Overcoming Baby Store Syndrome

Originally posted December 29, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

I didn’t get to register for a wedding, but, as a girl who loves to shop, I always imagined getting that little scanner gun and zapping my way through a store would be wonderful. So when I first found out I was pregnant, the idea of finally going into a baby store to choose things for my own child seemed like a dream come true.

Mid-way through my first trimester, I walked into one of the larger baby chain stores. Outside the store, I trilled with excitement. Inside, I instantly felt nauseous. Maybe it was my usual bout of afternoon ‘morning’ sickness or the fact I’d come from work and was tired and hungry, but after just one aisle, all I wanted to do was run out of there screaming. And I did, well, minus the screaming; I kept that in my head. Maybe it was a little too early to think about baby gear.

By trimester two, though, I was ready to try again. After all, eventually I would want to register for and/or buy at least the basics before baby was born. So on a bleak, foggy day in early December that reminded me eerily of the opening scene in A Christmas Carol just before four creepy specters arrive to terrify Scrooge, I entered the overwhelming world of baby gear once again. And once again I wanted to cry, or vomit, or both. What was it about the sight of onesies that induced such a gut-wrenching reaction? It’s a humbug I tell you!

Seeing aisles of products I couldn’t name, never mind know what to do with had made me panic—twice. How much of this crap did I need? Who’s going to show me how to use it? What if I pick something unsafe? How much is this all going to cost? All these thoughts raced through my already exhausted pregnant mind, leaving me with one conclusion: I haven’t a clue what I’m doing, and therefore both the baby and I were obviously as doomed as Scrooge’s unredeemable soul.

After a snack, a nap, and a chat with a pregnant co-worker nearing the end of her pregnancy, I realized this reaction was relatively normal, although perhaps a bit exaggerated by hormones, hunger, and the fact I’d been teaching A Christmas Carol long enough that I was beginning to have it memorized. Logic returned, somewhat, and I turned to my third favorite resource—after food and friends and family—books, but no more Dickens.

With a hand-me-down copy of Baby Bargains by Denise and Alan Fields, I set out to conquer the challenge of choosing baby gear from the safety and security of my own home. For a couple weeks I spent my evenings reading through one section of the book at a time while constantly checking online for prices, pictures, and further reviews. In my pajamas, without the bright fluorescent lights and towering aisles of gadgets and gear, I was actually having fun thinking about using these things with my little one.

While it was still super early, I even began adding things to a registry online. There was no way I was going to remember all the information later, and since I wouldn’t likely be sharing my choices for months, there was no stress; I could change mind at any time. By the final chapter I felt like I had a handle on the most important things I’d actually need, all things I had heard of and do know what to do with (in theory). Turns out a lot of the other stuff flooding the store shelves are niceties that most babies and parents don’t actually need. And while the logical part of my mind knew this, seeing it on paper was a major relief.

The Ghost of Baby-Yet-to-Come was far less scary with his hood off and realities exposed. I was not doomed to fail at motherhood because I had never seen an apparatus to suck snot with my mouth out of an infant’s nose. (Yeah, I know moms love these things, and I’ll probably be one of them some day, but really?) And for now it is enough to know I’ll need some bottles, and that there are many kinds out there if my little man turns out to be fussy about his favorite. I don’t need to stress before ever meeting him what kind that is.

So later this week I will once again venture into the baby super store. This time I’ll be ready and armed with a mostly completed registry, a dash of knowledge, some much needed perspective, and, most importantly, an experienced best friend or two. Bring it, Babies R Us!

If you have your own registering advice or stories, please share!

 

Photo credit: Kalinovsky

Honesty Over Ease: Why I Won’t Avoid the Daddy Question

Originally posted December 13, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

As a single mother by choice I expected the “Who’s the daddy?” question to come up. I’ve actually been surprised at the restraint people have shown when I’ve told them I’m expecting while not wearing a ring and still going by Miss. Sure, in some ways it’s none of people’s business, but as someone who is at times overly inquisitive herself, I understand it’s also natural to wonder.

Since I’ve been so open throughout my journey to single motherhood, I didn’t mind the not-so-subtle fishing of some acquaintances. (Saying, “Oh, you and your husband must be so happy!” or “Are you Miss or Mrs.?” when these topics have never previously come up, is not exactly subtle, but I appreciate the attempt at politeness.) And while some single mothers by choice are sensitive to it, I’d never be upset or angry with a stranger for assuming there’s a daddy in the picture. My getting pregnant did require some male assistance, after all.

That said, if someone brings up the topic, I’m not comfortable pretending there is a dad.

I won’t smile and nod and let people think their assumption that all families include a mom and a dad is correct, because it’s not, and people need to be exposed to all kinds of families in order to understand and accept them.

Yes, it would be easier not to explain that I’ve chosen to become a single mother to complete strangers at the doctors’ office or the maternity store, and it might be more comfortable for them, too. But then I wouldn’t be comfortable. I’m not ashamed of the way I’m starting my family and not speaking up would feel like I had something to hide.

More important than my feelings though, are those of my son. There will be a day when a stranger says in front of him, “Oh, he must look like his daddy.” Again, it might be easier for me just to agree. After all, my son may look like his donor, and to a stranger what’s the difference? Nothing. But to my son, there will be a difference. I want him to know that while he doesn’t have a dad, his family structure is just as legitimate, and special, and loving as any other. If he thinks I’m not comfortable talking about it, how can he ever be comfortable with it?

I also want others to understand that while they mean no harm in their assumptions, times have changed, and the language we use to talk about families needs to change with it. According to some statistics, ‘non-traditional’ families now outnumber ‘traditional’ families. That doesn’t mean we need to stop talking about families with moms and dads, but it does mean we need to start talking more about other kinds of families. And that starts with those of us willing to be forthright gently reminding those who ask, hint, or assume that we exist and are not ashamed or uncomfortable with whatever make-up our families consists of.

So, no, I won’t lie or even smile and nod to make others feel more comfortable. Because while they may be mere acquaintances or even complete strangers to whom the truth means little, my child needs me to tell the truth, not only to him, but to the world. Because the truth will help shape the world he grows up in—and I want that world to be educated and accepting of all the types of families that exist. Ours included.

Photo credit:  enterlinedesign

The Changes Pregnancy Brings

Originally posted November 8, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

A year has passed, and I’m still sitting at the kitchen table, working on the computer, with only the cat keeping me company. My heart is still trilling with excitement, my stomach still churning with anxiety. At first glance it might seem nothing has changed.

But, really, everything has changed.

A year ago I made the decision to start this journey toward single motherhood. I spent countless hours researching fertility centers, reading blogs of other single mothers, finding books on raising children conceived with donor sperm. My excitement stemmed from knowing I was making a decision that would forever change my life. My anxiety stemmed from fears of finances, worries of whether my closest family and friends would be supportive of such a decision, and, yeah, the realization that I was making a decision that would forever change my life.

While part of me thought things would move much faster than they did, the other part of me couldn’t fathom that I’d be sitting, as I am now, at this same table, just a year later, entering my second trimester of pregnancy. But here I am.

Already I’m amazed at how much I’ve changed, how pregnancy has altered my fears, aspirations, and emotions.

Most days now, my whole tiny universe is focused on the little boy growing inside me—his safety, health, and happiness. (Yes, I learned last week that it’s a boy!) He is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thought I have before falling asleep.

The abstract anxieties I felt before conceiving, such as how to explain to him or others about his donor or how to give him the best life without a second parent, are now very real, yet in some ways they seem less complicated than before. I’ll be honest, and I’ll love him in the best ways I know how—just as I’m doing already. And if I ever worried about whether that would be enough, it was because I didn’t know, couldn’t know, just how strong that love will be. Already it takes my breath away to hear his heartbeat or to think about holding him in my arms, and I’m still months away from first feeling his tiny hand clasp my finger.

Pregnancy has also changed my prospective of what’s important. I still have dreams of my own, but now they’re a bit more balanced. I don’t feel like a failure because I’ve gone a couple weeks, okay months, without starting my next novel. My writing is still important to me, but I know those naps of the first trimester were more important. And the papers that need grading will get done. Or maybe some won’t. Either way, it will be fine. Maybe it’s nature’s way of assuring our babies get what they need, or maybe I never really needed to wash the hardwood floors weekly to begin with, but it seems like growing this baby inside me has reminded me of what’s really important on the outside. Spotless floors do not even make the list anymore.

Perhaps the pregnancy hormones are starting to ramp up, or perhaps knowing the gender and making it out of the first trimester with a healthy baby has finally allowed me to take this all in at once, but already I’m in awe of this process. I’m amazed at the new depths my joy and, yes, my worry have reached in just a few short months. And I can’t wait to see the changes the next year will bring!

Photo credit: Viktor Hanacek


When Does Pregnancy Start to Feel Real?

Originally posted October 26, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

I waited until the day before my blood test, knowing that the trigger shot I had taken to help me ovulate at exactly the right time could still be in my system and could give a false positive on the home pregnancy test. By then it was nearly two weeks since the shot. All traces of the artificial hormones should have been out of my system, yet I stood there staring at the faint pink line unconvinced I was pregnant. “Don’t get your hopes up,” I told myself.

The next day the first blood test results came back, low but promising. Promising. That was how I referred to it in my head. Not positive, not definite. Hey, even the nurse told me we needed another test to be sure, so it wasn’t just me being nervous.

Three days (and three more positive at-home pee tests) later the results of the second blood test were great; my hormone levels had tripled. I was pregnant—for now. Because things  happen sometimes, I mean, everyone knows that.

And things did happen. Just days after my first ultrasound, after seeing the reassuring flicker of an early heartbeat, there was a scare. I had bleeding, a completely normal, fairly common, but absolutely terrifying first trimester occurrence that no one, not even Dr. Google, had warned me about. The fears and doubts I’d tried to ignore flooded me in a gush of tears and panic. So I had ultrasound number two. All was still well. Beanie was growing stronger, just as he or she should. So I could finally relax, and enjoy, and stop touching my boobs every hour to be sure they still hurt, right?

Well, two further ultrasounds, multiple mornings of nausea, a new bra size, and countless naps later, I have to admit, the disbelief over this pregnancy is only marginally better, and I really don’t know why.

Maybe it’s because I’ve wanted this for so long that I can’t believe it’s finally happening. Or perhaps after the months of trying to conceive, where not getting my hopes up was the best means of survival, disbelief has become a bad habit. Or maybe it’s just the normal fear and worry any parent feels, in which case I better get used to it, because it’s likely to stick around for . . . well, forever.

I never thought the first trimester would be a piece of cake. But I expected the physical symptoms, not the fear and anxiety, to be the biggest hassle. Instead, I find myself almost relieved when a wave of nausea hits—at least that means the hormones are still doing their job in there! And this from the woman who has an actual fear of vomiting.

In less than two weeks I’ll know my baby’s gender, which may help me picture this little Beanie better than the alien-like images from the ultrasounds. A relatively short time after that I’ll start looking more pregnant. And then I’ll finally be able to feel the miracle growing inside me; actually, at 5’1″ and ridiculously short-waisted, I’ll probably be feeling more than I want.

Hopefully then it will all feel more real, more permanent. Hopefully soon it will sink in that my dream really is a reality—growing bigger and more present every day!

So when did your pregnancies begin to feel real?

 

Photo credit: Monkeybusiness

Pregnancy: The Secret I Just Couldn’t Keep

Originally posted October 11, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

One of my favorite stories in the seventh grade literature anthology is “Secret for Two” by Quentin Reynolds, a short story of an old man living alone who shares his big secret only with his loyal horse, Joseph. It’s a sweet story that nearly always brings tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately for me, horses must be far more receptive to such confidences than my self-centered feline, who has done nothing more than vomit on the carpet a few added times since I shared my secret with her over a month ago. I thought I was supposed to be the one with morning sickness once I got pregnant?

Yes, that was my secret: I’m pregnant!

I say ‘was my secret’ because the secret for one lasted about as long as it took for the pee to dry on the at-home pregnancy test before I shared with one of my best friends in the form of “Is that a second line, or am I seeing things?”

I wasn’t seeing things. After seven months and five IUIs, I really am pregnant! Pretty much from the moment the second, confirming blood test came back, I wanted to shout it from mountain tops while wearing a neon sign and, of course, my lucky socks. Sure I was nervous. I was terrified something would go wrong, but I wanted someone with whom I could talk about it. And there were so many emotions, questions, and joys that I wanted to talk about it constantly.

But I’m single. There isn’t someone waking up next to me with whom I can roll over and gush. There isn’t someone at dinner each night to laugh or cringe at my odd food combinations (o.j. and pickles, anyone?). It’s just me.

Of course, that’s not true. So many people have been supporting me all along this journey; I knew I could share my happy secret with a few of them. I swore to myself, though, that I wouldn’t put it on social media until after my first trimester, because that would be taunting the fates, not to mention breaking the bump code. So I started with my immediate family and closest friends. Then I let some of the ladies at work know. And, how could I not tell my ‘dad-at-work’? When I needed some appointments during the school day, I realized I had to tell the boss. And I couldn’t tell my boss and not my aunts who worked in the same building. By the time I was just eight weeks along, my secret for one had become a secret for many.

From then on, I promised myself I’d rein in my over-sharing. I had plenty of people to talk with now if I needed. No more blurting, I vowed. But, hey, when was I ever going to see this supermarket clerk again? Or this random lady in the maternity section of Target where I couldn’t help but browse? And book club only meets every other month, and I really wanted to tell them in person, right? Yes! Oh, boy.

Why was keeping this secret so hard? Was it just that I’ve always sucked at keeping secrets, especially about myself? Did it really have anything to do with being single and not having a close confidant to chat with each night? Or was it that I wasn’t sure pregnancy was a secret that was always meant to be kept?

Honestly, I think it was a little of each. If I’d had a spouse at home to talk about it with everyday, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to blurt to total strangers. If I wasn’t the type of person willing to share my stories, good or bad, maybe I would have been more anxious about the what ifs (and I was, okay, still am pretty anxious as it is, so I completely understand women who wait!). Or maybe if I just had a slightly better poker face, I could have kept my promise to myself to stay mum until trimester two. But I don’t, so here I am blurting to the world three weeks early.

When it comes down to it, a woman should tell who she wants, when she wants.

For me, there wasn’t the option of an intimate secret for two, and a secret for one wasn’t cutting it. Once I started sharing, I couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. And now I don’t need to. Beanie, as I refer to my little-one-to-be, is doing superb as of my week ten ultrasound; s/he even had some in utero dance moves (clearly the donor’s genes at work there). This mamma-to-be is feeling overjoyed—even when I am exhausted or a little nauseous. And the finicky feline, well, she’s no Joseph, but she is enjoying the occasional middle-of-the-night cereal bar breaks that accompany our not-so-secretive secret.

 

Photo by Duskbabe

How Your Child Can Benefit from Having a New Teacher

Originally posted September 27, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Being the inquisitive writer I am, I often listen in on fellow shoppers’ conversations as I wait in the check out line or pass people in an aisle. (Okay, I’m just nosy. Go with it.) As school was starting this year, and I was making my annual pilgrimage through Target for supplies and a few new accessories, I couldn’t help overhear a conversation between two mothers comparing the upcoming year’s teachers. While one mother seemed pleased to have a teacher both had heard about, the other was obviously somewhat distressed about her child being in the classroom of a new teacher.

I thought back to my first year of teaching, how inexperienced I was, how nervous, how young, and I could totally understand this mother’s fear of the unknown. After all, parents entrust a year of their child’s education and school experience to their child’s teacher or teachers. But then I thought back to not only my first years, but also to the first years of the teachers I’ve mentored over the last decade. It occurred to me that second mom didn’t know how lucky she was to have her child in a new teacher’s classroom.

No one’s first year of teaching is perfect. But no year of teaching is ever perfect. And newer teachers have an awful lot of advantages that more experienced teachers might not. Here are just a few to ease your mind.

Knowledge of the Most Up-to-date Research and Trends in Education

If your child is lucky enough to be in the classroom of someone fresh out of college or grad school, you can be assured that teacher is probably the most up-to-date in the building on recent research about childhood development, best practices for 21st Century teaching, and how to incorporate the ever-growing technology our children will need in their futures into their learning. While almost all teachers are required to take classes to keep their certification, few who are in the middle or end of their careers take the number of classes required of students in teacher preparation programs. New teachers are full of new ideas, new strategies, and new research.

High Stakes Drive Them to Excellence

With recent education reform, no teacher’s job is entirely secure. As it should be, if a teacher consistently doesn’t perform, he can be let go. However, new teachers have more at stake than anyone. Their jobs are never secure, which means they need to work twice as hard to prove they ought to be kept on. New teachers are more willing than most to take criticism and run with it, revamping their methods until they work for every child. They’re more likely to actively seek out help to improve, and in most districts they are watched the closest and given the most support to be better, because we want them to succeed as much as parents do. Who wouldn’t want their child in the classroom that the entire building, from administration to fellow teachers, is helping to be amazing?

Energy

Fourteen years ago I arrived at school at or before 7am, stayed after doing extra help or numerous after-school activities until 4pm, went to grad school one or two nights a week until 8 pm, and still had energy left on Friday afternoon to go socialize with my co-workers over a beer. Today, I do not.

New teachers are usually young, often don’t have families yet, and still have the stamina they built up in college to survive quite well on limited sleep. This energy is evident in the ways they teach, the ways they get involved in the school community, and in the ways they interact with the kids. They have the energy to be more active, more creative, and more involved, all qualities that make for excellent teaching and student engagement. Energy is contagious in a classroom and, when channeled, can lead to tremendous learning.

Untainted Passion

Like energy, passion is also contagious. I was given a little sign one year by a parent that reads “A teacher that loves teaching creates children who love learning.” I absolutely believe this is true. I also absolutely believe that the majority of teachers, no matter how long they’ve been in the classroom, do love teaching. It’s too hard a job to stick with if you don’t love it. That said, the longer you teach, the more you experience the downsides to the job: pendulum swings in policy that condemn one year what they espoused five years before, interference by politicians who’ve never taught a day in their lives, and an ever-increasing workload that seems to take more and more time away from the very things teachers love—the kids and the teaching.

New teachers lack experience in all areas of the profession, the good and the bad, which can actually benefit them and the students they teach. They start their careers focused on what all educators should be focused on: great teaching and great learning. If you’re lucky enough to have a child in a room of a teacher who has yet to have their passion tempered by the realities of the profession, who’s bounding with energy and new knowledge, and who’s striving to prove she’s capable of being the best, enjoy it—and encourage it with all the support and kind words you can! You and your child are in for a great year!

 

Photo credit: alphaspirit

Making the Most of Parent Night

Originally posted September 13, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

With school underway just about everywhere now, the season of parent nights has begun. No matter what age your children are, attending these informational evenings can be a great way to assure a smooth school year for them and for you. In order to get the most of these nights, here are three top tips from a teacher who’s now hosted fourteen of these evenings herself.

Know the Format and Purpose

While nearly all schools have an evening event early in the fall during which they welcome parents, not all are created equal. In order to get the most of the evening and not be disappointed, know what type of parent night your child’s school holds ahead of time.

Open house – Usually this type of parent night is what it sounds like. Teachers are available in their classrooms for a set number of hours, and parents are welcome to come in and out during those times. Open houses often involve seeing the learning space, meeting and chatting briefly with the teacher, and viewing some early student work.

Curriculum night – Unlike open houses, curriculum night usually involves hearing the teacher or teachers speak about what will be taught that year. Teachers usually have specific times to present their prepared presentation, and parents need to follow a set schedule to see all their children’s teachers. While there might be a little time before and after the presentations to meet teachers, this format often doesn’t leave as much time for individualized conversations.

Conferences – Often time open houses and curriculum nights are held very early in the year, sometimes even the first week of school. While these nights are certainly times to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher, they are not the time or place to expect an individualized conference. Parent-teacher conferences are usually held later in the year so that the teacher has a chance to learn more about their students and can provide better feedback to parents. That said, if you feel you need a one-on-one conference sooner, you can certainly mention to the teacher at open house or curriculum night that you wish to meet and that you’ll be contacting them to set up a time. Please don’t put this burden on the teacher. Remember, while your brood of three might seem overwhelming, the teachers most likely have twenty or more students and sets of parents to keep straight—in addition to their own families.

Do Your Homework

Whether it’s emails, online newsletters, or paper handouts, the beginning of the school year usually involves flooding parents with informational memos, forms to be completed, and packets to be signed. Once the dust settles and the important documents have been sent back to school, do take the time to read the rest of what the school or teacher sent home at the start of the year. Often teachers send welcome letters to parents or post important information on their teacher website. School websites are also often a wealth of information. Knowing a little about the teacher’s and/or school’s philosophies, policies, and expectations prior to going in to school will help you prepare questions you might have and will allow you to reinforce some of the same things at home with your child.

Follow Up

Curriculum night and open house can often be a whirlwind for parents and teachers. Time can run out. The line to talk with the teacher can wind around the classroom. Emotions and nerves can run high—on both sides. Take a breath, and know that if you forgot to mention something, didn’t get a chance to ask an important question, or just didn’t have time to say hi, there’s always tomorrow. Thanks to technology, parents and teachers are in constant contact through emails, websites, and newsletters. And while daily questions or comments can become burdensome, teachers usually really appreciate hearing from a parent after an open house. It shows you were interested and that you are concerned, which usually means you’ll also be supportive—and those are the best kinds of parents to work with! So don’t feel bad about following up with a comment or question (or compliment!).

And if you can’t make it to a parent night event, it’s great to send an email saying you would have loved to attend but couldn’t. Please understand though that it might not be possible for a teacher to convey in an email everything that was covered. Instead ask if any handouts provided could be sent home with your child and if there were any key points you should know to help your child have a great year.

Whether it’s called curriculum night, open house, or something else at your child’s school, these early events are a way of starting the year off with positive and open lines of communication between home and school. It’s a reminder that all involved want the same thing: to assure every child has a terrific school year!

Photo credit: egal