There’s nothing funny about actual “Mean Girls”

Mean girls suck. Actually, mean people suck, but I’m going to focus on the concept of the “mean girl”, since that’s what most relevant to the situation at hand. To get into it I need to set the stage, so I’m going to roll the clock back to my time in second grade (around 1980).

I was transferred to a new school so I could be part of a “Gifted & Talented” program, one of those accelerated learning programs that public schools in my area offered for kids who tested out of the standard curriculum. I didn’t know anyone there, but the rest of the kids had been together for several years. It’s not like I was some kind of novelty; the other kids mostly just ignored me those first few days. Only one girl took any interest in me, and we became fast friends–a deep friendship that continued for many years.

Some of the other girls, however, were assholes. It’s not like it was everybody, but a select group of A-groupers who were thinner and prettier than everyone else decided that I would be an easy target for their bullying. They’d be nice to me when they wanted to see how I solved a math problem, but otherwise they’d tease me for being fat, for being ugly, for being different from them. It was classic herd rejection.

It took years for me to be comfortable enough in my own skin that I was willing to look past what those early interactions did to my self-esteem. And there was no small part of me that sighed with relief when I saw that my daughter was an improvement on the model by leaps and bounds; she’s just this gorgeous, athletic, smart, funny, kind, and effortlessly cool kid. I figured things would be easier for her.

And yet, I spent a good bit of time up past her bedtime chatting with her last night about the mean girls that she’s encountering. Some are budding juvenile delinquents–not so much for lack of intelligence but for complete lack of discipline and manners. Some are from the classic “mean girl mold”, like telling anyone who’ll listen “I hate {dd}” and stage whispering about dd with her mean girl clique. Some are veritable human tofu: they take on the personality and aspect of those around them, regardless of whether they’re good or bad influences.

It’s sad and frustrating on so many levels. I want to protect dd from the pain that I went through, to have her rise above it and not feel rejected by those who choose to pick on her. I’m incredibly sad that some girls that I’ve known for years, that I’ve taken into my home at times or that I’ve spent time around, are treating her so horribly now. And I know that I can’t go to the parents and ask them why their kids are being such assholes to my kid, because it’s not my place to tell them so. (And they may be aware of the behavior and just don’t care, although I’d like to hope that’s not true.)

When I talked with dd about all of this mess, I asked her to see these kids for who they really are. The tofu girl may still be the nice girl that I’d like to think she is. But when her personality and actions change depending upon who’s she’s around, who’s the real her? The *mean* girl and the juvie-hall candidate-in-training are the ones I’ve told dd just to avoid. I’ve encouraged her to play with the kids that are nice, to find and make those safe spaces away from the kids that treat her like crap. That pushes her outside of her comfort zone which requires risking further rejection by attempting to go and play with someone new.

And I know that everyone thinks their kids are the cutest in the land, but seriously my girl is gorgeous. As in: when I look at her, I’m amazed that she’s my kid. That’s why it was a painful conversation, listening to her to tell me how ugly her face is, how much she hates the color of her skin, how few kids she feels comfortable playing with because of all the cliques and divisions that exist even at the 4th grade level. It hurts because she has natural advantages I didn’t (like her stunning beauty and her athleticism) and she’s still being subjected to this bullshit.

Maybe this is part of growing up, helping you develop a thicker skin and build your self-confidence…or maybe it’s just a shitty part of society that we really need to get past. Maybe one of these days we finally will. It just can’t come soon enough.

I had a c-section, and it was exactly the delivery I wanted

mom holding a baby's hand

In truth, I’ve had two c-sections–one for each kiddo. And amazingly, ignoring all of those posts out there about how caesarean sections aren’t desirable deliveries or how real moms deliver babies, I feel absolutely zero remorse for my choices. I came out of both deliveries just fine–and same for my kiddos; that’s all I really wanted.

When preparing for the birth of our first child, dd, we went through the birthing class offered by the hospital where we planned to deliver. The doula was great about giving us information on caring for ourselves as pregnant women, how to care for our children once fresh out of the wrapping, and how to care for ourselves again once we were new moms. At one point, I remember asking how much of one particular lesson was applicable if one was to have a c-section (not because I knew at that point that I’d have one, but just out of curiosity). Her response was to shrug and say simply, “It’s good information for you to know regardless”. Point well taken. Time well spent.

And so it was that I figured I would deliver vaginally…right up until the time when I went for an ultrasound a few weeks before dd’s due date and was told that she was full breech. She was in a v-position, actually; her head was lodged under my left rib, her feet were in my right rib, and her butt was pointed down. (I would later learn that this was actually one of the things that caused her to have DDH–developmental dysplasia of the hip–but we’ve long since sorted that out.)

I talked over the options with my doctor. I could either undergo “versioning” (a process where they try to manhandle the baby into the proper position) or I could just go with a c-section. Versioning can have side-effects, I was told, not the least of which is that it can cause you to go into labor early–meaning you may still not avoid a c-section, but this time you’d be doing it on an emergency basis. I decided to take the path that we all felt was less risky, and I went with the c-section. Of course, best laid plans of mice and maternity wards were still thwarted; dd put me into labor the day before she was due and some doctor I’d never met before (or seen since) was the one who delivered her. Ah well.

Recovery wasn’t too tricky, which I’ll attribute heavily to my having done yoga pre- and post-delivery. And no, I’m not a Gisele Bundchen-type that has nannies and hangers-on making recovery just a dream, lest anyone have any ideas about why recovery wasn’t difficult for me.

When it came to ds, I had the option of a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC), and my doctor said I wasn’t a bad candidate for it. However, she did tell me that there was risk inherent in having a VBAC and she left the choice up to me. We talked it through, and ultimately I decided to go with the second c-section as a way to manage the risks. We weren’t sure how high the risk was for a rupture, but given my 36 years categorized me as advanced maternal age (AMA), I was already into the “hmm, be a bit more cautious” range as far as the doctors were concerned.

Delivering ds was a bit less eventful than it had been with his sister; he managed to stay put until he was full-term, sparing me a second go-around with the bizarre experience of having my water break. (Contrary to popular belief, it’s not like there’s just one whoosh of water and then suddenly the pool has run dry; more water comes out with each contraction, by which time you’re wondering if your uterus is hooked up to some kind of amniotic underground spring.) Again, recovery was straightforward–perhaps even more so because I had a much better sense of how it would go the second time around.

And note that in each case I say, “deliver” or “delivering”. My c-sections were no less a delivery than a vaginal birth. They’re no more, no less. So much of the complaining that I hear online comes down to women fretting loudly over the fact that a c-section robbed of an experience they truly wanted to have. And yet, I sit here firmly in agreement with the doula who taught us a decade ago: The goal for delivery is “healthy mommy, healthy baby”.

Sure, things aren’t always going to break your way. And it’s awful for a woman to endure hours and hours of labor only to find out that she needs to have emergency surgery. Two words you never really want to put in the same sentence are “emergency” and “surgery”. I get that.

But the thing is, the level of shouting has ascended to the point where it’s almost some kind of attempt to shame those of us who had c-sections (whether they were unexpected or performed willingly), and frankly that ticks me off something fierce. No mother’s quality should be defined on the basis of how her child was delivered into the world. The mom who home-births in a pool is no better and no worse than the mom who gets an epidural while she’s in a hospital birthing suite and is no better and no worse than the mom who’s numbed by a spinal and has her uterus temporarily removed by a doctor in a delivery room.

Shame–whether intended or just implied–is simply a cudgel with which to beat other moms out of some messed up desire to claim the top of the heap for only a select few.

We have absolutely GOT to stop allowing all this mommy-shaming and one-ups-momship, because it’s dividing and conquering us. Parents (yes, ALL parents, not just moms) need to be supportive, accepting, and inclusive. And while what I’ve written might tick off someone who’s militant that c-sections are the tool of the medical-industrial sector, I hope it’s given at least one woman the bravery to accept that her own c-section is okay. It’s understandable to be disappointed if a delivery didn’t go exactly as you planned, but when you look at your kids it’s also important to remember that parenting is about them–NOT us–and your own worth as a parent is so much more than how they made it into your arms that very first time.

The mythical mom

mother and son silhouette

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I was deep in conversation with my boss about our current parental challenges when she tossed something at me I didn’t expect: she called me a “better than average mom”. Me? Really?

Not really being sure what constitutes “average”, but being wholly surprised that I could be considered above that waterline, I pointed out what I tend to see on Facebook that often induces my own sense of being behind that particular curve.

There are the moms who seem to be able to handle it all…

…their hair and makeup always look spectacular.

…they always rock these sweet outfits that make them look so ridiculously cute.

…their kids are on multiple sports teams each and the schedule seems to manage itself.

…they’re so lovey-dovey with their spouse or significant other that you wonder if they’re secretly still newlyweds.

…they always seem to be cooking the most amazingly complex, attractive food that takes a ton of time and that their kids just LOVE.

…they’re typically on their way to or coming back from a workout where they just crushed a personal record or finished off the latest Beachbody DVD.

In other words: they’re fricking fantastic at being moms AND getting it all done.

Or are they?

My boss (probably) rightly pointed out that we typically only take pictures at our best. True enough, I don’t see a ton of people taking selfies in meetings when they’re being told that the thing they’ve been working on is getting sidelined or defunded in favor of something else. And rarely do they stop to take video of little Timmy having THE MOST EPIC MELTDOWN EVAR AND ISN’T IT SOOOOOO FUNNY. In general, you don’t see these same moms showing snaps of their ultimate bedhead or how they look trying on the pants that don’t really fit super-well because women’s sizing is complete bullshit and any size in one designer may be a complete other size in another designer.

In other words, while we show all of these pictures of us at our best, it’s easy to assume that when we don’t have those ourselves we must be at our worst. We’re psyching ourselves out, seeing pictured perfection that’s lit just so and snapped with costly digital SLR’s–not looking at the reality when the accent lights are put away and the best you’ve got is the camera on your old iPhone 5.

I don’t know that there’s a perfect mom out there, although I think that every mom who tries to be perfect is striving for something that looks like success to them. And it’s really easy to fall back on the assumption that if little Timmy isn’t an A student who plays three sports and two instruments, who volunteers in his spare time and cleans the house, that somehow you’re a failure as a parent.

The thing is, it’s not our responsibility as parents to outshine each other; our responsibility is to raise civilized humans that can grow up to be improvements on the original models. We shouldn’t be setting ourselves up to assume that every mom who rocks some fab blow-out is looking like that all the time–nor should we ignore those times when we look in the mirror before heading out and our own hair looks REALLY FRICKING CUTE. Call it out. Note it. You don’t have to take a picture of it to remind yourself that it happened.

My idea of the actual average mom is someone like me:

…she has a pretty full day, whether that day is spent at home, at a business, or somewhere in-between.

…she has those days where she looks really adorable or hot, and she has other days where you wonder if she needs to do laundry and learn about that thing called “a comb”.

…she cooks as healthy as she can based on what she can afford–both in time and money–and she makes choices all the time about whether she can “afford” to cook more than one meal or if the kids will just have to deal with whatever’s put on the table. (This also assumes that she’s the one doing the cooking, which may not be the case.)

…she wants to be healthy, for whatever definition that is in her mind, and she could always do more–but she’s trying. And some days, she just deserves credit for even thinking about trying, because even that can be hard.

…she maps out her schedule in her head on a daily basis, trying to figure out how to keep all the moving parts of her life from colliding in spectacular fashion.

…she sometimes yells at the kids because they’re not always behaving like those smiling, happy-faced kids that you see in those random posed pictures.

…and–most importantly–she deserves a freaking break every now and again, because perfect doesn’t and shouldn’t exist.

Our kids won’t always be perfect, either, and misbehaving isn’t always a sign of bad parenting. Sometimes it’s just fatigue or hormones or hunger or stress or any one of 1,000 other things that we can’t tell because the Psychic Hotlines just don’t work.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all should cut each other some slack–and we need to save a bit of that for ourselves, too. It’s hard to unlearn years of self-suppression, but maybe we each deserve the opportunity to consider ourselves “above average” from time to time.