Lake Wobegon syndrome

I’m not boasting on Facebook, because who wants to be that parent? But this blog is semi-anonymous so I might as well boast here. Today’s achievement in toddler-land is that R can count up to five objects unprompted, and up to ten with prompts. She’s 17 months! She’s a genius!

Well, I don’t really know whether she’s a genius. She’s my first kid, I have no idea what’s normal. A quick query to Dr. Google makes it sound like there are plenty of children her age and younger who can count to ten. But I think she’s on the upper end of average? There are plenty of children her age and older who don’t say five words, period.

Plus, one of my favorite things I learned from unschooling is that everybody has strengths and weaknesses. My favorite example is that I learned to read early, while Z didn’t read for pleasure until age 12. But he has a talent for health care I’ll never come close to–he’s the guy who will give you a casual shoulder rub and somehow hit every trigger point to make you feel amazing afterwards, and let me tell you he is my #1 person to have around when gross bodily fluids are being spilled. (Uh. Not in that way. Ok, in that way too.)

Anyway… Right, I was talking about strengths and weaknesses. Everyone is good at some things and not good at others, and that’s just how the world works. Nobody’s smarter than anybody else, our society just values some skills above other skills and calls the people who have those skills smarter.

Lake Wobegon Days

Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s just that the things R is good at are things our society values. She has a vocabulary of several hundred words. She’s social with other adults and children, and gentle with animals and babies. She thinks cleaning up her toys is an awesome game, and if you ever need to distract her all you need to do is ask her to help you with something. She’s memorized a dozen of her favorite books. She started walking just before her first birthday and is now a confident and safe climber. She does a mean somersault. She talks to her favorite stuffed animals in the most adorable little voice I’ve ever heard. She is a tenacious problem-solver. Unless she’s tired or hungry or over-stimulated she stops when you ask her to stop. She doesn’t throw tantrums. (Seriously. No tantrums. She gets angry but is always easy to redirect. I don’t know what’s up with that.)

I know I’m biased, but I can’t really think of things she’s not good at. Oh! Wait, I know, the sleeping thing. The waking up every two hours for the entire first year of her life thing, and the still waking up at least once a night and usually twice thing. That definitely sucks. And she’s a picky eater? She hated her carseat for most of her first year, which was annoying, but actually requests car rides now. That’s about it, though.

So, okay, she’s awesome, she’s fabulous. (I haven’t even mentioned her sense of humor. I think she’s hilarious. The first joke she ever played on me was around 9 or 10 months, when she closed a baby gate in my face and crawled away as fast as she could, laughing hysterically. That’s my kind of humor.) So what? What does it mean if she’s someday labeled “gifted”? What do I care?

If she goes to school it could come in handy–she might end up with access to programs that are more challenging and/or more flexible than standard curricula. If she homeschools it’ll definitely come in handy–there are far fewer questions and raised eyebrows for a child who meets or exceeds standard school requirements. On a personal and kind of ugly level, it makes me feel better about myself–I can’t be a bad parent if I have such a smart/talented/easy child. It could encourage her self-esteem to have people telling her she’s smart all the time.

Or it could convince her that anything she doesn’t do well right away isn’t worth doing. (One of my big problems.) Or it could stress her out, trying to measure up to some external goalpost of academic skill. Or I could be really, really freaking annoying on Facebook and end up with my fellow parents cursing me out for making them cry into their cheerios about little Timmy only knowing 50 words, and leave my childfree friends muttering, “Who the fuck cares that a toddler can count to five, I can count to five and also I don’t poop my pants.”

I know I’m borrowing trouble. She’s not even a year and a half old. She poops in her pants daily. Most of this stuff will even out in the next few years, and the stuff that doesn’t will matter less. She’ll develop a wider range of talents and interests, which will automatically mean she’ll focus on some things and not on others. And in the big picture it really, really doesn’t matter. The Big Question of life is not “Is it easy for you to learn to read and count?” but “Are you happy? Have you made others happy? Do you leave people and places better than they were?” I mean, absolutely I think Busy Bee makes the world a better place by existing and being awesome, but counting to five has nothing to do with that.

So I don’t boast on Facebook about this stuff. I try to limit my stories to fun things we did together, or at least funny stories. I try to use language with Busy Bee that emphasizes what she does rather than what she is. And as always, I trust. I trust R to figure out her own path, and I trust myself to not screw her up.

It’s working out pretty well so far.


That awkward moment when…

… you realize the reason your life is difficult is because you’ve been hoarding work in an attempt to make yourself feel more important.


It’s been a good week for self-realization. (And even better to have it followed by a three day weekend!) I got a new boss after being without for the last four months, and let me tell you, it might sound fun on paper to not have a boss, but after about half a day of gleefully reading buzzfeed articles instead of working it actually sucks monkey balls. I’ve been struggling with not knowing where to prioritize, not feeling like I could commit to long term projects, and just plain feeling burned out. I really, really like working as part of a team, being able to bounce ideas off other people, catching enthusiasm from other people rather than trying to stare at the wall to motivate myself.

Plus my new boss is awesome. She asks all the right questions, which if I had to pick a single trait for anyone I work with to have, it’d be that all the time. On top of getting some good questions, I made it out of the office to some great trainings on staff/volunteer engagement with Betty Stallings, who is one of the big international gurus of volunteerism. She had some great things to say about delegation, changing language from “my volunteers” to “our volunteers”, and why the volunteer coordinator should be a leader for the organization on involving volunteers in traditionally staff-driven work. None of it new information, exactly, but it came at the right time and I actually heard it for once.

Turns out, after thinking about it, all that stuff I’ve been going home every night and complaining about to my husband? It’d be pretty easy to ask volunteers to do that. Delegation will not make me look like I can’t do my own job. Training and supervising will be worth the time. People besides me can do it correctly, without messing up. Okay, yes, I will have to actually work on major projects instead of filling up my hours with busywork. But I think I can cope.

After a really frustrating four months, life at work is looking up.

Now if I just can get that raise and promotion I was told to expect back in January…

How to have a good death

My job is a little wacky: I talk to dying people on the phone all day long. Sometimes it’s really depressing. Most of the time I deal with it by making really morbid jokes with my coworkers. Sometimes I deal with it by getting philosophical.

The dying people I talk to call my organization because they want to have a good death. I can tell them what their options are, some of the things they might want to plan for. We talk about what they hope never happens to them. I don’t tell them what a good death is, though–that’s a very personal choice, and not my place to tell a client. But I do end up thinking about it. I see a lot of people who die in exactly the way they hoped they wouldn’t, and other people who’s deaths are beautiful, transformational experiences for everyone who was able to witness it. I’m only 28; there’s a lot I don’t know about death and dying. But here’s what I do know, based on what I’ve seen, with the caveat that some of these things are things you can choose, while others sometimes are not.

  1. Accept that you’re going to die. It’s inevitable, folks. We can delay it, but it’s gonna happen. Life is a balancing act between putting off death and preparing for it. If you put too much effort into the first, there’ll be nothing left for the second.
  2. Accept that your health will decline. One of the hardest things for my clients to deal with is adjusting to not being able to do all the things they used to do. Some people have a harder time than others–someone who lives a 15 minute drive from everywhere they routinely go feels tremendously isolated when they can’t drive. Spend some time developing a sense of self beyond what you do. Who are you if you can’t pursue your mountain biking hobby? Who are you if you lose your eyesight and can’t read? I heard from someone the other day who felt that life was worth living as long as they had one big belly laugh every day–that’s the kind of identity I aspire to.
  3. Talk with your doctor(s). Find a doctor who is willing to be honest with you. Be blunt with your doctor, and encourage them to be blunt with you. Doctors are people too–most of them are just as afraid of talking about dying as everyone else. But you need your doctor to let you know when you have a terminal diagnosis. When treatment will help, and when it won’t. When it’s appropriate to enroll in hospice. When it’s not worth putting up with the side effects of whatever medication might help cure, and instead focus on your comfort and on your relationships with your loved ones.
  4. Talk with your loved ones. They’re going to be making medical decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself. Spare them the pain of trying to figure out what you would have wanted. It’s never easy, but it is much easier to say, “Mom told me that she didn’t want to be kept alive by machines when there was no sign of brain activity; turn them off” than to say, “I think Mom wouldn’t have wanted to live this way, I only hope I’m doing the right thing.”
  5. Write down what you talked about. In most places this means having an Advance Directive. Writing down your wishes can mean less fighting between your family, your doctors, or any facility where you’re receiving treatment. It only kicks in when you’re no longer able to speak for yourself. But writing it down is really barely half the point–ideally it’s more of a place to start the conversation than to end it.
  6. Die in a safe, calm place, where you have control. This is rarely a hospital, or anywhere with beeping machines, people who need to check on you on their schedule and not yours. Dying is the one thing people have to do on their own body’s schedule. Maybe your space needs some modifications like a hospital bed, but have familiar sights and sounds and smells around you. Turn up or down the lights as you want to. Be able to eat your favorite meal, even if it’s only one bite.
  7. Die with friends around you. Or die alone. Some of my clients die in the middle of a party, with friends gathered in a circle around their bed singing them out. Some of my clients hang on in a coma until everyone leaves the room. Both are beautiful. My clients’ loved ones frequently tell me the client died like they lived.
  8. Die in hospice care. Hospice is great. Hospice is the best. Hospice will allow you to stay in your home, with less discomfort, longer than any other option. Hospice has resources to support your family. The second your doctor says you’re eligible, sign up for hospice.
  9. Feel satisfied with your life. Even for people whose deaths don’t go the way they hoped, if they’re okay with how they lived their life, it doesn’t matter as much. I don’t expect to be happy when I know I’m dying, but I hope to at least feel equanimity.
  10. Find meaning in death. For a long time I thought the way I’d most prefer to die would be to have a grand piano dropped on my head. Then I wanted to die like Moliere, dropping dead on stage with the audience applauding while playing a hypochondriac . One of my friends tells me I’m confusing awesome deaths with ironic deaths. I’m not so sure. Death too often feels pointless; it’d be nice to at least know your death makes a good story.

What do you think? How do you want to die? How do you never, ever want to die? Here’s hoping either will be *ptui ptui* a long, long time in the future.


That would be a no on sleeping through the night. Also I slept through my alarm this morning. Good times. We’ll keep trying different things… I’ve got a whole post brewing on the many many emotions I have about sleep training, so keep an eye out for that.

I’m listening to my child fall asleep

I’m trying something new tonight, on the suggestion of Morgan at High Diving Board.

sleeping babyAs I was putting on R’s pajamas, I said, “You know how sometimes you wake up at night to nurse?” (It’s not sometimes. It’s twice every night, at 1am and 5am. Anyway.)

She nodded.

“Well,” I said, “if you want, you can sleep all night and not nurse!”

She looked dubious.

“You can nurse in the morning,” I said. “But if you want, you don’t have to wake up at night! You can sleep all night without nursing! And nurse in the morning!” Cheerful cheerful cheerful!

She started looking a little panicky. “Nurse?” she said. “Side?”

“Yes, you can nurse on both sides,” I said. “In the morning! Not right now.”

“Nurse? Nurse??” she said.

And then I spent five minutes calming her down.

So… Now I’m listening to her talk to herself on the baby monitor. She’s not freaking out, at least, so I’m counting it as a win. I’ll keep you updated how the night goes…

Mother’s Day is a social justice issue

Is it just me or has Mother’s Day gotten more aggressive lately? It was inescapable yesterday. Facebook was totally overwhelming, and I was genuinely afraid to leave the house and go out to eat or to the zoo or wherever. (Ended up going to see Iron Man 3, where the theater was, shockingly, only half full. Guess that’s not a top pick for most moms?) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total curmudgeon. I asked my husband to let me sleep in and make me pancakes. I got in some good play time with my toddler. Also, Iron Man 3. I had a terrific day. But there were just… a lot of things that bothered me.

The biggest one was that a close friend of mine lost her baby last fall.  As if every day isn’t hard enough for her, I can barely imagine how much harder it would be to have other mothers and babies shoved in her face all day. The last thing I wanted to do was to give her even a little more pain by my actions. And she is by no means alone–I know many women who have dealt with infertility, or miscarriages, or have had terrible relationships with their children, or terrible relationships with their mothers, and having Mother’s Day take over their lives is just… not fun. To put it mildly. My friend mentioned feeling silenced, and I think that’s a good way to put it–feeling that personal pain, and then also feeling incredible pressure to not only make that pain invisible so it doesn’t interfere with other people’s lives, but to celebrate other people having what they don’t.

But in the larger picture, too, Mother’s Day does this weird double whammy of misogynism. On one side, it’s honoring mothers because mothers aren’t honored the rest of the year–it’s this weird implication that we have to have a day to celebrate this because it’s not celebrated enough the rest of the time. (It’s like Black History Month–where’s White History Month? Well, the other 11 months of the year….) So let’s give mothers this one day so we can ignore them the rest of the year. But it’s also dividing women into two groups: mothers, who are worth honoring, and everyone else, who should sit still and be quiet until they do something worthy of public recognition, i.e. having babies.

(Disclaimer blah blah: I’m not saying everyone who celebrates Mother’s Day is doing this on purpose. I don’t think anyone is doing this on purpose. But because we live in a society where women struggle for equal time and money and respect, that’s how it comes off. For the same reason I hope someone tells me when I have lettuce in my teeth, I’m telling you that you’ve got some misogyny in your Facebook feed.)

So I kind of muddled through yesterday. I appreciated my husband and daughter making me feel like they were glad to have me as a mother in their life, and I called my mom and grandmother and hopefully made them feel the same, and I didn’t say a thing on Facebook one way or another.

Maybe next year I’ll be braver. Maybe I’ll be a little closer to finding the right words to say this. Maybe next year I’ll feel like we’re a little closer to honoring mothers every day–maybe there’ll be a couple fewer Time magazine covers tearing down moms who are doing it “wrong”, maybe it’ll be a little easier for women in the workplace to earn enough to support a family, maybe we’ll be a little closer to equal political representation. Maybe I’ll spend a little more of my time, all year long, letting the women in my life know that I’m glad they’re in my life.