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Thursday, May 19, 2016

5 Tips for Not Pissing Off Your Baby Shower Guests

We in the US are fortunate- baby showers are a thing here. In other parts of the world, if you get pregnant, you buy what you need. We throw a big party to celebrate new life. As someone who loves planning parties, I am all about baby showers. However, some seem to use a party to honor their child as an excuse to be a total ass.

Yes, soon-to-be-new moms, I said it. Some of you act like asses about your shower. You get knocked up and decide to move on from Bridezilla to Momageddon.

If you want to ensure that those lovely ladies that come to your party are still speaking to you after it, follow these five simple tips.

Respect your planner’s budget. Don’t worry- this doesn’t need to be an awkward conversation about how much people are spending. However, someone offering to do something nice is not carte blanche to demand a thousand dollar party. The easiest way to be respectful here is to follow some old-school etiquette: ask them how many people you can invite. More people= more money. 

When people give you guidelines on how many people they are comfortable hosting, follow them! Do not negotiate, grumble, or complain.

Do not gift grub. Yes, the whole point of a shower is for people to bring you gifts, BUT if you start inviting everyone you’ve ever met to get more gifts, people will know and think you’re a greedy jerk. This should be about the people you love most helping you celebrate, not clearing out your address book to get that activity gym you’ve been eyeing.  If you haven’t seen someone in years and know nothing about them you didn’t learn on Facebook, leave them off the list.

While you often get into the “if I invite Sue, I have to invite her four sisters” situation, you should otherwise not invite people you know won’t come just for gifts.  After my son was born, the UPS man wore a path to our door with unexpected gifts from amazing people. If people care about you and want to send something for you baby, they will whether you invite them to a shower or not. In fact, they may be more likely because they didn’t open an invitation to a party 4 hours away that basically said “I just want your present!”

Pick a few things you really care about. And then stay out of it!  I will never forget helping a frantic friend scour local bakeries for a certain type of pastry because a mom-to-be she was showering decided she HAD to have them. The planner grumbled the whole time because this momma had also picked the theme, sent links to the tableware she wanted, written a menu, outlined required games, and asked that the invitations stress that gifts only be purchased from the registry.

In some families it is traditional for the mom to help plan the shower. If that is you, or you are throwing your own, cool. However, if someone was nice enough to do it for you, they will forgive you 2-3 requests. They will hate you for a list of demands.

Focus on Your Guests. Few things irk me more than a shower where the guests are disregarded. If people bring you a gift, take the time to chat with them. Think about your space and how many people it can comfortably fit so they aren’t crammed in. Write appropriate thank you cards in a timely fashion.  

And my personal pet peeve-- don’t invite tons of people and serve them crackers, and water.  I saw this constantly on discussion boards when I was pregnant—someone was worried about the cost of a shower, and someone else would say “just serve cheaper food” or (worse) “make it a potluck.”  Yep, it is a way to cut costs, and everyone will know that the number of gifts took priority over their enjoyment.

Your guests should walk away feeling appreciated. Having to feed themselves, eat stale donuts, or hunt for an MIA honoree will not accomplish that!

Be Gracious, No matter What. People will go off-registry and buy you weird things. Your planner will include 6 games even though you asked for no games. Your cousin will ignore the request for adults only and bring 3 kids that run amok… and everyone will pay attention to how you handle it. If you pitch a fit, complain, or don’t express enough gratitude, people will not remember how lovely your shower was, they will remember your behavior.

And women have very long memories.

All in all, your baby shower should be a really fun time for you to share your excitement about a new life. It is a great day full of gifts and food and bizarre birthing tales from your nearest and dearest. It should also be drama-free. As someone who has planned many, I love doing it if the honoree is appropriate, and hate doing it when they aren’t.

So don’t be an ass, just be a radiant mom-to-be. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day for the Motherless

Today is my first Mother's Day as a member of the honored group. My son gave me the amazing gift of seven hours of sleep in a row. My husband spoiled me beyond measure with books, jewelry, and cards. He even hid the grimace I know he felt when I cheerfully roped him into a trip to the farmer's market.

As my baby naps upstairs, and I sit here sipping coffee out of my brand new Mom mug, I find myself daydreaming about another way this day could have gone.

In my day dream, plans for today came about after weeks of negotiation, manipulation, white lies, and annoyance. I, undoubtedly, would have tried to hold my ground and insist that our family met in a real (i.e. not chain) restaurant in a real (i.e. Baltimore) city. I would have felt justified in digging in because it is, after all, my first Mother's Day.

In the end, someone would have claimed (feigned?) illness, and arguments would have been made about bringing three children here versus one baby there. I would have ended up grouchily sitting at an Olive Garden I had to drive an hour to get to with my parents, sister, brother, niece, and nephews. Inevitably, my brother would have shorted the check, or Dad would have brought up politics, or my mom would have made some harmless comment about me being a working mom that would have cut me to the core. I would have left aggravated and complained all the way home to my husband.

As miserable as that sounds, I am sitting here wishing for that day, the day I would have had if cancer hadn't taken my mom six years ago.

This brilliant article by David Ferguson is the closest thing I have ever seen when it comes to describing the loss of your mother. In truth, you have not lost a mother, you are suddenly lost. Since she died, I have so often felt adrift,besieged, and without an anchor.

Because that is what our mothers are, or should be: our anchors.

My mom was far from perfect. Truthfully, she was very strange. She talked to strangers about her cervix. Her drive to keep the peace made her quite the enabler for all of the strong personalities around her. A sister to five brothers, she herself lost her mother at a young age and thus had no freaking idea what to do with two daughters.

And yet, she was an incredible mom, brave fighter, and all around amazing woman. Though I miss her every day, some days, like today, her loss is raw and distracting.

Becoming a mother without one is so much harder than I could have imagined. I don't so much miss her in the tough moments, the times where a sick baby will not be soothed or work schedules just will not cooperate (though I'd be lying if I said I didn't fantasize about some help in those moments). I miss her in the amazing moments. When my son laughed for the first time, her absence was painful.

And today. Today I want the annoying lunch at Olive Garden. I want to be so mad at my mom that she didn't stick up for me and drag everyone to Baltimore.

My kid is stirring, pulling me out of my maudlin little day dream. I still find it fascinating that I start to miss him when he's been napping too long, and so I am very excited to go pick him up. He is starting to hug me back now. I kiss his cheek, and he giggles and then latches on the side of my face, mouth open, like an eel.

Everything in my life right now is a little damp. I've stopped asking whether my shoulder is wet from drool, vomit, or carrot puree. Moist shoulders are simply my reality now.

And I almost couldn't be happier. I have the most amazing, patient partner (even if he gets to sleep more than me and I resent him a tiny bit for it). I have one of those happy, easy babies. He even sleeps now. My joys far outweigh my sorrows or my worries, and that is an amazing life.

I just wish my mom was here to see it.

So as you are wishing all of the moms in your life a happy day today, don't forget the motherless. Even if they are one and the same, today is a tough day if you don't have an anchor.

Monday, May 2, 2016

I am a Scary Mommy!

Today is a big day for me-- my work is appearing over at Scary Mommy, one of my absolutely favorite sites. Whether you have found your way here from their site or somewhere else, welcome! I hope you will click on the "Mom Snark" link above to read some more of my writing about motherhood.

See, look! There it is! Right there, with my name and everything. Click here if you want to give it a read.

In honor of this exciting day, I am also offering some of my books free on the Kindle store. Head over to Amazon to download them, and I hope you enjoy my writing.

I also hope you'll come back by... it gets interesting here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Parenting support in sound bites

George Takei posted an interesting article on Facebook this morning about a woman who was mommy-shamed buying formula by a stranger who uttered three seemingly innocuous words: "Breast is best." The shamed mom posted an open letter explaining why her child is formula fed and garnered much support and rejoicing from the Internet.

And why not? Because the internet simultaneously condemns mommy-shaming, like in this awesome article from Scary Mommy, and delights in it. In all honesty, now that I am out of the hormone-fueled psychosis that was my kid's first six weeks of life, I am a bit more mellow about the mommy shaming. Yes, it is stupid. Yes, I have enough mom guilt without your contribution. Yes, I am a hypocrite because I sometimes talk smack about other moms (and yes, sometimes just because it makes me feel like I have my shit together more than I actually do). 

My concern with a vapid stranger muttering cliches at me or any other new mom in Target is not so much about the mom-shaming, but about something much deeper. We have a culture in the United States in which the "it takes a village" mentality of parenting has been replaced with support in sound bite. 

I've written before about the support structures in place in many other parts of the world for new moms. Moms in other countries get lying in periods, and family support and paid leave in order to ease the transition into motherhood. And lets be honest, it is a big f*cking transition. In the U.S,, we've replaced "lying in" with extravagant baby showers, family support with liking a Facebook photo, and paid leave with offering strangers our judgey sound bites at your local big box store. 

Perhaps my experience with becoming a mom was extreme. I don't have many people I can rely on locally. I lost my mother to cancer a few years ago, and otherwise most of my family is at least an hour away (some more like 18 hours). Most of my friends have young kids and lives of their own.

When my son was born, a lot of people came to see him, but other than 5 days with my mother-in-law, and a coworker that babysat for us once, nobody came to help, and why would they? Friends came, held my son, chatted, and left me with the same unwashed hair, sink full of dishes, and desperate dark circles I had when they arrived. 

The "support" I got was by way of unsolicited advice as Facebook comments about how I was giving a pacifier wrong or random women in grocery stores telling me my son was cold. My personal favorite was the coworker who didn't even get up from her desk when I brought my son into the office, but pointed out in a roomful of people that, as a breastfeeding mom, I should not be having that second cup of coffee. 

I got parenting support in sound bites that left me reeling, confused, and incredibly unsupported. 

The second cup of coffee was necessary because I have one of those adorable babies who doesn't sleep. My 12 weeks of unpaid leave ran out so damned fast that I didn't get a choice about dragging my ass back into work when I was really too exhausted to function. I was, in fact, so tired that I sulked back to my office, humiliated and hurt, because my parenting chops had just been called into question very publicly. What I should have said is "you're likely right, and if you would just come over and hold my son for an hour tonight, I could get some sleep and get by on one cup tomorrow."  Or, perhaps, I should have just told her to go to hell. 

I had an awesome baby shower full of generous people that provided all of the stuff I needed to be a parent-- and then some! My Facebook post announcing my son's arrival got hundreds of likes and comments, but there was no one available when my husband and I both started to unravel the first time my baby got sick. There were sound bites... Vaporub on his feet. Sit in the bathroom and let the shower run. Prop up his mattress... but there was no help. 

If I am sounding whiny and entitled, I don't mean to. I was a piss poor support system for the moms I know who had kids before me. I visited the baby. If I got it together enough to drop off a lasagna, I felt like a hero. But then I left them with dishes and unwashed hair and exhaustion and went on about my life because I just didn't know any better. 

And because that is our culture. We have tons of advice but very little time to actually help each other, and that just means that mothering is becoming a much harder, more isolating endeavor. 

I am not sure there is an answer to this problem. Clearly, we are always going to be busy with our own lives. I sure as hell can't take a month off when my friend has a baby so I can go help her out, and I would never expect anyone to do it for me. But can we make incremental changes that make a big difference? Maybe instead of extravagant shower gifts, we start giving (and making good on) promises to stop by and let mom shower after her kid is born. 

And we can all definitely not offer our sound bites, unless we're going to back them up with some real, actual support.