good twin/bad twin

Good twin/bad twin. It’s just the dichotomy we’re meant to avoid, all the books say so. One child who puts her coat on and goes to bed when she’s supposed to, and wears a halo for it. The other with a forked tail between his legs, because he doesn’t do either of those things without a drop-down fight. Praise the positive behavior, discipline the negative, it sounds simple enough. But what happens when the breakdown of behavior between twins, between any siblings really, is continually reinforcing an angel/devil dynamic? Do you let things slide for the “bad” kid so as to not make him feel oppressed or less loved? Do you hold back compliments from the “good” kid for the very same reason?

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.

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writing memories

For years, I have kept a notebook by the side of my bed, the pages filled with my children’s milestones. With teeth cut, with words uttered, with laces tied, with pedals pushed. When my first son was born, I wanted to catch every last detail, to snare them all, like the slippery fish they are, in the net of permanence language casts so well. I wanted future access to the moments I knew would slip, inevitably at some point, through the cracks of my mind. What I wanted, I see now, was nothing less than to be able to hold his childhood in my hands, once it was gone, and to say, yes, I remember it, I remember it intimately, each fleeting drop.

The notebook was an insurance policy that I would remember who my son was at 16 months old and then again at 36 months old, that I would remember the difference between those incarnations of him and how he got from one to the other. From the toddler who would sleep 15 hours a day to the boy who is still thumping around in his bed gone 10 pm. From the three- year-old with the clipped English accent, performing brain surgery on me with a stethoscope, to the eight-year-old bearer of broad Glaswegian vowels, between whose feet everything becomes a football.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.

the goddess of memory

the goddess of memory

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against ‘ban bossy’

Last week, LeanIn.Org, the organization founded by Sheryl Sandberg (of Facebook and Lean In fame), teamed up with the Girl Scouts to launch a national public service campaign to stop girls from being called ‘bossy’ in an effort to encourage them to lead. #banbossy has been controversial, to say the least. Debra Cole and I are debating the merits of it here, at Brain, Child Magazine.

Lauren writes: ‘Being “bossy” in the playroom with regard to one’s peers and being the “boss” in the boardroom with regard to one’s colleagues are two very different things.’

Deb writes: ‘The purpose of the campaign is to “encourage leadership and achievement in girls,” not inspire them to be obnoxious.’

What do you think?

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why we shouldn’t dress twins the same

The two little girls go to the same playgroup we do. Matching blue eyes, matching tufts of blonde hair, and also, every week, matching clothes. Down to the socks. I wish I could say they were idiosyncratic, that this was the only pair I knew with constantly coordinated frocks. But twins with identical wardrobes is a common sight, indeed. As a mother of twins myself, I have an eye for picking same-aged siblings out of a crowd. And when they are dressed alike, as they often are, I’ll admit it is cute. For the parents, perhaps, for the onlookers. What message, however, is it sending the children themselves?

You can read the entire post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.

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5 life lessons learned…from watching ‘scandal’

Oh, Scandal. It was an innocent recommendation from friends, two seasons of DVDs bought, and then three weeks of my life lost to your intrigue. And that was only the screen time. How much longer have you rattled around the rooms of my mind? How many times have I replayed in my head that heart-stopping scene on the campaign bus, her fingers laced through his, the one in the Rose Garden: “You own me…You own me!”? Obsessions aren’t healthy, but they can teach us things. About ourselves, about the world. What better way to justify the hours spent neglecting my children for this TV show than to convince myself it encapsulates the most profound of life lessons for them?

Okay, kids, you are nowhere near old enough to watch this gem yourselves, but let me distill its wisdom for you in five fell swoops.

1. Trust your gut, even though it won’t always be right.

Olivia Pope might be the most fascinating heroine to grace our screens since the age of the box set began. Forget her impossible beauty. Forget her impeccable wardrobe. It is her confidence that makes her a true cut above, tinged though it is with a certain President-related vulnerability. She has an enviable capacity to see straight to the heart of the matter, to read people, to read the situation. They don’t call her a “fixer” for nothing. The key to her success, so we learn in the very first episode, is her famed “gut.” Her instinct. It’s never wrong. Until, of course, it is. Fitz kind of did sleep with Amanda Tanner after all, however unclear we are about the “position.” Never mind, time to suit up for episode two.

2. Sacrifices in life are inevitable.

Some would call him a font of cynicism. Some a master of realpolitik. Either way, Cyrus Beene sees the dirty truths underlying the working of politics and, on occasion, the world itself. He’s not a terribly likeable character – especially when “off his leash” – but every now and again he hits the nail on the head. Hard. Case in point: the season one finale. Olivia is walking out of the Oval Office, a smile light on her lips at the flicker of a possibility that she and Fitz might have a normal life together. But there’s Cyrus lying in wait, the bubble hovering in the air between them, about to be popped. “Some men aren’t meant to be happy,” he tells her, “they are meant to be great.” Most people, in other words, can’t have everything they want, at least not at the same time. Sacrifices are inescapable; jam-making has to wait.

3. If you get it wrong, don’t let it ruin you.

Scandal is one grey moment after the next. Each of the characters is flawed in his or her own special way. All have made highly questionable decisions at one point or another: lying, adultery, theft, election rigging, torture and a pinch of murder thrown in for good measure. This is not the most upstanding group, morally speaking, and yet, and yet. Life is a tangly business and people get stuck in its brambles (a few get thrown in the “hole”). Sometimes you can do the wrong thing for the right reason (Olivia perverting the course of justice to save Quinn’s ass). Sometimes you can do the wrong thing plain and simple (the President, the Supreme Court Justice, the hospital room). “You did what you thought was best at the time, even if it was wrong,” Olivia says to Sarah Stanner, swilling $300 red wine straight from the bottle. “You can’t change the choice you made, all you can do is not let it ruin you.”

4. Love is hard.

The biggest question this show raises is why, collectively, we are so captivated by the trajectory of doomed love. It’s not a new question, to be sure: the great art of the world has been asking it since time immemorial (shout out to Romeo and Juliet here). “I don’t want normal and easy and simple,” Olivia says to Edison, who is exactly the normal, easy and simple option for her. “I want painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love.” Edison, oh naive little Edison, thinks love is not supposed to hurt. But the truth of the matter is that the best love, the kind where you expose yourself completely, often does. And this is why we are, most of us, cheering for the mistress.

5. Take a minute.

One of the things Scandal does best is to let time stand still. It is a slick and fast-paced drama, catapulted forward by camera-clicking scene changes, shifting time frames and lightening quick repartee. But the writers and producers sure know how to linger when they need to. And they know how catching your breath for a minute, having each second of it tick-tock heavily by, can leave you breathless in the best possible way (and I’m not even talking about the sex scenes!). “Stand here with me for one minute,” Fitz says to Olivia, in the first flush of their relationship. “One minute,” he pleads, two years later, a silent embrace on the couch of her apartment. These moments are about respite from difficulty and discomfort. But they are also about the beauty of slowing down enough to cherish what is in your arms right now. (Because who knows when these two will be in the same room again).

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i just wanted a healthy birth

Jessica Smock and I are at Brain, Child Magazine this week offering two different perspectives on what constitutes a ‘good’ birth. Is a good birth simply a healthy delivery or is it something more?

Jessica writes: ‘I wanted a birth of connection, of agency, of informed decision-making, and that’s what control meant for me.’

Lauren writes: ‘I didn’t particularly think any of it was in my control. My fears were grounded almost entirely in the health of the baby: the exit strategy was a means to an end…’

What do you think?

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my six year old is getting married

My son is getting married. The wedding has been in the works for a while. A date was set and then it faltered, the bride-to-be got cold feet. He came home that day, not too brave for tears, but he didn’t want to talk about it either. The bridesmaids were also distressed, they had brought flowers especially. The rings we fashioned out of tinfoil were left on the playground floor, silver scraps of what could have been. Weeks went by and it’s back on again now. There has been a rapprochement, so I’m told. Did I mention my son just turned six?

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.

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scarred

I didn’t see the blood, not at first. I saw the small silver bowl, wheeling through the air, a trajectory it shouldn’t have been taking. I heard the thwack as it hit my two year old’s head, followed by a piercing cry. She was on my lap already, facing away, our posture didn’t have to change for me to start the act of comforting her. It was twenty seconds, thirty seconds before I felt the stickiness between my fingers, before I finally turned her round. And then I saw red. I saw it everywhere.

You can read the rest of this post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.

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in defense of the good mother myth

The ‘Good Mother’ myth is alive and kicking. So says an important new collection of essays, edited by Avital Norman Nathman and designed to paint a rather messier picture of motherhood indeed. Nathman and Co are not alone in this endeavor. There is now an entire industry dedicated to debunking the fantasy of the Good Mother by chronicling the missteps and misjudgements of her naughty stepsister, the Bad Mother. It is a mass movement particularly prevalent in the blogosphere and its worthy cause of telling it like it is can be traced back to Ayelet Waldman’s genre-defining book of that name.

As both Nathman and Waldman have pointed out, the Good Mother is largely a chimera. Like the boggart from Harry Potter, she is a shape-shifter who takes the form of her intended victim’s worst fear. If you can’t cook, the Good Mother is the one who fills her children to the brim with homemade, organically-sourced super food. If you plop your kids in front of the TV, the Good Mother is the one who lets them play only with wooden toys, whittled by elves in the recesses of the Swiss Alps. If you work full time, the Good Mother is the one showing up for every single school event. If you bottle feed, the Good Mother is a lactating goddess, dripping with liquid gold.

The Good Mother is often our inner voice talking back to us. She is a kind of Jiminy Cricket, who sits on our shoulders, shining a light on the things we might like to have done differently or on the things we might like to be doing better. The opposite of the Good Mother in this regard is not the Bad Mother: it is the Real Mother. Parenting is damn hard work. Most of us fail to live up to our own expectations. The interesting question is not about what those expectations are; it is about why we berate ourselves for not meeting them in the face of reality. A potential answer – and this is the one The Good Mother Myth focuses on – is because we feel confronted, at every turn, by women who seem to be getting it ‘right.’

With the proliferation of venues in which she can haunt us, from the media to Facebook to Pinterest, the Good Mother is everywhere these days. And yet, the backlash against her has been equally fierce. One only has to peruse wildly popular websites like Scary Mommy to see the extent of this effort. But how many essays about the shit hitting the fan, literally and metaphorically, need to be published before we can extricate ourselves from the Good Mother’s impeccably manicured grip? My guess is that there is no number high enough, that the Good Mother will never vanish from the collective consciousness, because the various parts of her will continue to manifest themselves in actual women, who are telling their stories. And what’s more: I’m not sure she should disappear wholly. Her dogged persistence leads me to believe she serves some kind of philosophical purpose.

When it comes to mothering, there are aspects most of us would consider highly subjective and irrelevant to the welfare of the child: what kind of stroller you buy, for instance. So too there are aspects that most of us would consider either objectively wrong (abuse, neglect) or objectively undesirable (the baby rolling off the bed, screaming at the toddler all day long). Then there is the murky middle ground, the moral carcass around which the vultures of the Mommy Wars circle. This is where the subjective and the objective become disconcertingly blurred and this is where the Good Mother’s voice blares the loudest, though she does not utter the same words to each of us (my Good Mother, for instance, does not craft or co-sleep).

Navigating the emotional minefield of this middle ground is of notable difficulty for today’s crop of mothers. We are a generation that invests more in our children than ever before and we have reams of information at our fingertips about how ‘best’ to do it. Each decision we make – from whether we stay home with them to when we wean them to how much we praise them – takes on a disproportionate, almost mystical, quality. As a result, we have become overwhelmed by what is subjective about parenting and extra sensitive to perceived criticism about what is more objective. As Fionola Meredith has articulated recently vis-à-vis breastfeeding, ‘[modern] mothers…will simply not tolerate anybody making them feel bad.’

If the Good Mother makes us feel bad, however, it is because we let her. She is not the problem by herself. The problem is that we have allowed her to become a vehicle for envy and guilt and self-flagellation, instead of a means of identifying what matters most to us and a force for mindful improvement therein. The fear of getting it ‘wrong’ has led us down a slippery slope, where we take comfort in being told everything we do is ‘right’. But everything we do as parents will not yield the perfect outcome, even by our own standards. That’s okay. We shouldn’t be holding the Good Mother up as a mirror in this respect, reflecting our failures back to us. We should be holding her in our heads as an ideal, an incentive to become the best version of the Real Mothers we actually are.

This post is part of the Brilliant Book Club. Check out these interesting takes on The Good Mother Myth at the links below: 

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what i learned between my first kids and my last

Often the lessons of parenting young children come too late. You do the best you can with the first kid, ushering him through the early stages of childhood, by instinct and expert advice, with varying degrees of success. It is a thrilling time, but it is also an exhausting one, when perspective is elusive. And then, somewhere in the middle of it, you have another baby. You can’t quite apply to the new child, though, what you’ve learned from raising the older one, mainly because you aren’t sure at that point what it is you’ve learned or whether you’ve learned anything at all.

That’s my story, at least. I made mistakes with my first son that I didn’t really correct with my second. With 26 months between them, I hadn’t yet emerged far enough from the morass of “small children” to see the wreckage clearly. By “mistakes” I don’t mean that I parented them “wrongly” in any objective sense. I am measuring myself only by the practical standard of the kind of children I was intending to raise: children who are confident, respectful, polite, well-adjusted and independent.

Read here (at Brain, Child Magazine) about the five things I learned to this end by the time my second set of kids came along.

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