Monthly Archives: November 2012

Myths of Motherhood

More than anything right now, I want to take a nap. And I will take one, as soon as I’ve finished writing this. My toddler will probably take one with me, but he’s just as likely to sit on my stomach, as I recline on the couch, while he watches educational programming on PBS Kids. Some would consider this bad parenting.

Let me let you in on a little secret: anything that keeps you sane and that doesn’t endanger your child is not bad parenting; it’s survival. If you’re going crazy without adult conversation, there’s no harm in chatting on the phone with a friend or checking your e-mail while the little one plays with toys. That is not bad parenting (unless your child is playing with laundry bleach).

One of the pervasive myths of motherhood is that mothers have to be martyrs. If you’re not spending 100 percent of your waking hours enjoying “quality time” with your little Pookie, you’re a bad mommy. Quality time, generally speaking, involves riveting your attention onto them while engaging in something that involves a valuable learning component, such as Exploring Shapes by creating a craft that would make Martha Stewart bow down in awe. Guess what? Tickling their feet and singing a rhyming song is just as good.

If, like me, you divide your day into sections of productivity — writing, editing, promoting — and sections of toddler time, don’t think you should wear a scarlet “B” for “Bad Mommy.” Chances are, your child is getting just as much mental and developmental growth from experimenting with toys and flipping through books on his or her own. (Again, provided you provide age-appropriate toys and a child-friendly play space, and they’re not playing in the alley with an oily rag.) Trust me: when he needs you, there will be no hiding, and when she has a diaper, you will know.

Another pervasive myth of motherhood: once you have the baby, the weight will come right off. Some people tell you that, as long as you breast feed, you burn an extra 500 calories a day and will lose the weight in no time. In my case, while I was nursing, my body seemed to want to stay fluffy, in order to be a more comfortable place for the baby to relax.

The worst part is that my body seems to be completely fine with staying the way it is. Even though I have been trying to follow the same weight-loss plan that helped me lose and maintain 70 pounds of weight loss before getting pregnant, nothing seems to work now. Perhaps it’s because I’m over 40 now, and my metabolism has retired. One friend thinks it’s because of the late hours I have to keep, doing transcription work at night.

Honestly, I just think my body has decided it’s pleased to be plump. I think it’s going to take something drastic to get past my impasse: either hiring a personal trainer or making enough money through my writing that I can afford to ditch the evening transcription work. One can always dream.

One final myth you’ve no doubt heard: Mothers always know best. Upon taking your new little bundle back home, everyone from nurses to family members assure you that you’ll know what to do if you simply follow your instincts. If only it were that easy. There will be plenty of moments when you’re simply at wit’s end: and your crying, red-faced bundle of joy isn’t giving you any hints.

It’s OK to be frustrated. It’s OK to feel clueless. It’s OK to doubt yourself. In fact, it’s absolutely normal. If you didn’t go through a period of adjustment, you’re probably super human. Or a character on a 1950s sit-com. But yes, it will get easier, and yes, you will figure it out. It might involve calling your mom more often than you did when you took your first apartment. It might involve finding a support group — either in person or online — of likeminded moms who can share tips. It might mean relying on your equally clueless spouse or life partner for moral support and assistance. But you’ll make it. And you don’t have to be Donna Reed to do so.

Now that I’ve fulfilled my commitment to write this, I’m going to have some quality time with my son. First, however, that long-awaited nap.

On Toddler Time

Roughly ten minutes have elapsed since I sat down to write this essay. No, I have not been sitting here pondering how to begin. Rather, I have been spooning a container of baby yogurt into my 2-year-old’s mouth. You would think that I would have fed him before sitting down to write, but things don’t always work the way I’d like them to any more.

The yogurt container in question was sitting on the coffee table, having been rejected by my little guy ten minutes earlier. Naturally, the minute I pulled out my laptop, he walked up to me with a spoonful of yogurt and, with eyes as big as an animated character, handed me the spoon. Considering that he’s been apparently subsisting on air and water lately, whenever I am given the gift of the option of feeding him, I jump right on it.

While we have established a pretty regular routine, each day is different, and I’ve learned to adjust. One day, my toddler happily helps with errands: babbling cheerfully as we cross off items on my shopping list “Apples!” he exclaims. “Honey! Rogurt!” (That, of course, is his mispronunciation of yogurt.) On these days, shoppers and cashiers alike coo over him: “He’s so cute! Mommy’s little helper.”

On other days, he rails against the injustice of being forced to sit in a shopping cart. If he will allow me to put him down, we can still shop, albeit slowly as he “helps me” steer the cart. But if he keeps insisting “Up! Up!” then I have two choices: either put him back in the cart, where he’ll wail throughout the entire shop, a noise that’s probably audible in the next county, or I balance him on my hip, pushing the cart with the other hand. Either way, I’m likely to scan my list for only the essential items and leave the rest for another day.

The shopping list isn’t the only thing to get reordered according to my new priorities. I struggle to work in writing and social networking between diaper changes, naptime, and “Mommy time.” On his most cooperative days, my budding train engineer happily amuses himself for hours by lining up all of his cars on the coffee table and pushing them, one by one, off the edge. (This is why toddlers should never be hired to drive real trains.) Even on those days, though, he’ll climb up on the couch next to me, demanding, “Hugs, hugs.” If I’m in the middle of a thought, I often drop it. So if you’ve been waiting for an e-mail response from me for months, you should probably try again. Chances are, it fell victim to a hug.

If it weren’t for my smart phone, I’d be even more of a mess. I’ve created several “to do” lists on an app that allows me to schedule regular deadlines as well as one-time tasks. It even has an optional reminder that will send you an alert when your’re overdue for a task. Usually, by the third or fourth time I’ve hit “snooze” on the reminder to trim the cat’s claws, I actually do it.

The sad thing is, I was never terribly organized to begin with. So it should come as little surprise that the day-to-day tedium (and sleep deprivation, but that’s a topic for another time) are taking their toll. Following the advice of a fellow writer mom, however, I’m lowering my expectations. I’m praising myself for small accomplishments: even if that means a mere 600 words.

These little accomplishments are important, and they add up. Today, however, I don’t know what makes me proudest: the 600 words or feeding my little guy a whole container of yogurt.


My husband has more gray in his hair than many first-time dads. If you look carefully, you’ll see fine wrinkles in the corners of my eyes. Our two-year-old son is a compact bundle of energy, with golden curls, large brown eyes, and unmatched energy.

We have sometimes been mistaken for his grandparents. I used to tell myself it was because of his father’s hair, which started graying in college, but I’ve also faced such confusion when I was out alone with my son. I have learned to laugh it off, joking that sometimes I feel like a grandmother, but really, I’m his mommy. Still, each time someone says it, it hurts.

Families like ours are becoming increasingly more common. Women are waiting longer to have families, waiting until they finish not only college degrees but sometimes advanced degrees. Or in cases such as ours, waiting for a second marriage and a spouse more suitable to be a father. Other mothers have difficulty making sense of their own desires, and hold off on child bearing until they feel the biological clock running out. Some people wait because of career considerations, others because of insurance, financial or medical issues, and some have difficulty conceiving. Whatever the reason, there are more and more of us “belated mommies.” We should bond together.

Having children later was not unusual for my family. Both my grandmothers waited until they were about 40 to have their children. In my maternal grandmother’s case, she was too busy raising her younger siblings, a task which fell upon her, when her mother died. Not until her 30s, when she met my grandfather — who fell in love with her voice when she was a telephone operator — did she find time for her own life.

In the case of my paternal grandmother, she and my grandfather had been together for roughly eight years when she finally got pregnant with my father. I never asked her if this was by design or if she had difficulty conceiving. Tragically, my paternal grandfather died of a heart attack before she gave birth. So in the 1940s, when single mothers were devalued, she not only raised my father alone but was probably anywhere from 10 to 20 years older than most other mothers she encountered.

My story is different, but in some ways, it’s the same. A first marriage, at age 26, dissolved within a year, with our divorce finalized close to our second anniversary. It’s took a lot of false starts and personal growth before I found another man I wanted to marry. Even then, at 33 I did not want to rush into anything. Shortly after we wed, near my 37th birthday, he was laid off work, losing his medical insurance. Since I was a freelance writer and transcriptionist with no health insurance, we felt it was best to wait until he found a full-time job with insurance.

Luckily, I got pregnant with our little panda almost as soon as we started trying. It’s almost as if we simply willed our son into being, this despite the fact that we’d been warned that, as older parents, we might have more difficulty. I guess genes were on my side.

It is a wonderful miracle, bringing life into the world. It is challenging for all parents, but older parents face different challenges. All parents are tired, but older parents might grow winded faster. All parents hear unwanted advice from friends and strangers, but older parents also face rude assumptions. No one tells a young parent that they’re too inexperienced to have a child, but people seem to revel in hinting that older parents are unfit.

There are more of us “belated mommies” all the time, and yet too few of us are sharing our stories. I thought it was about time to change that.