My mother, the nosy-stranger-repellant McGyver

I can't stop laughing at this: Hello Stranger On The Street, Could You Please Tell Me How To Take Car Of My Baby? I find myself going back and reading it again about every 12 hours, and each time I find something else funnier than the last time I read it.

I took the kids to my parents' house last night and read it to my mom, who laughed throughout the whole thing. Then she told me that when my brother and I were babies, we were both so cute (Ed. note: eyeroll) that strangers were always coming up to us and touching our faces or pinching our cheeks. My mom got sick of it, so when she'd take us out in public she'd smear jam or jelly all over our faces so nosy touchy strangers would recoil and give her a disapproving look instead of touching us.



How do you pick yourself up when something knocks down your parenting confidence?

How do you recover when something you read or watch or hear knocks down your confidence as a parent, especially when your baby is little?

I've been thinking about this since I found out that a friend is feeling like she's doing things wrong and has lost her nerve ever since she read a Very Famous Sleep Book. I'm not going to say which one, since any of the sleep books can make you feel inadequate and incompetent if the book doesn't happen to correspond to what your child needs*. Any book that's more about pushing the author's agenda than it is about helping you track and pay attention to your own child has the potential to make you feel pretty worthless.

Unsolicited advice: Don't read any sleep books while your child is in the 4-month sleep regression. Please. If you want to read a book during this crucible of a time, read The Wonder Weeks, which will explain why the 4-month sleep regression happens and how it's totally not your fault. Or read the comments in any one of my posts about the 4-month sleep regression and feel the collective exhaustion of the universe of parents of 4-month-olds.

But now back to the topic of getting your confidence back. I kept my confidence because of my mom. I'd call her and she'd tell me I was doing ok and it would all be ok. I believed her because a) she'd always told me the truth, even when it hurt, and b) she'd let me see that parenting wasn't always easy for her but that it was worth it, so I knew she knew how hard it was and wasn't taking my asking for help lightly.

(This makes me feel better even now. Because I know that no matter what else, I tell my kids the truth. And they certainly see that I actively work at parenting well and sometimes fail. That's not just about their development now, it turns out, but also about being able to be there for them when they need me as adults. This is something that we can all do, is tell our kids the truth and let them see that we're real people working on things. And it's way easier than faking it.)

(My mom says she knew I would be ok when I stopped calling her three times a day and got down to twice a day.)

If you do not have a mom like mine to call, let me tell it to you here and now:

You are doing a great job. Not just an ok job, but a great job. You're making the right decisions, and when something doesn't work you're regrouping and figuring out why and trying something else. You're paying attention to your baby, and your baby is lucky to be yours. You're the best parent for your child.

I wish I could give you a few minutes to see it in hindsight, so that you'd know that three years from now you won't even remember whatever** it was that's making you feel so defeated today. That your child is turning into the person they're supposed to be. That a bad feeding or a bad naptime or six months in a row of waking up too many times at night hasn't impeded their emotional development one bit. That your child is going to start hugging you more and crying less. That you're doing really, really well at this.

Who's got something to say?



* I've been pissed about this for almost seven years now–it was the topic of my very first post ever.

** I initially typo'd this as "shatever." Hahahahaha. Truth.

When are kids old enough to get themselves ready for school?

My children will be home from vacation before it gets dark out tonight!

Today's topic is inspired by a discussion with a friend with two 5-year-olds. She is frustrated with being angry and stressed every morning about getting everyone out the door to camp (and soon, school).

I started thinking about how my morning stress level has been going down progressively over the last year (obviously, the miracle of not having a 45-minute subway commute to school helped) and about how a lot of that is that I've been deliberately shifting more of the responsibilities in the morning to my kids. (For them, not for me. Although if this keeps working, maybe in a couple of years they'll make my coffee and help me get into my clothes in the morning, too. That would be sweet.)

I feel like Kindergarten is a big time of increasing responsibility for a lot of kids. I know it was for both of mine, but I wasn't able to capitalize on it. I was so stressed myself, and our living situations and school situations lefft no ease whatsoever for me to take advantage of the new things my kids could do and wanted to do. If I could go back in time I'd give myself the time to go get a pedicure and think about our morning routines and think about what I could shift to which child while I wasn't in the heat of the moment.

It feels to me like there are physical tasks, and there are responsibilities. After a few weeks of Kindergarten, kids are more and more able to do the physical tasks. Last year in 1st grade, my younger son could easily choose his own clothes (I put his clean folded clothes in the right drawers and he picks them) and put them on when I asked him to.

Then one morning I was making bacon for breakfast (on a weekday!) and jokingly said "Bacon's for dressers" (little Glengarry Glen Ross joke, clip NSFW) so they ran and got dressed, and the next thing we knew, the expectation was that they'd be dressed before they came out of their rooms and did anything else in the morning.

The next step was to have them pack their own lunches the night before. I thought my younger one might be challenged by this, but he gave me the "Duh, Mom" attitude and sailed right through the packing and then putting his lunch in his backpack the next day.

All of this made me realize that I'd been thinking I was teaching my kids responsibility and not holding them back by doing everything for them, but there were still a ton of areas in which I thought I'd have to push, but they were easily ready to take on those tasks.

The responsibility seems to kick in later than the ability to do the physical tasks, and seems to have more to do with personality than age, at least for my two. We saw some good success after my friend Susan Messina told me about having her daughter come up with her own morning schedule and put in time markers so she knew when to do what to get herself out the door in the morning. Just having my older one walk through his schedule to know what he needed to do when was a big shift in his responsibility. My younger one doesn't seem to feel it as much, he just does it, if that makes sense. So once we talk about it and walk through it, he does it.

At what age do you think your kids can do aspects of the morning routine? I think Kindergarten, and by age 7 they can probably do the physical parts, and at least by age 10 that they can be resonsiible for themselves. Is this your experience? What do you think? How has shifting responsibility been for you emotionally?

What do you need for twins?

For those of you wondering what life is like for a single almost-40 mom who's back in school and therefore has a bunch of friends who go out all the time, here's a teeny slice of the underbelly.

Now. My dear friend Julie is expecting twins. And I know nothing about twins. So tell me what you need for twins. She tends toward the natural-parenting side philosophically.

Also, they're moving across the country in two weeks, so if anyone has tips about moving while huge or finding a new OB in a new city in the second trimester with twins, let that rip, too.

Annual school fear post

My kids are actually still gone until Thursday (and I'm not doing well, and wrote about it here: but school starts for us in three weeks, and I'm seeing people across the US posting pictures of their kids who are going back to school already this week!

I've finally accepted that the beginning of school is going to bring a lot of fear for me. The kindergarten teacher my older one had, and then his teacher last year, both created so much stress and sadness for us that I can't get past my dread and feelings of helplessness as the new school year approaches.

I know he has a new teacher this year. I don't know anything about her, but I'm assuming she's a rational, good-hearted person. There's still a knot in my stomach, though.

My younger son, thankfully, has only had great teachers, and he's going to have the same teacher this year as last year. He likes her, she likes him, she's got a handle on his speccific academic and social personality, and we've worked out all the two-household-but-parents-are-both-involved kinks. So I'm thinking effortlessly good thoughts about her and the coming year for him.

I know that my missing the kids is making me even more worried about the school year for my older one. And that I'm going to be triggered by the beginning of the school year until he's out of school, probably.

I can't imagine I'm the only one.

So tell me what you're afraid of school-wise. Or what you're happy about school-wise. Or what you're mildly annoyed by school-wise (bus schedules, anyone?). Homeschoolers may gloat and/or lament.

First call for help on book: Mission statements

1. If anyone wants to see what I've been knitting, I wrote a post with pictures on Moxieville yesterday.

2. Thank you for all telling me to get a grip about the braces yesterday. I thought a lot about why I'm so worried about it, and this is what I arrived at: When I got braces put on (when I was 31), the pain and shock to my system of the whole thing spun me into depression for a week or so, and I had to struggle to get out of it (using all the tools I've learned over the years). I have depression, and I know it's possible that my son has it (it tends to go cross-gender) so I'm scared getting braces put on will throw him into depression. I am so grateful for my own depression, but hope my boys are spared. So.


And now my first call for help for the book:

I know we've talked a bit in the past about writing a mission statement for parenting. I did it when I was pregnant just because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and it ended up helping me focus on what really mattered. In the middle of those kind of crazy moments in which you can't really see the horizon of common sense, the mission statement kept me from going all weird.

I don't remember exactly what mine was at the time, but it included wanting my boys to be able to give and accept love and form healthy intimate relationships, do productive work that they get satisfaction from, and understand and use appropriate behavior.

Did any of your write mission statements? If you did, would you be willing to share either what they are, or how you went about writing them, or both?

If you share that means you're giving me permission to put them in the book. So also include exactly how you'd like to be billed. Something like "Magda, Michigan" or "Moxie" or "M.P., Ann Arbor, MI" or "Magda Pecsenye," or any other moniker you want.

If you don't want to give me permission to use it in the book, don't post it here. You can post it on yesterday's comment section if you feel like it, but just not on this comment section. Fair?

Getting braces

This is the best thing I've read this week: How To Slowly Kill Yourself And Others in America: A Remembrance by Kiese Laymon. Totally worth your time to read all the way to the end.


Now, talk to me about dental braces.

My rising fifth grader is going to need them, and I know a lot of friends whose kids have spacers or know they'll be getting braces soon. I had braces on my lower teeth for a year when I was 31, but I don't think that can be compared to having braces when you're developing your idea of yourself socially and figuring out if you're attractive or not, etc. I know what the physical and financial (knife through the stomach) part of braces entails, but I'm worried about the emotional part of having braces at age 12.

Talk to me about what it was like if you went through it. What you wish your parents knew. What would have made it easier.

And if your kids have braces now, how is it going? What do you wish you'd known before you went into it?

Buying school supplies

Kristen wonders about buying school supplies:

"Parents of elementary aged kids, do you buy all of the supplies on the list?

Teachers, do the kids actually use the things on the list or are there some things that you don't use or would rather have something different?"

I think it varies from school district to district, but in general, if the list comes directly from the teacher, you should buy exactly what's on it because the teacher wrote it and will use everything on it. If it comes from the school or district, hold off until the first day to find out what the teacher really wants.

How do school supplies work where you are? I went from NYC public, where the teacher gave us the list on the first day of school, to Ann Arbor public, where we don't buy any school supplies at all.

Teachers, how much input do you have on supply lists that you don't type up yourself? How much overlap is there usually between a list that comes from your school and what you actually use?

Is buying school supplies a purely American thing? Or do the rest of you have to buy your kids' crayons and paper, too?


(Unrelated: Here's a story about my almost sending out an obscene Christmas card a few years ago.)

BlogHer Recap

I'm back from BlogHer, I've snuggled with Alex and Blossom, and now I'm getting back into things.

(AND. Done with finals. I feel like I should write a post about school soon. But done for a whole month.)

I think this was the transition year for me. I'd been in a weird place with BlogHer, but then I got there and found out that EVERYONE was in a weird place. Maybe next year I'll just be able to go and not have all kinds of weird (and not normal-for-me) emotions about it kowing that it really isn't just me.

The actual conference itself is overwhelming, and seems to have veered a little out of control. I didn't sign up for sessions for the actual conference, just the expo hall and parties. But walking around the hotel to get to the expo hall I was shocked at how big and corporate it is now, and heard so many of the women there talking about how big and out of control it is. The expo hall was overwhelming, and there are products I never really needed to know about. (A lot of precooked foods that don't really beneffit from being precooked.) And some great things I hadn't seen before but am glad I saw. I ran into CecilyK and DEHausFrau (both IRL friends) at the expo hall, and then a very funny reader named Diane from Jackson Heights who recognized me and said Hi, and then we drank some EmergenC together at the EmergenC booth.

I went to one on-site party and one offsite party, but mostly just met with people I know and some new friends. I had dinner with Punky Mama and After_Words. I met Phd in Parenting (finally!) and Mochamomma (finally!) and a bunch of other Babble bloggers and staffers. The surprise of the weekend was meeting WoogsWorld and GoodGoogs from Australia. I wish I'd had more time and presence of mind to talk to them, but I'd managed to give myself heat exhaustion (zillion degrees, too much sun, subway madness that left me walking way too far in the blaring sun) so I kind of wasn't all there.

But pretty much all of us were freaked out by how big and weird and unwieldy the whole thing was. So what does this mean? Maybe I'm not the outlier?

Once again, the "No one cares what shoes you're wearing because they're too busy worrying about what shoes they're wearing" adage proves true.

UPDATE: Right after I hit Publish, I went and read Cecily's recap of BlogHer in which she had the same feeligns I did but wrote about them way way better. So go read hers, too.

Next year in Chicago. Who's coming?

Q&A: Five books for parents

Mireille tweets:

"What 5 books would you recommend to a new parent? And do you have any "mom" blog suggestions? Thank you!!"

Good question. I often half-jokingly say that you should either read all the parenting books or none of the parenting books, because the likelihood that your specific child will happen to match up with the philosophy in any one book is slim. But that really just means that I think people will feel better if they avoid books that tell them what to do, and instead stick to books that tell them what's probably going to happen and present them with options.

In that vein, the book I recommend for pregnancy is The Big Book of Birth by Erica Lyon. (Full disclosure: Erica taught my newborn prep class, and also my sibling prep class when I was expecting my second child.) What I love about this book is that it covers all the different stuff that can happen during birth in an even-handed way, so you can find out what the real deal is with homebirth, schedueld c-sections, emergency c-sections, epidurals, etc. and not be treated like a moron or a criminal for wanting to know. It's also the only birth book I've seen that has truly useful stuff for partners (like how to figure out during labor if you need more support even if you can't talk).

Now, for the 5 books I recommend for new parents:

1. The book I'm writing. (You know I had to say it.) Now that my exams for this semester are over (thankfully!) I'm kicking it into high gear so it will be available before we all know it.

2. Either Your Baby & Child by Penelope Leach or The Mother Of All Baby Books by Ann Douglas. You probably want one of these day-by-day guides to eating, pooping, sleeping, etc., but you want one that's mostly descriptive and not so prescriptive. Both of these will tell you what you need to know without guilt-tripping or telling you you're holding the baby too much or too little, etc. And they both provide a sense that your child eventually will grow out of whatever it is that's going on now, so there's a little hopefulness, too.

3. The Wonder Weeks by Hetty van der Rijt and Frans Plooij. This explains when your baby hits mental and emotional developmental spurts, and therefore why they're crying more or not sleeping as much. The feedback I get on this book is always something like "It made me know I wasn't nuts" or "I'm not worried there's something wrong with my baby anymore" or "It was freaky how dead on the book was." They also have an iPhone app you can download if you want the weeks without the narrative.

4. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott. The book is just so real about what it's like having a newborn. Her story is kind of crazy, and if you're a big fan of George H.W. Bush you'll need to turn your head a few times, but I go back to the story of the futon every time I do something inadvertantly bad to my kids STILL now even though mine are 10 and 7. Also perfect for reading in the middle of the night while feeding a baby.

5. The other books I really love are not for babies, per se. So I'll give the number 5 spot on this list to either Haim Ginott's Between Parent and Child, which will help you stay in a team-based frame of mind with your child (which can be very hard during that first year), or NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, which will help you start to look at the things we all assume are true about having kids and be a little skeptical.

And now for the momblogs. Well, I don't know, as I don't have new babies anymore, so I tend to read things about older kids. What do you all read about new parenthood that you think are helpful and encouraging? Extra points for funny but not dogmatic.