreaming, hopefully, of the giggles and the laughs and dancing.

Usually our routine ends in his crib, but two weeks ago, instead of drifting off to sleep in my arms, my boy found himself stuffed into his car seat with a bloody towel pressed to his head as we rushed to the late night urgent care.

During the giggles and the dancing and spinning my little boy dove, head first, right into baseboard of the bed. I was standing right there, and I reached for him, but I didn’t catch him. As his head, his baseboard there was a terrible crack, then a moment of silence, then the loud, pained wail I’ve replayed over and over in my mind since.

I picked my boy up, expecting a goose egg, but my hands and shirt were immediately covered in blood. The gash was deep- split and puckered, and for a moment I panicked. As a parent, I fear one of my weaknesses is risk assessment, when is the fever too high? When does the complaint of a tummy ache warrant a visit to the pediatrician? How about a scrape? Or a head bump? This time though, there was no doubt.

I grabbed a towel and held it tightly to his head as I packed him into the car quickly. I sped all the way there and, as soon as I walked through the door, I was ushered into an exam room.

There was talk of sedation and of stitches, sub-dermal and surface, of needing restraints to clean the wound and needing to wait a few hours to check for deeper issues. And then there was a second opinion from a doctor who is a mother of four, and the agreement that I could hold my son tightly to my chest, fully lucid and whimpering, as she glued his head wound closed with the gentleness of someone who’s done this many times.

Before we left, my son had a Popsicle and laughed at the nurses silly faces. When we walked out the door, I noticed that my car was parked halfway on the curb and halfway in a handicapped spot. As my boy began to nod off on the way home, my hands gripped the wheel tightly and my eyes darted from the road to his image in rear-view mirror and back.

That night, as my son slept in my bed, I roused him every other hour to make sure he would wake and struggled to close my eyes when he did.

I know that more experienced parents, the ones whose kids have had stitches and casts and nights in the hospital, must be used to seeing blood, surely the bumps and bruises of childhood must begin to seem routine at some point.

But this time, for us, was the first time. The first time I’d watched him fall and not been able to catch him, the first time his blood stained his clothes, the first time I felt his pain as viscerally as he did. It was also the first time I learned to let go of my guilt and to realize that childhood just comes with bumps and bruises.

At first I felt ashamed. When the doctor asked “how did this happen?” I heard “How could you have let this happen?” A good mother doesn’t let her toddler get so hurt. A good mother doesn’t allow spinning on the bed. A good mother ensures her child’s bedtime routine is calm and gentle and quiet.

As I lay awake that evening, tossing and turning with remorse, replaying the moments leading up to the fall, I tried to determine how it could have been prevented.

Perhaps my son shouldn’t dance on the bed. But that’s where we snuggle and sing. Perhaps I should have baby proofed my bedroom better. But everything’s anchored and I would have had to literally pad every surface to prevent this hurt. Perhaps I should have instituted a quieter, calmer bedtime routine. But play before bed is when we laugh and when we connect and my boy loves to play before bed. Perhaps I should have caught him when he fell.

Yes, perhaps I should have, but unfortunately I can’t be everywhere, always and my arms only reach so far.

My boy will have a scar for a long time. The doctor said that if we’re diligent with sunscreen and moisturizer it will likely fade before he graduates high school. Though the glue will disintegrate and the bruise will fade I’ll be looking at the remnants of my boys first hurt for a long time.

I’m sure eventually I won’t even notice, but, for now, when I do, I’ll make sure to remember not that it came from one pained night but instead that it as the price we paid, mother and child, for playing and laughing and growing without restraint.

I’m Not Hovering, I’m Playing

While my son is little and wants to be as close to me as I want to be to him, I’ll savor every moment of our play – even if others see it as hovering.

Saturdays are for me and my boy.

Monday through Friday we get the early mornings and the late afternoons and the dusky evenings, but we’re always apart in the middle of the day. Mid-day during the week is for his preschool teacher or his nanny or the woman who drives him from one to the other. During that time I’m tucked away at my office, thinking about him, but not with him. I love my job but it is a shame that my work means that our mid-day lives don’t overlap more frequently.

Saturdays though are our day.  We wake up early and let daddy sleep in. We cook scrambled eggy and silly pancakes and, after we eat, and clear the table and finally wake up daddy, we head to the park.

Our first stop is the pond. We throw bread to the ducks and pebbles into the water. My boy sits in my lap as we watch the fish swim by and we name them one by one.  After the pond we take a stroll on the path that ends at the playground, he’s been able to walk for a long time but he still often asks to be carried and I always oblige. As we race up the hill toward the play equipment, I follow my son’s lead.

Some days we spend the majority of our time on the slides, others we spend our time in the sandbox or on the swings. As we climb dusty ladders or scoot through the tunnels together, I drink in my son, savoring every squeal and delighting in every laugh.

Throughout our trip, and our day really, I’m rarely more than five feet from my son, often I’m much closer, hovering some would say. He sits on my lap as we build a sandcastle and rides on my shoulders as we run towards the swings. As I hold him, I think about how my interactions might be interpreted by others.

Helicopter parents have the worst reputation, they don’t allow exploration or risk; they insulate their kids from disappointment and make sure that they live their lives in comfortably. When their kids grow up and head off into the world they’re unprepared, entitled and easily shaken.

I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent in the least but I’m aware that many who just see my Saturdays might think I am and might begin to harshly judge the way interact with my son.

I’ve seen so, so many social media posts and parenting articles that implore parents to stop helicopering and just let their kids experience and do and be. But those who believe that the holy grail of parenting is the ability to step away and let your child fall, are missing something mighty; that some of those parents they think are hovering aren’t actually helicoptering at all, they’re playing.

During the week my boy has plenty of opportunities to test his boundaries and get out of his comfort zone. While I’m at work he plays with the other children at his preschool, he climbs and runs and tests out making friends.

On Monday evening he plays soccer, and though it’s a new activity and he’s still a little shy, I encourage him to leave my lap and run onto the field. As the other kids gather into a circle he looks over his shoulder, pulling on his ear the way he does when he’s nervous, and I give him a thumbs up, letting him know it’s time to be brave. When we head to the indoor play center on rainy afternoons, I sit at a small table on the sidelines, working and watching as he explores and plays on his own.

But Saturdays are our days – the days we run and laugh and play with abandon. I won’t give up my Saturday, up-close fun just so my son can scrape his knee or work out a squabble with another kid independently. For now, when he’s little and mine, when he wants to be as close to me as I want to be to him, I’ll savor every moment of our play no matter if others see it as hovering.

You Don’t Have to Apologize for Thinking My Son is a Girl

“Your daughter is gorgeous,” said the woman, “Thank you!” I replied. “He gets a little cranky if we’re not home in time for a good nap!”

Last weekend, my husband and I were eating brunch with our toddler when an older woman who’d been waving and making our little one laugh throughout the meal came over to tell us what a beautiful child we had.

“Your daughter is gorgeous,” said the woman.

“Thank you!” I replied.

Just then my little one let out a big yawn.

“Looks like it’s almost nap-time,” I quipped. “He gets a little cranky if we’re not home in time for a good nap!”

The woman immediately looked taken aback, “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry, he just looks so much like a little girl!” she tried to explain.

We’ve all had those foot-in-mouth moments when we realize that we’ve said something very, very wrong, and it was clear this woman thought she was having one. She apologized again and hurried off before I could let her know just how little I cared that she’d mistook my son for a girl.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was sure I was carrying a girl and was giddy with excitement for all the promise a daughter held. I began a list of my favorite female-led kids’ books, I bookmarked little girls’ hairstyles, and I looked forward to being a class mom, girl scout troop leader, and friend.

When I learned that the baby swimming around inside of me was a boy I was shocked both by the sex of my baby and by how little I suddenly cared whether or not I would have a daughter. On the day my little one came into the world, the wisdom that numerous seasoned parents had passed along early in my pregnancy – that I’d love my baby with all my heart no matter their gender – was confirmed.

I also quickly realized that most of the things I’d looked forward to about being the mother of a daughter were really just things about being a parent.

I’m a committed feminist and believe deeply in equality. I work hard to minimize how my son’s sex impacts how I’m parenting him. I’m intentional with my language, I provide a breadth of toys, and his books have both male and female leads. Despite my best efforts at mindfulness, I’m sure that there are many, many subtle and culturally engrained ways I’m raising a boy differently than I would raise a girl.

I’m also more than certain that the way society at large interprets and interacts with my son is shaped by his boyhood. In the thousands of tiny ways that add up to the gendered patterns and undercurrents of our society, being a boy is shaping his life.

It’s no wonder then, with the weight that gender carries in our society, that people go to great lengths to apologize when they’ve mislabeled my son.

That day, my little guy was dressed in gray overalls and a baby-blue shirt, his amber necklace was tucked neatly below his collar. He was carrying both a doll and a model train car, and his blond hair, curly and soft, had just grown long enough to rest on his shoulders. He’s a beautiful child but, at this point, absent any secondary sex characters, my son’s only gendered identifiers are the things he’s wearing or holding.

People judge my boy’s sex based on the clothes he’s wearing or the toys he’s carrying or the way we style his hair. I have no intention of picking more “boyish” clothes or cutting his hair short just so everyone knows he’s a boy.

“Aren’t you worried that he’ll be confused or embarrassed when he realizes people think he’s a girl?” asked an acquaintance after another mislabeling incident.

Nope. I’ll simply explain to my boy that we live in a society that likes labels and categories. I’ll explain that even though a lot of people believe these categories are really important, they’re actually kind of just made-up. I’ll let him know that it’s not his job to make other people feel comfortable and that it’s okay to like one thing today and something different tomorrow.

Though he loves them now, I’ll never force my son to wear headbands or play with dolls. If he stops because other people are being negative, I’ll work hard to help him develop the kind of fuck-it confidence that everyone needs every now and then, and I’ll encourage him to keep on being him.

Being mistaken for a girl is something that happens when you’re a boy with beautiful curls whose mom doesn’t particularly care what gender people think you are. It isn’t an insult or a negative assumption. It’s nothing to be embarrassed or shocked by. If you happen to call my boy a girl, you probably won’t even realize because I won’t correct you.

If you happen to discover you’ve mislabeled, please realize that this mama doesn’t care in the least, and that you owe no apology. I love hearing how my kid is sweet or beautiful or funny. Keep on telling me that and we’ll all be okay.