Quit “Shoulding” All Over Yourself

This is me, tonight:

I get home from work, I start to feed my baby. I look at his beautiful face, grumpy from hunger and I think, “I should’ve left work earlier.”

My husband invites me out to dinner, asks my mother to watch the baby. I think, “I should’ve asked her earlier if she could do this so that we could have more time together.” The next moment, I think, “Maybe we shouldn’t go out. Maybe I should spend more of the night with my baby.” I go out anyway.

When I get home, I take an hour and a half to chat with my mother. I watch the clock. “I should wrap this up, so I can get to the rest of the evening.”

I spend an hour in the bathtub. “I should wash my hair, I should get out of the bath to write or play that video game.” I don’t, because I’m reading a good book and I’m stuck inside it.

When I get out of the bath, I debate myself on whether I should write a little or play a little bit of video games, and I chastise myself because I should’ve spent my evening more wisely and it feels wasted.

How does that even make sense?

Let’s check my evening statistics: fed the baby, had a lovely date with my husband, caught up with my mother, had a relaxing bath with a fantastic book and I still have time to fit in another leisure activity. But I have a hard time living in those moments because I “should” on myself.

I spend a lot of time trying to think about what I “should” do. Like, a lot of time. Time is a precious gift as a parent, and it becomes a bargaining chip.  I budget my time more fiercely than I budget my finances (and I’m the kind of person that has an app on my phone to track every dime, so yeah, it’s intense).  But so much time is spent on this nothing, this obsession with what I “should” do.

One of my biggest struggles in parenthood is the desperate search for perfection.  I know, I know, nothing is perfect, but it’s hard to accept that when the project is your child.  In many ways, it was my deepest struggle with postpartum depression: I want to give my kid perfection, but I can’t.

So, in theory, I should (there it is again) be able to give him something close to perfection, right?  And here, ladies and gentlemen, I present: the root of my anxiety.

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There are lots of choices in life.  We move choice to choice, all day long.  Some choices are simple: what to eat for breakfast (although some sanctimommies will definitely argue with me on that one).  Some choices are those little choices, like what shoes to put on, what route to take to work.  Some “medium” choices for me are like what color to paint the house or what gift to give on a special occasion.  Then there are BIG choices, like where to move, what career field to pursue, who to marry.  My problem is that I treat every choice that involves my son or my time as a BIG choice, because sometimes that’s what it feels like.  And because I act like it’s a BIG choice, I stress over what is the BEST choice.

The simple fact is that there isn’t usually a BEST choice.  There’s not something I “should” do, except take decent care of myself and my kid.  And there are lots of ways to do that.

I’m getting rid of my “should”s.  Let’s take a big ol’ broom and sweep all that shit out.  I’ve got enough anxiety without trying to prioritize my anxiety.

How does one do that?  With conscious awareness and a tad of rephrasing.  Language is powerful, so if you consciously and carefully adjust your language, your perception of the entire world changes.

So here’s how this goes.  I am currently eating frosting out of the jar (true story).

Internal me: “I shouldn’t eat this.”

Conscious me catches myself saying this to myself, and I rephrase: “I can choose to eat this or not.  I choose to eat it.”

Power.  I recognize my choice and I own my choice.

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Current catch phrase

Here’s another example that happens pretty regularly:

Internal me: “I should get off my phone.” Sound familiar to you too?

Conscious me catches myself and one of two things happen: Option A: “I can choose to be on my phone or not.  Right now, I choose to put my phone down, without judging myself for the time I have spent on it.”  Option B: “I can choose to be on my phone or not.  Right now, I choose to be on my phone and I don’t need to justify that.”

Own it, sister.  Or brother.  Faceless reader, own your shit.  Don’t obsess with the “should”s because that is wasting time and emotion.

Quit shoulding on yourself.

The Pros and Cons of a Vacation Sans-Baby

I recently took a lovely little cruise out of Miami.  It was a single weekend cruise with six ladies to celebrate a bachelorette who happens to be my sister.  Needless to say, it was not an event a toddler was welcome to.

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And we’re not talking baby bottles

Here are the biggest changes of my sans-baby weekend:

Sleeping.  I woke up when I wanted (or when the girls threaten to leave without me).  My alarm clock was not a crying child (or shrieking, depending on the morning).  I got to nap! With no worries about when I had to get up to take care of another human.

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Kids are the worst

Eating.  No getting up for more Cheerios, no picking up the sippy cup for the millionth time.  I got to eat all my own damn food, while it was hot, in a single sitting.  Bonus: for my evening meals, someone actually brought the food to me.  I didn’t even have to get up.

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I almost didn’t even find this funny, it’s so accurate.

Planning.  You don’t realize how much planning a child requires until they’re not around.  I got to do what I wanted, when I wanted.  No coordinating with a sitter or daycare or a fussy toddler’s nap schedule.

Carrying shit.  I left the room with literally nothing but the clothes on me and a key card stuffed in my bra.  You know what I need just to go to Target?  At minimum, I need: diapers, wipes, food in case he gets hungry, a sippy in case he gets thirsty, a change of clothes for if he blows out, two toys, and hand sanitizer.

Cleaning.  Someone else made my bed!  Who am I kidding, I don’t ever make my bed.  SOMEONE MADE MY BED.

TRUTH.

Hurting.  At one point, I bent over to pick up a towel and I realized with a jolt, “Holy shit my back doesn’t hurt.”  Crazy how NOT wrestling a toddler all the damn time suddenly helped that.

This is why I hurt

Me time.  Oh my god.  This was so exciting.  I read a book on the beach and I wrote stories on the deck and I wandered down for a show and I danced my ass off.  My hobbies still exist!

BUT.

There were downsides too.

Other people’s children.  I saw babies everywhere I looked.  At one point my sister pointed out that I have a baby radar.  Did I notice any hot guys?  Nope.  But I remember the curly haired blonde baby from lunch and the Latina boy who ran circles around mom and dad.

I thought about my baby pretty much constantly.  We’d go on the deck and I’d think, “Oh, Baby Boy would love that water play area.”  Or the same about the lights in the casino, the music of the shows, the rock of the ocean.  And when we hit the aquarium at Atlantis I imagined his big blue eyes looking at all the fish and I seriously got teary.

Surprisingly, I didn’t worry too much about him.  But for all of his trouble, that kid is a part of me.  It constantly felt like I was missing a limb, and I kept turning around expecting to see that limb show up.  It was odd.  Parenthood does that to you.  You don’t even realize how different it is until you live a few days without your bloodsucking, heart-melting spawn.

Why I March

I do not march against Donald Trump.  Let me be clear: to do that would be small-minded and pointless.  I understand that he has been elected president of the United States.  I know how the electoral college works and I respect that.  To march against a single person is so much smaller than why I march.

I march for feminism.  Today’s women’s rights are not equal rights and no man can tell me that they are.  I demand equal pay for equal work, I demand representation and respect and choice.  My body is my own and no leadership of old white men should ever be able to tell me what to do with my uterus.

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I march to end sexual violence.  I stand among and beside those who have experienced the terror and shame that comes with sexual assault and I cry, “It is not okay!”  It is not okay to excuse depravity with victim-blaming.  It’s not okay to subvert respect with so-called “jokes.”  It’s not okay to act like consent is anything less than imperative.

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I march for education.  I will fight with every ounce of my being to obtain and maintain fundamental rights of education for every child in this country.  If we want a successful nation, it starts with providing quality education for everyone.  That means public, accountable, cutting-edge schools, consistently working to implement proven practice.  It also means respecting and paying teachers.

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I march for healthcare.  Modern medicine is a human right, not a luxury of the wealthy.  No person should be financially bankrupt because they survive disease or accident, or because of easily manufactured medicine necessary for quality of life.

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I march for LGBTQ rights.  A person is a person no matter their sexual orientation and I demand that these consenting adults have access to the same systems that benefit my own marriage.

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I march to declare that the man leading this country does not espouse the values I hold most dear.

I march to stand in solidarity with my sisters and my brothers.  Your values are important to me!  No, I cannot claim to know what it’s like to be black or Muslim or an immigrant.  I am young, I am educated, I am a middle class woman, a parent, and healthy.  And I stand beside all of you who are some or none of those things.  We have a voice and I stand to make yours heard just as loud as mine.

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Most of all, I march for my son.  My child is one year old.  He will not remember this day, and he may not remember the next four years.  But his life will be impacted by the upcoming events, perhaps more than will my own.  I march today to tell him that I was here, that I did everything in my power to make the world better for him.

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I march for my child.  I march for me.  I march for all of us.

Postpartum Depression and Pumping

I hate pumping.

I’m not even pumping anymore and I HATE (present tense) pumping.

I had every working-mom advantage: I had my own room, time to pump, a mini fridge at my disposal and I HATE (present tense, bold) pumping.

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Torture devices

It’s just the worst. I felt like a cow. I felt so disconnected from my baby and my body, I felt like a machine, I felt sick and miserable.  And it consumed me. It consumed all of me.

I was hospitalized for postpartum depression. Postpartum was the darkest I have ever felt, it was all-encompassing and terrible.  I felt like my emotions were an entire other beast that could never be tamed or controlled or, frankly, lived with.

I spent three days in the hospital, pumping every three hours, even through the night. My nurses would wake me up, I’d go and pump, fall asleep, and try to get better in between. But I didn’t get better. If anything, during my first three days in the loony bin, I got worse. Because I wasn’t thinking about getting better. I was thinking about pumping. I would mentally calculate the three hour time limit, meticulously plan my every minute. I obsessed over every ounce and cleaning my parts properly and ensuring that my nurses were storing the milk exactly as it needed to be stored and calling my husband to coordinate picking up the milk and worrying about my baby and wondering if he was getting enough food.

[If that sentence doesn’t make you anxious, you might be a robot.]

After three days of this over-zealous obsession, my doctors sat me down and pointed out that I wasn’t getting better. The amazing professional held her hands out and asked me, “So what do we do?” And that’s when the realization dawned. I had to stop.  I had to stop pumping, and, to ensure my mental and physical safety; I needed to stop breast feeding altogether.

I went into motherhood not expecting to be obsessed with breastfeeding. I wanted to try it, but I told myself that I wouldn’t get attached. If it didn’t work, I would stop.

It never occurred to me that I just plain wouldn’t like it.

It never occurred to me that after researching all the pumping and breastfeeding information I could get my hands on, I wouldn’t feel confident and informed; I would feel more pressured and overwhelmed than ever before.

When my son was still a squalling infant, I would sit in the rocking chair, holding him with one arm, the other holding my phone.  I spent a great deal of time reading breastfeeding “support” forums (which were insanely un-supportive) that sent me into spirals of anxiety.  My mind consistently tumbled with questions: Was I pumping enough?  Was I drinking enough?  Did my bra fit right? Was I using the right cream?  Did I store breastmilk right?  Was my childcare provider feeding my child correctly?  Was my baby accepting the bottle okay?  Was he too accepting of the bottle?  Were pacifiers going to ruin our breastfeeding relationship?

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What strikes me most about this photo is how tired I look. I have a smile on my lips, but my eyes hurt.

Now, I was lucky in the sense that I (mostly) liked nursing my son. But I was working full time and my supply was not great. I did not yield a lot of milk with each pumping session (and yeah, I tried all the things).

But I felt like I HAD to soldier through it, FOR MY SON. Motherhood had turned my life upside-down and I was fully convinced that life was not my own anymore.  Therefore, I HAD to continue to pump and obsess, FOR MY SON.

I was three days in a hospital before I realized this very important lesson:

More than breast milk, my son needed a healthy mother.

BAM. I resolved to quit. I quit all the way, totally weaned.

When I decided to quit, I did the sensible thing and called my local lactation consultant (AKA “lactivist”).  She is supposed to know everything about boobies and milk, surely she would be the best resource, right?  After carefully explaining my situation, I asked for advice on how to wean.  Know what I got?  A list of reasons why I shouldn’t wean and some suggestions for how to adjust my breastfeeding relationship.

Lady, I wasn’t asking for your opinion on whether I should wean or not.  I already made this decision and it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.  But, thanks for making me question my decision and giving me literally none of the information I asked for.

In tears, on a hospital phone, I called a mama friend who had also weaned.  Suddenly, support.  Suddenly, understanding.  This goddess sent me a full-on weaning care package, complete with a letter. In this letter, I found a glimmer of hope.  I don’t have the letter with me (although I’m sure it’s in this disaster I call a house), but she told me how sad she was when she first started to wean.  Then, she said motherhood got better.

Motherhood got better without breastfeeding?

Isn’t that selfish?

No.  Because self-care isn’t selfish.

Would you believe this is generic clip art? Still applies, though.

Mothers are forced to be martyrs.  Society expects it of us.  No, society demands its mothers martyr themselves on the alter of their children.  We are supposed to take abuse after abuse, and buck up and pretend to be okay.  It’s our duty, they say.  It’s for the children, they say.

Fuck that shit.

I love my son and I will do lots of gross, dramatic, absurd, sacrificing things for him.  But in order to do those things, in order to be the mother that he needs most, I need to take care of myself.

And for me, that meant stopping breastfeeding.

I won’t lie, it was tough.  There was a mourning period, when I sold that pump and put on a real bra.  But it started my journey to healing.  Pumping was one aspect of my postpartum depression, and to end it was the first step to finding my way out of darkness.  I began, slowly, to truly love and appreciate motherhood. And that is what my son needs more than breast milk.

How the Musical Healed my Ex Mormon Anger

I first heard of the Book of Mormon the Musical while I was a devout Mormon.  A friend sent me the soundtrack.  I thoroughly enjoyed the music, laughed out loud, and then I called that friend to correct the misinformation that I heard in some of the lyrics.  I felt very righteous about doing so.

In 2012, after attending a Mormon school for six months, my mother bought my husband and me tickets for the first tour.  While still extremely devout, my husband and I were very fed up with the ultra-strict nature of BYU, and we found the musical to be a great release.  We laughed until we cried, many of the jokes soaring over the heads of the poor theatre patrons next to us, who looked at us like we were crazy.  I was somewhat offended by “Joseph Smith American Moses,” where the story of Joseph Smith is horribly (and accidentally) butchered by some well-meaning characters, but otherwise I enjoyed myself.  I went home still Mormon and still content.

When I left the Mormon church in 2014, I felt a great deal of emotion.  This is fairly normal, as anyone who has left a beloved religion will tell you.  There’s a sort of grieving process to any life change: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.

I found myself in each stage for several months.  But the anger stage lasted a while; about a full year, really, maybe more.  I was so mad.  I felt betrayed and lied to, I felt tricked.  To deal with this intense amount of emotion, I developed some weird coping skills: I lashed out verbally and in writing, I joined dramatic ex-Mormon message boards, I silently simmered, I got into strange political arguments, and my husband experienced some fairly intense and cuss word-laden rants about the LDS church.

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Me, in the rage stage

I stayed in this stage for so long in part because (for various reasons I am not willing to divulge) every day I had to pretend I was Mormon.  So every day I would put on my happy face, act like the Molly Mormon I wasn’t, and shove my rage deep inside of me.  It became a part of me, this rage.  It was a friend.  The rage was comforting, the rage “got me,” the rage allowed me to be me.

And it was so unhealthy.

To be defined by rage is to let yourself be consumed, with difficulty finding where the rage ends and you begin.

Strangely enough, this silly and prolific and profound musical, The Book of Mormon the Musical, helped me find my way out of the rage.

I mean, seriously, have you listened to ‘Hello,’ the opening number? I challenge you to listen to this and not smile a little bit.  Or a lot.  It’s just… happy.

So goddamn happy.  It makes me want to dance.

And what’s awesome about this?  It’s so accurate.  The happy, innocent, convicted faces: those are the faces I lived with.  The upbeat attitude, bordering on cult-like drink-the-kool-aid insanity: oh yeah, that’s the Mormon church.  ‘Hello’ is… honest, in a way that I never found the Church to be honest.

Want more honesty about the Mormon church?  Listen to ‘Turn it off“.  Here are the lyrics:

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head, Don’t feel those feelings! Hold them in instead. Turn it off, like a light switch just go click! It’s a cool little Mormon trick! We do it all the time. When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t feel right, treat those pesky feelings like a reading light and turn em off. Like a light switch just go bap! Really whats so hard about that? Turn it off!

Newsflash!  If these lyrics ring true for you, you might be a part of a repressive cult.  Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but this rang SO TRUE for my experience in the Mormon church.

Oh. You don’t believe some of this stuff.  Well just try believing!  You’re uncomfortable with some of our teachings?  Pray to have understanding!

Literally, the amount of times I was basically told to pretend to believe until I did believe…. it’s astounding.  That shit is dangerous and manipulative and here was a WHOLE DAMN SONG explaining and mocking the concept.  It felt good to mock and it felt good to laugh about it.  Some of the anger dribbled away.

The whole musical does this: it captures the concept, then laughs, then it moves forward.  Which allowed me to do the same.

Listen to “I Believe” and you’ll get a quick run down of LDS beliefs, both normal and strange as can be.  I love this song.  I belt this song randomly.  My son will probably know the lyrics to this song before he knows “Old MacDonald” (sorry, son).  In belting this song, I can acknowledge the crazy, bask in the mockery, and move on.

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So to recap, the happy music gave light to my boiling rage monster.  This allowed me to hear the music and feel understood while simultaneously mocking the thing that consumed so much energy.  But here’s what really sealed the deal and provided the catharsis to release my anger….

The ending.

[SPOILERS AHEAD. But it’s worth it.  I mean, who goes to a musical to see the ending?  No.  You go to listen to music and laugh and feel a part of something.  So just read on, okay?]

At the end of the musical, after this insane journey with the church, these two missionaries basically go and start their own church.  And it’s an ABSURD church, mostly comprised of fan-fiction from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and the Book of Mormon.  It’s a bizarre mismatch and obviously the doctrine is false and the followers are bizarre.

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Um, what?

BUT…

They’re happy.  Like, really happy.  And they are good people, with this silly and mostly harmless attempt at doing something good.

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So happy

Which made me realize….

Who gives a shit if the Mormon church is ridiculous?  Yeah, I’ve got some strange programming from them, and yeah, my lens of reality can be warped.  But overall, the Mormon church is a bunch of good-hearted people with misguided attempts at doing something good.

Being angry at them affords me nothing.  It was an important step in my grieving process, I will give it that, but to give it more is to hurt myself.

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And that is how a silly musical about serious things helped my debilitating anger.

The Absolute Right and Wrong of Parenting

Ready?  Here it is:

Absolutely do not abuse your children (or other people’s children) mentally, emotionally, physically.

Absolutely do try a little harder to be a bit better every day for your kids.

There it is.  That’s it.  Case closed.

I feel that lately we’ve been pushed to buy into this awful notion of right or wrong.  And this definitely extends to parenting.  Of the top of my list, here are some of the many things that ignite the so-called “Mommy wars”:

  • bottle vs. breast
  • co sleeping vs. room sharing vs. crib wayyyyy down the hall
  • religion vs. no religion
  • working moms vs. work-at-home moms vs. stay at home moms
  • screen time vs. outdoor time
  • daycare facility vs. out-of-home daycare
  • home birth vs. hospital birth
  • baby food from Wal Mart vs. homemade baby food
  • regular clothing vs. cage-free no-kill chemical-free clothing

Okay, I made the last one up.  But still.  You get the point.

Here’s my super controversial opinion about all this so-called “controversy”…. it’s nonsense.

There is very little absolute right and wrong about parenting.  For the most part, it’s doing your best, recognizing all the fuck ups in an average day, and going to bed to try again tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be better. Right? It has to be.
Tomorrow will be better. Right? It has to be.

I get it.  Motherhood is a sensitive thing.  It’s the thing we probably care the most about, or at least told that we should care the most about it, so it’s easy to feel automatically defensive about it.  We feel that judgement is implied when someone chooses a different path from us, so we feel the need to shore up our defenses.

I have definitely felt attacked when no attack was intended.

I have definitely touted a strong opinion when no one asked.

I have definitely judged the crap out of other mothers and turned up my nose, while secretly thinking I was such a great person because I didn’t voice my distaste.

So let’s just stop.

Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please has this amazing section on the Mommy Wars.  If you are feeling the Mommy Wars hard, I highly suggest that chapter (although the whole book is definitely worth the read).

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Poehler is my spirit animal.  You go, Glenn Coco!

In her book, Poehler coins this magical phrase:

Good for her, not for me.

Every baby and every family is different.  What works for one family and/or baby may not work for another.  And that’s okay.

I happen to feel strongly that my son should sleep in the other room.  That’s partly because I’m a really heavy sleeper and don’t trust myself, and partly because I have a nasty habit of sleeping with the TV on, one I don’t want to impart to my son.  I totally get that other mamas and other babies room share and/or cosleep.  Good for her, not for me.

I stopped breastfeeding when my son was four months for reasons that could encompass another blog post.  One of my good mama friends is still breastfeeding her one year old and has plans to continue for as long as possible.  Good for her, not for me.

Poehler describes it as a mantra, one to hold to when you doubt your mothering abilities or find the creeping urge to judge another mama.  “Good for her, not for me.  Good for her, not for me.”  Repeat as necessary.

Because let’s face it: this shit is hard.  We need support, not judgment and fear.  So please, let’s agree: there’s not really a right or wrong here.  Its good for her, maybe not for me and that’s okay.

How Preschool and Middle School are *Basically* the Same

No one listens.  Ever.

Kids use the bathroom to get out of shit. Giving a boring test to middle schoolers?  Suddenly everyone has to go to the bathroom.  Put a bunch of preschoolers in timeout? Suddenly everyone has to go to potty.

Parents are weird.  No, I will not check your middle schooler’s backpack every day.  Yes, your preschooler must wear socks to school.

Their clothes.  Both preschoolers and middle schoolers have decided that they can express themselves in clothing, and as a result wear pretty odd things.  Pajamas are frequently worn by both groups, as are strange graphic tees about TV shows I’ve never heard of.

Kids get sent to the office when they don’t behave.  Heck, adults get sent to their boss’s office when they don’t behave.  It’s a timeless classic.

The drama.  The cat fights!  Oh, the dramatic cat fights! “I’m not your friend anymore” is the most scandalous thing a three year old can say to another three year old.  Instant tears.  The same insult is used when the kids are twelve, but their parents deal with the tears. Which leads me to my next point…

The insults. No, preschoolers don’t use cuss words the way the preteens do, but the sentiment is the same.  I’ve heard the words “You can’t come to my birthday party” in both a middle school classroom and a preschool playground.

The tantrums.  When a preschooler is mad, they wail and refuse to listen.  Middle school kids do the same, only the wailing is (usually) less loud and tear-free.

Naptime.  Even if it’s not sanctioned, you know those preteens are sleeping right after lunch.

The boys smell. Thirteen year old boys have not discovered deodorant and showering.  Preschool boys haven’t quite mastered the potty.

Teachers gossip about the kids.  And we gossip about the parents.  It’s how we stay sane.

 

I taught middle school for one glorious year (plus my time at University).  Currently, I teach preschool, and it cracks me up how similar the two groups are.  There are some pretty significant differences though.  For example:

Cuddling.  Preschoolers hug and kiss, sit in my lap, and cuddle until they literally fall asleep.  In middle school I held them at arm’s length and usually put a desk between me and them.

What I can wear.  When I taught middle school, I wore a skirt almost every day, I always wore make up, and usually heels (I’m 5’2″ and look like I’m sixteen, I need all the help I can get).  In preschool, it’s all about the leggings.  The one time I wore a scarf, they asked, “What’s that?  Why are you wearing that?”

The intellectual level. My favorite middle school unit was the Holocaust.  I loved discussing the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish peoples through the poetic prose of Elie Weisel.  Last week with a preschooler, I pointed to the number 8 and he shouted, “That’s a B!” Quite a difference there…