A Yankee in the South in December

On a balmy November day, I peel a crying preschooler out of the car seat to carry him into school.  Okay, it isn’t actually BALMY.  It is SUPPOSED to be balmy.  At noon.  At 9 a.m., it’s chilly.  I have a sweatshirt for E on my arm, but this tearful tot would not wear it and asking him brings on our third or fourth crying spell (I’ve lost count).  At this point the only thing that I am grateful for is that my seven-month-old is home with the hubby.

Mustering some mom-ness while I lug forty-sniffling-pounds through the parking lot, I think: I pick my battles carefully As a (hypothetical?) example, if E were to ask to eat Sour Patch Kids for breakfast one of these temper tantrum mornings, I would say: Yum!

Lost in thought, I avoid being crushed by the front door and am almost to E’s classroom when an ever-so-kind mom says: Still short-sleeves? (Is there a punctuation mark for condescending?)

Instinctually, I am overwhelmed with the desire to seem like a good mom.  I attempt to look around my sobbing son at the sweatshirt on my arm, perhaps to motion to it and say: I pick my battles? Ending the comment with a bit of a question mark so she can say: Oh yes. Me, too. You are doing great. What a sweet boy.

And then the Yankee or Teenager or Witch with a B growls: Maybe that’s why he’s crying.  He SOOOO cold.

(Well, I don’t actually SAY that.  But I think it INTENSELY at her as she walks past us and out the door.)

But I am so angry.  I am no longer walking — I am MARCHING into the classroom.  (Perhaps muttering to myself other witty comebacks.)  And glaring.  I drop him off and march back to my car daring someone to comment on my parking job or hot-pink sweatpants.  BRING IT ON!

Once in the car I pause and breathe and wonder why I am so upset.  Well, like many moms, I am plagued with insecurity and often overwhelmed with my own personal baggage-claim area.  Children are fun-house mirrors to a parent’s shortcomings.  My impatience.  My self-centeredness.  My desire to LOOK GOOD.  I struggle with these everyday – it just depends on which suitcase is rotating by me.

Finally, I ask myself: Am I a mom who under-dresses her kids?

I definitely hate being hot myself.  I am definitely lazy and don’t like going back upstairs for a sweater when I know that the afternoon will be warm.  And I definitely don’t believe a cold child will get sick, but I do know that a hot child will get cranky.

As I continue to ponder my worth as a mother, I look around the parking lot at E’s bundled-up classmates.  And I realize the truth…

I dress my children VERY appropriately and everyone in the South does NOT.

Sound defensive, do I?  Wait.  I have proof:

My children:

  • 70 degrees and up: short-sleeves and probably shorts.
  • 50-70 degrees: long-sleeve shirt and pants and maybe a sweatshirt at the low-end. no socks.
  • 30-50 degrees: all of the above with a coat and maybe a hat at the low-end.  no socks.  unless it’s snowing.  which it doesn’t.

Southern children:

  • 70 degrees and up: pants.  probably a light sweater.
  • 50-70 degrees: coat, hat, pants, long-sleeves, socks. maybe an umbrella.
  • 30-50 degrees: everything above plus long-johns. Long-johns?  Yup.  And, of course, there is always the one parent who complains that our kids go out in “this weather” at all.

(If it ever gets to be ten degrees here, I’m pretty sure the other parents will have to roll their kids into school in double-snowsuits and a parka.  And I’ll be happy if I can find E’s socks.)

I grew up in New England.  I lived through three-day snowstorms without starving to death.  I remember breaking out the bathing suit and baby oil on sixty-degree days.  And look how my wrinkly self turned out.  I have NEVER needed long-johns.

Facts are facts.  When there is the possibility of it being in the seventies in December and my child thinks snow comes in a globe, we wear short-sleeves in the winter.  Like RIGHT NOW.  Because.  Because I’ve got to toughen them up in case we move back North.  Because I don’t want the New England moms to say: Jackets already?

I don’t have a good comeback to that one yet.

This post originally appeared in The Mommies Network.

Private and Not-So-Private Parts

My three-year-old son, E, and his new baby sister, N, are bathing together and my son asks: Where is N’s penis? 

My husband, Scott, who was in charge of bath that night (YAY!) yells: AAALLLLEEEEXXX.

I have been designated handler-of-all-questions-uncomfortable.  (Scott is still getting over E not being an infant anymore.  He’s SOOO big is a daily comment.)

I come in and Scott and E repeat the question.

I respond: You have a penis and N has a vagina.  She does not have a penis.  I go on to explain that Daddy is like E and Mama is like N.  I don’t elaborate further and E repeats my explanation a few times without any new questions.  He points out his newfound knowledge to N and that’s it.

I leave the room with an air of smugness last seen when my son greeted my mom’s friend at our door with Hello. It’s nice to meet you.

I had been thinking about this issue since E discovered his penis.  Armed with my philosophy, biology and feminist theory classes, I already knew how I was going to handle the gender, sex, and my body talks:

  1. I wasn’t going to shy away or ignore any question.  I wanted him to love and respect his body and I would mirror that by respecting his question.
  2. I wanted to use scientific terms.  “Hoo-ha” and “weenie” aren’t human body parts nor are they anything I want associated with my body or my children’s.  (Although I just learned that my sister uses “vah-jay-jay,” which had I known that before the talk, I may have been willing to incorporate.  It sounds like the cool neighbor in an old-school 70’s sitcom.  Who’s at the door?  It’s VAH-JAY-JAY!)
  3. I also wanted to emphasize what my daughter HAS, not what she doesn’t have.  I’ve read way to much Freud to describe women as a “lack” of anything.
  4. Most importantly, I wanted to move at E’s pace.  E doesn’t seem to care who are boys and who are girls so I have yet to comment on “appropriate” pronouns and gender definitions.  Anyway, as any VERY liberal arts student will tell you, gender definitions are best left fluid.

And the talk in the bathroom went just like I wanted it.

Until E blindsides me a few days later.

I’m at the kitchen table leaning over while wearing appropriate breast-feeding attire.  E points and asks: What’s that? 

Now I look down and say hopefully: Those are my breasts. 

He says: NO! What’s that? 

And points his finger clearly between my breasts.  I start panicking.  Is there a scientific word for cleavage?  Is there a feminist word for cleavage? Why is my three-year-old asking me about cleavage?

Well… (I pause trying to buy time.  But I can’t ignore his question — That’s Rule #1!) It’s where my breasts meet…  And I think to myself: What? Am I really describing my breasts like they’re friends getting together for coffee.  Wait, maybe I can call it STARBUCKS.

But Mama, what IS it?, he insists. 

I look left.  I look right.  I use Jedi mind-tricks to force my cat to appear and actually let him pet her.  And E continues to looks from me to my chest to me again.  So I tell him.  I give him the word that every heterosexual male has come to love. 

It’s called cleavage, E. 

And my feminist, scientific, and mommy selves DIE.

The next day he asks again.

Except it’s while my husband is leaning over without a shirt on. E pointed to a SKIN roll (NOT a fat roll) and says: Beavage!  Which I guess is breast plus cleavage.  Or right around the time Child Protective Services calls.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Mommies Network

The Day I Gave Up My Medical Career to Become a Stay-at-home Mom

Okay so it wasn’t as dramatic as ONE DAY, but I did, in essence, put away my medical career for good (unless the government changes the requirements to practice medicine, i.e., stops requiring doctors to attend residency, be licensed, be board-eligible, etc).

I was a fourth-year medical student whose husband, S, was a second-year resident in pediatrics.  We had thought on and off about getting pregnant but the PLAN was to wait until I was a second-year pediatric resident when I would have the least amount of hours to work.

Well, in January 2006, I’m two weeks late. Like any normal medical student, I think: I would tell my patient to take a pregnancy test just in case.  So off we go to CVS and S jokes: Wouldn’t it be funny if you really were pregnant? At this point, I should have known a pink cross with in my future, but it took two pregnancy tests (one that night and another in the morning JUST IN CASE) for me to realize I’m pregnant.  YAY!  But wait … what is that due date again?  Hmm… I’ll be two months into my intern year in a pediatric residency (which is the worst year of a resident’s life — working 80 hours-a-week with 30-hour shifts (no, you did not misread that) thrown in the mix every four days most months of the year).  And my husband will be a third-year resident in the same program ALSO working 80 hours-a-week although less months of the year.  When we put our name on the daycare waiting list at the hospital the following week, we found out it is open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight.  I started imagining my baby there at midnight.   And I was not happy.  I spoke to many moms who are able to be great pediatric residents and great moms.  But I had a sinking feeling as this little boy grew inside me that I was not one of them.

Soon I rallied and I thought: I can do this!! Just not THIS year. I’ll just take a year off after graduating medical school. Lots of people do it.  I only have to resubmit my application in November when my son is 3-months-old.  But, I reasoned, he’ll be almost a year when I begin my residency, and my husband will be working an 8-5 job with most weekends OFF.

So only I will have be gone a lot.  Just me.  Gone.  A lot.

I waddled down the aisle and accepted my medical degree in May with my shiny new plan in place.  I pushed my son out in August.  Mom, M.D., doing her thing.  But as November loomed closer and I hadn’t slept in months and my husband was working 30-hour shifts, I just couldn’t do it.  I ignored the upcoming deadline for as long as I could, but finally called my husband at work.  I’m not going to apply for residency.  He said: I know.  I told my friend K.  She said: I know.  I seemed to be the only one not in the loop.

I realized over those first few months that I was not capable of being the mom I want to be and work that much.  Some people can.  They are AMAZING women.  But some people can’t.  They are ME.

Honestly, I was (am?) shocked that I’m built to be a stay-at-home mom.  If you had asked me the month before I got pregnant, I would have said: no way.  I will never stay at home.  I am a working mom.  Period.  I have NO desire to be a stay-at-home mom. I thought that the best mom that I could be included me working.  I was wrong.

Staying at home is hard, but it’s hardest on my ego.  I often avoid telling people about my medical degree because I know that without a residency, I can’t practice.  When I tell them, I feel like I have to tell my whole journey.  (Although I’m pretty sure that they are just making small talk — no one envies the guy who asks me THAT question at the dinner party.)

When I am feeling uncomfortable with my decision, I think: I’ll eventually do something with the medical degree. But maybe I already have.  Maybe it’s in having a little extra knowledge while I take care of my children.  Or help out friends with their medical questions.  I love hearing stories of others who found callings outside of the hospitals because I want to have a career once my children are in school full-time.  But I can’t ever see myself spending 80 hours-a-week away from them.  Maybe I’ll focus on my writing full-time. (Don’t hold me to it. I know better than to make any predictions these days.)

Did I waste my time?  I don’t know.  Would it have been nice to know all this before I got pregnant?  Heck yeah!  I would have picked a career that I could go back to in five years.  Nursing.  Teaching.  Law.  But I also trust that I made the decision to attend medical school with the facts I had at hand so I must have been meant to get the degree.

I know that staying at home with my (now two) children is the right thing for me today.  And I still stick the M.D. at the end of my name when I feel like it.  Because I earned it.  And whether my pride sometimes tells me I could be “more,” my heart tells me to stay put.  Because there is no more or less. I am no more or less than the moms who are doctors.  They are no more or less than moms who stay at home.

PS.  My story is my story.  I have no judgment on moms who work or moms who stay home.  I hope that my post reflects this — I know that I’m delving into a controversial topic right off the bat.  I heard a study once (on NPR?) that moms who work part-time are the happiest.   But I’m pretty sure it’s the moms who can choose to do what they feel in their hearts is right for them.  I didn’t have as much choice in my decision as I would have liked (part-time-medical-residency isn’t much of an option, trust me), but even if I had, I would have eventually realized that staying at home is for me.  It may have just taken longer and maybe another degree.

This post originally appeared on The Mommies Network