On the Shelf: parenting advice from Louisa May Alcott

Man, I love Little Women.  Ok, that’s an obvious statement, rather like saying ‘I enjoy breathing.’  I have yet to meet someone who’s read Little Women and not absolutely loved it.  Even Joey loves it:

What’s so great about the book is not only are the characters completely endearing, but the titular women in the story are way ahead of their time.  Ok, Meg, Jo, and Amy all end up with a guy, but their choices are theirs, and often unconventional.  Meg could have married Ned Moffatt and become a rich man’s wife, but she goes for John Brooke instead.  And one of the best moves in literature is Jo turning down Laurie.

I always loved the chapter ‘On the Shelf’, and it resonates even truer now that I am a parent.  In it, Meg is fretting over her twins playing mother-martyr and ignoring her husband, who looks for company (of a very platonic kind) elsewhere.  Meg eventually starts to miss him and get resentful, and Marmee tells her that John should have a hand in raising the kids too.  So Meg turns bedtime, which has heretofore been a struggle, over to her husband.  There is a battle of wills, but she wisely stays out of it, and ultimately Demi (their son) learns to go the f*ck to sleep, John gets more involved and stays at home more, and Meg is a hell of a lot less strung out..

We have a very skewed view of dads today.  They’re treated as secondary parents.  On sitcoms, even the progressive Modern Family, they’re the buffoons of the family who can’t do anything right (to be fair, I didn’t come up with that–I read it in an article once).  Then there are products like this:

Har har, Dad is so dumb he can’t do anything right!  He doesn’t know anything about childrearing.  You’re drunk, Dad.  Go play golf.

Except this becomes problematic for everyone.  Dads are marginalised in the family unit, and that’s a bad idea in general and especially when both parents work.  It leaves the mother playing the martyr role, taking on too much and trying to be superhuman when she is clearly a very regular human. (For the record, I absolutely see single moms as being superhuman because they have to play both roles.) Meanwhile, the kid never gets to feel the benefit of having both parents around and the family doesn’t come together as well.  I’m not sure why we treat dads as inept, but it’s a dumb idea which is seriously impairing the quality of family life and the equality of the sexes.  It implies that only women can rear children, and that’s problematic for a whole host of reasons.

Turns out, good ol’ Louisa May had the answer 150 years ago.  Let Dad help–he knows what to do.  It may not be exactly what Mom does, but it’ll get the job done, and just as well.  Then you can be a parenting team and make some serious strides for equality to boot, instead of being a martyr.  And being a martyr sucks because you work your butt off but no one thanks you for it anyway.

 

Postscript: For the record, MR is much more a John Brooke kind of dad.  He’s very involved, and it makes my life a lot more awesome.  Plus it’s super cute to see the Feliciraptor bond with him.  When his relatives comment in surprise about how involved he is, I stare at them in bemusement.  Of course he’s involved.  He’s her dad.

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Source: Shelf

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Flow

I’m not very good at going with the flow.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of going with the flow.  When I was a kid, I really liked that song ‘Que Sera, Sera’.  And who doesn’t love a bit of Enya to zone out to?  I dare you to listen to this and not feel relaxed:  It’s like a musical spa day.  I also love spa days.

The point is, I know how to unwind and bliss out, but I can’t *stay* that way.  I always start stressing again if I don’t have closure or don’t know the answer.  One of my childhood friends is on Facebook touting the virtues of following your bliss after (from what I can put together from her posts) giving up her career as a lawyer to become a yoga instructor/ life coach.  Part of me wants to roll my eyes at this, but it’s hard when she seems so honestly happy and chilled about life.

I want to be like that.  At least, I think it would lead to a calmer existence.  After being married three years I’m not as tightly wound as I used to be (sharing your life with someone will do that), but I still want to know how things will end up so my imagination doesn’t run wild with all the possibilities of what *could* happen.  I’m very good at coming up with dramatic, though highly unlikely, possibilities.  For example: if I go to the town where my ex-best friend lives, will I see her?  Maybe there will be a confrontation!  Should I play it cool or giver her a piece of my mind because I still don’t have closure from our last fight?  I run the scenarios through my mind like stories.  The problem is, like many good stories, they are engrossing because they are so stressful.  It’s like when I stayed up all night one time to try to find a good pausing point in The Hunger Games.  Note: It took something like reading 200 pages until 4am and practically falling asleep before I could close the book.  This is how I get about life.

That’s why pregnancy is such a special challenge.  I’m now in my final few weeks of gestating #2 and I’m at the point now where I’m ready to have this kid.  Problem is, I don’t know when, or how it will happen and there are so many variables.  What will happen to my two year old daughter while I’m in labour?  Who will take care of her, and how?  My personal plan A got turned on its head for a variety of reasons, and that was the one I liked because it was most predictable: she’d stay with a relative she frequently stays with and who not only loves her, but is excellent at upholding her little routines.  With plan B, I’m not sure how she will react.  I kind of know, but I don’t *really* know.

Then there’s the method of delivery.  The Feliciraptor was a c section, which means I could, in theory, demand a c section this time.  But then I don’t know how I’ll cope with staples in my stomach when I’m trying to manage a two year old.  On the other hand, it is what I know.  I know what the recovery is like and what the pain will be like, and generally how everything will go. And if I schedule it, then I *know* what will happen, which is comforting.  But I wouldn’t be able to drive for a few weeks, which means being stuck at home with a tiny baby and a two year old, and last time I found that very hard.

And speaking of post delivery, what will having two be like?  I know what it’s like to take care of a tiny baby (simple, really, but pretty boring), but I don’t know what it will be like dealing with two children.  Probably fine–after all, this is something a lot of people do with a very high success rate.  But *I* don’t know, so my mind ticks over with possibilities.  Will Felicity provide me with some company while her brother develops a personality, or will she make my days more monotonous?  What is it like to handle two kids having meltdowns for completely different reasons?

Last night I thought I had the beginnings of labour, but no dice.  As we drove to the hospital, though, I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that this was it; things were finally decided.  Only they weren’t, and now I’m in limbo again and finding new things to angst about.  For example, at my last doctor’s visit he agreed that I shouldn’t be induced, but I get stressed about the idea of being induced and back in hospital again for ages–even though that’s not going to happen and I have the power to refuse induction.

I posted a similar anxiety-ridden post when I was very pregnant with Felicity.  Now that post seems kind of silly–I had a pretty traumatic labour in the end, but she’s fine and I’m fine–fine enough to try this all over again.  People were lovely–I had lots of messages reconnecting me with friends who all sent words of reassurance.  This, however, is where I think the idea of flow comes in–if a river flows around you and you’re standing resisting it, eventually it’s going to tip you over and carry you along anyway.  Either the flow was too strong for you to fight, or you just don’t have the strength to keep resisting.  The other option is to lie back and float and see where the river takes you.  I really need to get used to option B, because the river’s given me an interesting ride.  And when I get on the lazy river at a water park, I love it.  As for exactly how to lay back and enjoy it when I want to steer and impossible to steer inner tube, well, there’s the rub.  But maybe I should try.

 

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Source: Flow

But No Cigar

Yesterday I wrote about things in my life which worked out exactly as I had planned.  MR is a person who seems to always land on his feet, and he says this is not because he’s especially lucky, he just knows how to seize opportunities.  I think I’ve done the same at certain points.  Sometimes, though, with all the will in the world, things don’t work out exactly as I planned, and that is certainly true for settling into my marriage.

Everything began perfectly.  I’ve detailed the story often enough here, but it still amazes me, because when I hit 30 and had been on exactly 3 dates in 8 years, I thought one of my life dreams, having a family, was never going to happen.  As 30 clicked over to 31, and then 32, I started to really panic.  Time was running out.  I had to kiss a few frogs before I found the One, didn’t I?  And I wasn’t even catching frogs.  Then if I did find a guy, we’d probably date for a couple of years before getting married, and then want to be married a couple of years…basically my logic turned into panic along these lines:

Then my friend introduced me to MR and we were exchanging emails before we met as though we were already a couple.  When we met in person several months later in August, it was already a fait accompli.  Then he went about some serious day seizing and surprised both himself and me by proposing at Christmas.

Suddenly my life was falling into place.  Perhaps that’s one of the ways he’s the right person for me, because he goes after the things he wants in the same way.  We started planning a wedding, a big wedding with a 14th century Guild Hall as a venue and a phalanx of bridesmaids and a Big White Dress.

Then things started to crumble a little bit.  MR’s family, especially his mother, is an efficient person, and this is no fault.  Also, this was the first wedding of her 3 children so naturally she wanted to be involved.  However, I as the bride was across the Atlantic, so the efficient planning meant sometimes cutting out the bride, and that was just the beginning of transatlantic difficulties.  I thought when we decided to get married in England that I would have a small cluster of guests.  Not a lot, because a trip to England isn’t cheap, but I thought a handful of people would turn up.  My bridesmaids did, and I was so grateful to them for making that happen even when they didn’t have tons of available funds.  And I did have two friends make the effort to come.  But none of my extended family could come, friends who I had counted on because they said they would.  In the lead up to the wedding this made me feel a bit lonely, particularly because of the immigration circumstances.

By far the most difficult thing was trying to sort out immigration. We were getting married in England because we wanted to live in New York, but the US Department of Immigration had other ideas.  If we wanted to get married in England, MR would have to wait 9 months for his paperwork to be processed before he could even enter the US.  If he tried before then, even to visit, the border guards could send him home because they could say he wasn’t trying to visit but sneak in.  We could give up our big wedding in favor of a quickie courthouse wedding, but even that would require paperwork and months of waiting if we did everything on the up and up.

I thought when we got engaged that I would have everything–a job I loved in a home city that was a part of me,  and newly, a man I loved who I was going to start a life with.  Immigration law quickly squashed that have it all feeling, and I had some decisions to make.  So I decided–I had been a romantic my whole life, and I wasn’t about to give up on that ideal.  I waited so long for MR, I wasn’t going to wait anymore.

I miss NYC terribly.  It’s still my home.  I miss my friends, and I miss my job.  I worked for a stint at a British school, and part of the reason it didn’t go so well was because it wasn’t the job I had loved for so long.  I’m only just now starting to branch out and make friends, a year and a half after arriving here.

But I don’t just have a husband, I have a family.  If I had agreed to wait those 9 months, I wouldn’t have my daughter next to me as I type this.  We would still be waiting to start a family.  And sometimes I wonder–teaching was always the backup career.  It turned out so wonderful that I really started to devote myself to it, but I had wanted to be a writer since I was 12 years old.  I mentioned yesterday I was afraid that writing wouldn’t work out, and the story above is why.  But then I think–even though this isn’t the ideal I set out for myself, it’s still a pretty great life.  And while I may miss home, that doesn’t mean I regret going for this life.  So maybe it’s time to grab a little courage and give my final dream a try.  Carpe diem…carpe horas.