Hormonal Rage

Just to recap: I’m from Los Angeles, but I’m currently in the UK, two years into a very fish-out-of-water experience. Being an expat is no joke. I’m not exaggerating when I say that almost everything is different in England than it is in California, where in my homesick memory, even in the traffic is more tolerable.

I’m in England because I’m working on a PhD about childbirth intervention. Somehow, I managed to convince an academic department to fund my project, and now I actually have to DO this massive thing.

Finally, I’ve just had my first baby.

So: 5,000 miles from family + PhD student + new mom. I have no local family support, I’m working on a doctorate, I haven’t slept more than 4 consecutive hours in 7.5 months, I carry/cradle/pick up/put down/walk/dance/bounce my son all day long, I am still exclusively breastfeeding, I am ten pounds lighter than I was when I got divorced and stopped eating for three months, and until two days ago, when I passed my UK driving test, I couldn’t drive here and was walking/taking the train/catching buses with a child strapped to my body whenever I had to go anywhere. So, I’m fucking exhausted and sometimes I can’t think straight or make decisions or get through a driving lesson without coming home and losing my shit because everything is just DEMANDS CONSTANTLY.

Thus, I find it really offensive and dismissive when people tell new moms that it’s okay to feel upset because our “hormones are still settling.” As if not loving every second of our insane new lives could only be because us ladies are forever at the mercy of our hormones. We accept that a person who hasn’t slept well overnight or has a cold might be negatively impacted, but we feel the need to excuse mothers who feel bad. Don’t worry, Mom. You’re just hormonal. I understand that some women really do suffer from hormonal imbalances post-pregnancy, and I don’t at all mean to disparage them. However, patting a new mom on the the head and telling her that all her fears and anxieties and complete exhaustion are just by-products of her hormones does two things:

  1. Ignores that having a baby explodes a woman’s life
  2. Dismisses the very real and very visceral physical and emotional trauma of that explosion

I feel crazy sometimes because I’m sleep deprived and physically drained and walking around with eighteen pounds of squirming, grabbing baby attached to my skeletal frame all day long. I snap at my husband because as much as he loves us, he doesn’t understand what this is like for me. I am uncomfortable with the way I look because I look really different. I get angry or weepy or temporarily mean because I am tasked with something damn near impossible and I am just one human being and I am tired.

Being overwhelmed by a new baby is normal, because a new baby is overwhelming, not because women just can’t hang. I pushed a person out of my body and am now responsible for taking care of him. I think I’m entitled to have some real feelings about it.

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<3.

I’m not sure if you could tell, but I’ve been a bit of a downer lately. This is about 100% due to the fact that I am an adult woman in a holding pattern. I could, at any time Monday through Friday 9am-5pm Eastern time, find out that I’m cleared to move halfway across the world and start a brand new life. I sit in that anxiety every day I know the visa office is open, just waaaaiting for an email from them. I’ve tried not thinking about it, but when the wait stretches across four weeks, it’s hard to keep finding ways to distract myself. Luckily, I’ve got some pretty adorable tiny crazy people within walking distance, which makes all of this much, much easier. See? It’s not all doom and gloom around here!

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I’ve got to soak up as much time with Fiece #1 and #2 before I go, because I will miss them SO MUCH when they’re not just around the corner.

My resolution for the new year? Be as grateful as humanly possible for all the incredible support and love I’ve received from all the wonderful friends (the grown up and the still very small) I’m so lucky to have in my life.

I quite literally could not have done this without them.

Wordless Wednesday: Last Day!

The school year is over!  Here’s how it ended:

Little Miss Vampire - "To remember me by," the artist told me.

Little Miss Vampire – “To remember me by,” the artist told me.

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A “zombie trap,” crafted out of a small bucket of a water and some leftover white yarn. “Zombies hate water, Sarah. Because they only love blood.”  DUR.

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A sign advertising “FREE BRAINS!” (sounded out phonetically, of course). This was an attempt to lure zombies to the trap.  Again: DUR.

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Some incredibly bizarre lyrical dictation this morning. Apparently, this child’s older sister learned this Civil War Freedom song from her music teacher. As you do.

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Some graffiti I found in the afternoon. We obviously all really kick ass.

Despite being by far the most insane day of the entire year, today was packed with off-the-charts adorable madness and I can feel my cloud of personal misery lifting.  Yay!  There’s hope for me yet!

Things I plan to do with my new weekday freedom and positive outlook: 1) finish my thesis research; 2) re-teach myself how to use statistical analysis computer programs; 3) buy, wash and pack everything I need for Ireland; 4) go see The Purge.  You know – only the very most important stuff.

Notable Quotables.

In order to celebrate today, the very last day of school, I’ve compiled a supremely abridged list of all the best things the children in our class said this year, with la piece de resistance at the bottom.  Our kids really are the absolute best and I am going to miss them terribly.  As much as we are all looking forward to the summer, I am so sad to see them graduate.

Love, love, love them.  Enjoy!

—–

“Why did the hero flush the toilet?”

“Because it was his DUTY!”
—–
“Ooooooh, you’re 26?!?  No way!  You’re older than my dad!  He’s 42!”
—–
“Tadpoles are delicate, like princess skin.”
—–
“Sarah, do NOT smell my throat.  It probably smells like vomit.”
—–
“If I get stung by a bee, I’ll have to go to the fosfibal.”
—–
“Sarah, what’s your favorite Dashboard Confessional album?”
—–
“Have you ever seen ‘The Goonies’?”
—–
“Wait.  You’ve heard of Michael Jackson???”
—–
Child, Day 1: “You’re pretty!”
Child, Day 2: “You were pretty.  Yesterday.”
—–
Child #1: “Sleeping all day is for babies.”
Child #2: “And teenagers.”
—–
Child #1: “Does she still have her baby?”
Teacher: “Yes.  When you have a baby, you keep it forever.”
Child #2: “Well yeah.  Unless the baby dies.”
—–
“Why did the chicken cross the road two times?”
“BECAUSE HE WAS A DOUBLE CROSSER!”
—–

“Sarah, I really like peanuts.  Not the peanuts on your body.  The peanuts you eat.”

Dance Party: No or Yas.

This school year, we established Friday afternoons as official “Dance Parties,” when we’d spend about twenty minutes at the end of the day letting the kids dress up in costumes and sing into “markerphones” and build stage lights out of blocks and mostly just completely lose it.  It’s become something everyone really looks forward to, and now that Wednesday is the last day of school, the kids were worried we would never have another Dance Party.

Today, they asked if we could have an afternoon DP, and we told them that we might not have the time.

Some minutes later, we had this missive silently passed across the table to us:

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TAL ME NAW translates to “Tell me now!”

No or Yes or Maybe, with “Yes” conveniently already checked off.

Again, we said we probably wouldn’t have the time.

The response?

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We told them we were sorry, but it would still probably have to wait until tomorrow.

And then we received this:

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Which was, of course, too pathetic to ignore.

So we had a Dance Party.

And the last note of the day was:

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The year’s Dance Party Playlist, made up exclusively of songs requested by the five-year-olds in our class:

To Teach.

Yesterday, our school had its annual Family Picnic at a local summer camp up in the hills.  While there, my teacher friend Miss Shelby (whose head is shaped like a shell) and I managed to hitchhike down a mountain, practice archery for the first time, and watch a bunch of children in cowboy hats and bandanas shovel cupcakes into their mouths.  It was, altogether, a successful, bizarre, adorable day.

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Pretend I’m doing an awesome job in this photo. Somebody forgot to take one of me. (SHELBY.)

In addition, I had a conversation with a parent that made me realize just how much I love teaching – and, more specifically, how much I love teaching kids who are five.

I think it goes without saying that people underestimate teachers.  After all, those who cannot do, teach, right?  In addition, just the sheer fact that we’ve chosen a profession that has zero promise of huge economic prospects makes us pretty rare creatures in a city like Los Angeles.  Also also, I currently teach at a preschool, which is, to most people, the equivalent of glorified babysitting (this just in: it’s not).  I have a friend (who may or may not have a shell-shaped head) who has been told to her face that she is so good at her job, she really should be a “real teacher.”  Ouchies.

Despite all that baggage, I adore pre-K and kindergarten.  There is something magical about teaching children when they are fully formed personalities, and yet before they learn to filter in order to fit in.  I like to think that by modeling creativity and empathy and independence and individuality, we’re helping to guard them against the need to change or the anxiety to be the same as everyone else. Even just a little.  I believe that showing them that all worlds are open to them sets them up to be good, curious, expansive learners for their entire lives.

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Yesterday, as I was heading over to the archery station (where I totally kicked ass my very first time, by the way), a father pulled me aside to thank me for being his daughter’s “grandparent” during Grandparents’ Day at the school on Friday.  His daughter was the only student in our class who didn’t have a grandparent (or “special friend”) at school for the day and I told her not to worry – we would do all the activities together so that she wouldn’t be alone.  I skipped my lunch break (because I hadn’t brought food anyway), and we painted and journaled and had snack and ran around like crazies and talked to all the other grandparents.  She had a blast and was absolutely thrilled that she had a teacher as a special friend (and I got to paint and laugh and eat bite-size brownies for lunch).

Her dad told me that she could not stop talking about Grandparents’ Day when she got home.  He thanked me for making her feel included on a day when she could have easily felt excluded.  He told me that his daughter’s only grandmother had lived with them until her recent death, which had been hard, and he was shocked when I told him I hadn’t known.  He thanked me for making an effort, despite not knowing their unique situation.

And that is why I do this job.  Because every child, every day, all over the world, has very basic requirements for success and happiness: food, water, nurture.  Every child needs (and, quite frankly, deserves) to feel supported and cared about and important, regardless of their individual experiences.  This seemingly small thing I’d done, choosing to be a good kind person to a little girl when she needed it, made a tremendous impact on her, in ways I anticipated (i.e. she was not alone and disappointed on a day that should have been exciting) and in ways I could not have known about (i.e. the death of her live-in grandmother).

Beneath the literacy and math and science skills we are teaching, we are always, always, always modeling kindness and generosity and humanity.  There is nothing in the world more important to me than being tasked with that responsibility.

I guess what I’m saying is: I dare you to tell me to go get a real teaching job.

Friday Fun: Sports Day.

Sometimes, when the classroom is literally pulsing with noise and no one is listening to me and children are trying to tear down the school and I’ve taken a few sneezes to the face, teaching seems too overwhelming and I become insanely envious of people with office jobs, who get to sit at their sterile desks and check Facebook all day long.

However, more often than not, I have moments when I am convinced I am doing the best job on Earth, like when I’m sitting on warm grass at 2:15 pm on a gorgeous May day in Los Angeles, eating popcorn out of a giant serving bowl, surrounded by children who are laughing hysterically like tiny, adorable, well-meaning hyenas.

Today was one of those days. We had our class Sports Day, during which the kids (and their parent coaches) ran various relays and participated in potato sack races and crab-crawled around and yelled things like, “Oh my God, POPSIBALS!” when, at the end of the last race, a mom brought out Popsicles.

Because I am a terrible influence who stirs up trouble, and because I happen to work with a few women who are on my own wicked and immature level, we (the adults) ended up using water balloons left over from a balloon toss to stage a massive, impromptu water fight, which drenched children and teachers alike. Kids took off their soaking shoes, and filled watering cans and sandbox buckets to the brim before dumping them over their own heads. It was chaos. It was insanity. It was absolute joy.

I got totally destroyed, although you can’t really tell, because I couldn’t take a picture of the back of my neck, where a fellow teacher burst two giant balloons:

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Later in the day, as I sat in the grass in my still-damp jeans and watched children consume popcorn by the handful, a girl in my class looked at me with pride in her eyes and said, “Watch how fast I can eat this cheese!” before gobbling up an entire stick of mozzarella.

The best job on Earth, people.

Girl Colors.

As someone who teaches five-year-olds, who are notoriously the centers of their own universes, I tend to mediate a lot of conflicts over fairness and rule following and personal injuries, which are all necessary to the eventual development of a person with empathy and social graces, a person who can use words to vent frustration instead of smacking someone in the head when they take too long at the water fountain.  As tedious as they can sometimes be, especially when they happen frequently with the same child, these are all mediations that I genuinely really enjoy, because occasionally, you can actually see the seeds of kindness and compassion start to grow, like a tiny lightbulb flashing over a child’s head when they understand that other people have thoughts and feelings and wants that may differ from theirs and that’s okay.

However, the one issue I could gladly never hear about again is the discussion of what makes a “girl color” and what makes a “boy color.”  It is a cultural construct that makes me insane, 1) because it makes no sense and 2) because it makes no sense.  I’m a sharp tack, and I’d like think I understand the relative importance of teaching children what their roles in society are and that putting baby boys in “boy” clothing and baby girls in “girl” clothing helps code to others (and eventually to the children themselves) who and what they are.  This is sometimes helpful, specifically just when a stranger sees a baby in a gender-neutral onesie and is faced with the horror of having to ask the parent if the child is a boy or a girl, lest they use the wrong pronoun.

However, we currently live in a society that has taken gender coding to the extreme.  It is a society in which primary colors (you know, those pigments that make up all the colors in the universe) are off-limits to little girls.  If something is not pink or purple or covered in glitter, it is not a girl toy.  That, dear readers, is total bullshit.  It is one thing to provide gentle guidance to a child about what society expects, like, say, that you are polite to adults, kind to friends, and careful when climbing trees.  It is another thing entirely to strictly limit the experiences a child can have (or “should” have) simply on the basis of their biological sex.

This point has been argued exhaustively in defense of girls.  Girls should love all colors!  Girls should want to ride bikes!  Girls should be able to play in the sandboxes of the world without worrying that their fancy dresses and gorgeous shoes will get ruined!  And to all of that, I say: obviously.  However, I think this cultural preoccupation with what girls do and what boys do is equally damaging to boys, as it restricts them from being comfortable playing in kitchens or wanting to bake or having longer hair or painting their damn nails.  A child is only wild and carefree for a few years.  Let them be curious and fun and adorable for as long as they can be.

A friend of mine recently posted onto the internet a sincere question about her children, an older girl and a newborn boy.  The question was something along the lines of, “Do you buy your daughter things that are pink?  Even when you know that eventually her younger brother will want to play with them?”

Just think about that for a moment.  There is so, so much wrong with that.  Do you allow your daughter to have “girl toys,” even when you know that eventually her younger brother will want to play with objects that ARE THE COLOR PINK?  God forbid.

As if the notion that any deviation from a societally-gendered color could negatively impact a child is not ridiculous enough, the most ridiculous thing of all is that before the 1940s, pink was for boys and blue was for girls, a rule based on the equally sexist notion that pink, a subdued shade of red, was a stronger, more masculine color than the calm, cool blues alloted to girls.  (Read here and here.)  Marketing people at department stores decided this, you guys.  In order to sell more baby clothes.  Calm down and let your sons play dress up.

I’m currently upset by this, and therefore inspired to blog about it, because the other day, my husband and I stumbled upon an ABC wall hanging decorated with Eric Carle illustrations and were both horrified to discover that the one we were enthralled by, the one with the primary colors and creatures like lions and bears and frogs, was actually the one for boys.  The ABC decor for a girl’s room, which we found across the aisle, was awash in pinks and lavenders, and the orange lions and brown bears and green frogs had been changed to red ladybugs and rainbow butterflies and pink flamingos.

Exhibits A & B:

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I am not hating on rainbow butterflies or ladybugs or lavender.  I like all those things.  However, I find it pretty terrible that someone felt there was something so offensively neutral about the alphabet that this design idea required two different gendered products.

Dear America: you are gross.