Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why the Kate Hate?

I discovered J&K+8 when I was pregnant. Stuck at home for summer vacation, hugely and uncomfortably pregnant and unable to fight the magnetic draw of the television, I devoured re-runs of the show. I first tuned in for the train wreck factor -- I got a kick out of watching regular parents facing a completely irregular parenting situation. My addiction to the show deepened when I realized that I, too, would be facing some of these same scenarios in the near future (although at 1/8 scale). While on maternity leave, I anxiously awaited Tuesday mornings when I could review what I had recorded the night before, reassuring myself that if these parents could handle my situation times six, I could certainly survive it. My mantra became, "It could be so much worse!"

I was awed and inspired by Kate, not because she was "SuperMom", but because she was not ashamed to admit when she was flustered or tired, proudly wore sweats all day and struggled with the family budget, and loved her kids fiercely. After being bombarded with June Cleaver-esque images of the perfect wife and mother, I was thrilled to find a role model in a real mother. I simultaneously relished in and found relief in Kate's failures, for they were not so different from my own.

Now I watch the show for another version of the train wreck factor. Clearly the relationship between Jon and Kate has been disintegrating for years. TLC did a good job of hiding this; while we noted moments of Jon's frustration and Kate's over-the-top demands and tirades, there were moments of tenderness. And above all, the love for their children was clearly their ultimate connection. However, in season five, TLC stopped trying to mask what had happened to the family; shows featured the parents interacting with the children in separate parts of the country, looking increasingly tired and frustrated by the demands of their kids. When together, their interactions were awkward and forced, and not at all pleasant. Episodes were increasingly contrived, falling upon guest stars and wacky premises to mask the fact that the underlying foundation of the show and their relationship -- love -- was starting to fade. Finally, on the June 22 show, the couple announced their separation.

Many bloggers and fans of the show celebrated the split that seemed inevitable. Many have blamed Kate's "bitchiness" and demands on Jon for their demise. It is uncomplicated and simple to lay the fault at Kate's door, recusing Jon of any responsibility. While I will not for a moment say that either party is blameless, I balk at the blanket of blame that has been placed upon Kate's shoulders.

Any parent will tell you that they have snapped inappropriately at their partners. While my son was just weeks old, I remember screaming at my husband until I cried because there was no toilet paper in our bathroom. Parenting is extremely stressful; we are placed in a tremendously difficult position and faced with situations that we have never experienced before. We are exhausted, we are overwhelmed. To add to the pressure, if we make a mistake, we risk damaging this tiny little person that is completely dependent upon us. Oh, and in case this was not enough stress, there is no break. There is no vacation, no quitting time at the end of the day. It is a relentless, unending, tireless, and thankless job. And ultimately, it is the responsibility of the mother to ensure that the family is running smoothly.

When people are put under pressure, they can snap, often at the person they feel closest to. I remember when I was an adolescent, and I would constantly explode at my parents and siblings, having tantrums over ridiculous things, attacking those that loved me the most. Meanwhile, I was a stellar student and all-around "perfect child" outside the house. My father once asked me why I acted like this at home when I was so sweet, quiet, and kind to everyone else. Quite simply, I had to let off some steam, and I knew that, even after all the yelling and screaming, my family would still love me at the end of the day.

Who can really fault Kate for letting off some steam? Yes, she chose some pretty petty things to attack Jon for, but who is to say that was not just one element of a larger fight, edited for better television? Perhaps she was looking to pick a fight, just to make herself feel better, just to let off some steam, knowing in her heart that Jon would still love her at the end of the day.

We, as viewers, are dependant on the editors at TLC to provide us with a realistic picture of what happens in the Gosselin household. While I'm shaky on the exact timeline of filming, but hours and hours of footage are filed down to a mere 22 minutes of programming. And this does not consider what happens behind closed doors. The show is a product, designed for mass-consuption, not a series of home-videos for the benefit of the Gosselin family. Ratings for the show are higher than ever now that the tabloids have latched their teeth into the familial crisis in the "perfect imperfect family". TLC is benefiting financially from their turmoil. It is in the best interest of the network to edit scenes that show Kate being domineering and emasculating, depicting Jon as the innocent victim of her relentless demands. Who are we to say that Kate is not apologizing moments after she explodes, but it is conveniently edited out of the final product? Yes, Kate clearly retains some control over what is included in the episodes, but she is no idiot -- episodes including their fights garner high ratings, and high ratings garner high pay checks. Perhaps she has decided that a little character defamation is worth a larger bank account.

I shed tears when I watched the announcement of their separation on their show. It wasn't the show of (possibly well-acted) emotions displayed by the couple that moved me, but the pain I knew had to be lurking under the TV-ready appearances. They both spit out the word "separate", as though saying it quickly could diminish its sting, the pain of its reality. Watching the episode, I felt as though I was intruding on something incredibly private. A family is imploding, and we are devouring it as though it is a sitcom, as though the actors can walk away from the set and resume their normal, happy lives, when it is reality for this couple and their eight children. If we knew this couple from church, or from our children's pre-school, would we react with the same venom?

My intention is not to defend Kate. The admiration I felt for Kate a year ago has dwindled and faded away. I do feel that she is exploiting her children by continuing to film this show, particularly now that the children are experiencing the trauma of watching their parents' marriage dissolve on prime-time TV. I am disgusted by the way I have seen her treat her children in recent episodes, although admittedly, I do not know how I would react to my child if I were watching a play-by-play of my relationship woes on the tabloid covers. If the peace and security of her children is truly her ultimate objective, she needs to pull the plug on the show, and with haste. I do not feel anger towards her, nor do I feel sympathy.

I just feel pity.

He's a Big Kid Now!

I have not yet come to terms with the fact that my little man is growing up quickly. Yes, he no longer needs me to rock him to sleep, and he can crawl all over. He not only prefers solids to bottles, he is now insisting on feeding himself. But I still look at him as my little baby, not much different from when he was born.

But the beginning of the end has come. He has outgrown his car seat. We have a Graco Snugride Infant Carrier. It has served us well for the past seven months and change, and is so much easier than having to clip him in and pull him out when we're running errands. Plus we have a great little fold-up stroller that we can snap the seat right into. However, with 13 lbs of carrier and 21+ lbs of baby, it's just too heavy to carry around anymore. But I put up with it, partly because I refused to come to terms with the fact that he's growing up.

However, he is about to outgrow the 29 inch length limit and 22 lb weight limit for the car seat, so it's time to upgrade. We found Recaro Como convertible seats on months ago, and they've been sitting in the basement since. Ted is going to install them today, and the days of the infant carrier are over. I'm irrationally sad about this....

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Nursery Olympics (Part 2)

(Continuing from an earlier post that I fell asleep before finishing)

Once you take a seat, the meeting takes on a bit of an air of Alcoholics Anonymous. You introduce yourself and your baby, and then the soul-baring begins. Most moms start by explaining how things are going pretty well.... then her eyes start welling up, her voice starts shaking, and with a bit of coaxing from the group leader (a mother, maternity ward nurse, and lactation consultant), she starts to share the real problem, providing information that would make all non-mothers blush and quickly find a reason to exit the room. My nipples are bleeding. The baby hasn't pooped in three days. She won't sleep for more than 45 minutes. Does he have acid reflux? I think I made a mistake having a child. Our problems vary, but boil down to one central concern -- is my child/experience normal? (More on "normal" in a later post).

While we all feel that our personal crises are unique and monumental, through the course of discussion we find that we are, in fact, not unique and we are not the first nor the last to face these problems. The experience is cathartic; we all crave the reassurance that we're not causing (permanent) damage to our children.

And so we subject ourselves to the risk of judgment in order to be, finally, accepted into the bizarre sisterhood of mothers. We have all experienced the same rush process (pregnancy), initiation (birth) and hazing (the first six months); no one else can listen to the description of the color and consistency of poop or the saga of inadequate milk supply and say, "I feel your pain, sister".

And despite my fear of being judged for the milestones my son has reached (he can crawl but he can't sit) and the parenting choices I have made, I anxiously await these Mommy and Me meetings every week. I go for a chance to air my grievances. I go for the chance to compare myself and my child to the others in the room. I go for the excuse to leave the house. I go for the chance to be around "sisters". And I go for the opportunity to discover that I, like other mothers, am in fact normal.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Moms and Social Media

An interesting article from The Wall Street Journal on mothers and social media. I guess I'm part of the 63%!

Mommy Confessions

Sometimes there are things I just have to get off my chest. Periodically, I will post them here to "purge my soul." Just don't judge me....

Confession #1: If the baby drops his spoon on the floor, I pick it up, check for visible dirt, and give it back to him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Nursery Olympics

Competitiveness is in our nature as human beings. We find things that should be pleasant pastimes and turn them into sporting events (i.e., competitive eating). I am not surprised to note that parents are competitive as well. We have all heard stories of Stage Moms and Little League Dads. As a teacher in a private school, my students are expected to perform inside and outside the classroom; many have several hours of athletic practice every day, plus music lessons, as well as SAT camp -- all in middle school! As I think all parents do, I vowed that I would never push my child in the same aggressive way and become one of those parents.

This vow lasted a full four days. It was just that short amount of time before I fell into the trap of "Competitive Mommying". For four days after Teddy was born, I resigned myself to the fact that I was fated for a c-section since he was so big (specifically, he had a big head -- Thanks, Ted!!!). Then, while still in the hospital, I heard about another woman who delivered a ten-pound baby vaginally... without pain medication. While this is certainly not a feat I would personally like to emulate, I suddenly felt like a loser in the Mommy Wars -- this woman was clearly made of tougher stuff than I was.

The next few weeks were a blur of diapers, 3 a.m. feedings, and sweat pants, and so I was unable to engage in any competitive activities. I was simply too exhausted to analyze my parenting and the budding skills of my little man in comparison to other babies.

Then I opened the doors to all insecurity. I suppose it has to happen eventually, that I would have to interact with other mothers of children my son's age. I could possibly have avoided it until nursery school, but by that point my son would have been so socially inept that competition would have been the least of my worries. So what, you ask, led to my downfall?

Mommy and Me class.

Yes, those words in and of themselves don't strike fear into the hearts of most people, but to a new mom, it can be one of the most intimidating things you have ever encountered. Upon entering the room, you are given the Mommy Once-Over. In one quick check, an astute Competitive Mommy will take in your stroller, car seat, and diaper bag (Are they expensive, cheap, or *God forbid!* second-hand?), then the mommy (Is her hair done or are her highlights growing out? Is she still in maternity jeans? Did she put in her contacts or put on make-up?) and finally, the baby itself (How is he/she dressed? *apply same questions as the stroller* Is he/she cuter than my baby?). Instantly you regret spending nap time catching up on laundry or your e-mail and not plucking your eyebrows or jumping on the treadmill to work on the rest of your baby weight.

And this is the first five seconds.

(It's bed time, I'll post the second half tomorrow!)

The Beginning of the Blog

To begin, I will introduce myself. I am a 28-year-old married mother and teacher in Baltimore, Maryland. I have a seven-month-old son who is simultaneously the best thing that ever happened to me and the reason why I wonder if liquor stores deliver.

I must be honest that I'm not certain why I'm starting this blog. There certainly is not a lack of information on mothering out there -- I've been on new mommy blogs, working mom blogs, stay-at-home mom blogs, thrifty mothers, mothers of boys, green moms, plus chat rooms for all of the above. I am certainly no expert on the topic. And it's certainly not like I have free time -- for the last seven months I have considered going to the bathroom "me time".

What I hope to contribute is my own perspective, ideas, thoughts, and goals on being a new mother. I have a somewhat unique situation in that I am a working mother and a stay at home mom; I teach full-time nine months out of the year, and then have the summers off. So I get a taste of both sides of the playground fence.

I hope you, as the reader, will enjoy my insight and perhaps provide me with advice, humor, or maybe just a listening ear as I share my lessons in motherhood.