Why I Quit and What Now

Gooey,

I’ve had to make some big decisions lately, and I want you to know why I made them. I made them for you, because everything I do is for you now.

I have a long history of mediocre jobs. I spent two years after college working at Urban Outfitters, which hopefully won’t exist anymore when you’re old enough to read this. (UO is a store that sells over-priced, hipster-lifestyle clothing that fall apart.) After that, I got a temp job at a financial company scanning microfiche, which eventually turned into a real job. In that real job I worked for a sociopathic tyrant, which was a wonderful learning experience, because I needed to learn how to be quiet, humble, and get through the day without complaining.

The mediocre and mundane years of our lives, of which I’ve had quite a few, teach us how to push ourselves towards better things, and they teach us how to be grateful.

In 2011, three and a half years before you were born, I decided to change my life. I won’t get into details here, but I left most of what I knew behind. I exchanged uncomfortable familiarity for scary, new things. I quit the job I didn’t like that paid a decent salary and went back to school to study science. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. It made me feel smart and gave me some of the confidence back that I’d lost. (This is one of the reasons I think it’s so important for girls to study math and science- it’s empowering). After an intensive summer chemistry course, your Dad and I got married at a little restaurant we loved in our neighborhood.

When I finished my science courses, I got a job at a prestigious cancer center working on clinical trials. This was the best job I’ve ever had. I worked with smart, challenging people (mostly women) running difficult trials for a patient population desperately in need of life-saving treatment. I went to work everyday with a purpose. I was a part of something much bigger and more important than myself.

I just quit that job, to stay home with you. I want to tell you why.

You are three months and four days old today. Five days ago you learned how to grab the toy elephant dangling overhead in your activity gym. Two weeks ago you learned how to splash in the water of your bath for the first time. You are learning how to explore the world around you, how to hold things with your hands, what happens when you hit the water hard with your palm. It’s incredible to witness. I also want to be next to you when you ask for the first time why grass is green instead of purple, or why rain falls down instead of up.

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Your Dad and I were lucky enough to be able to squirrel away some money so we’d have it after you were born. This won’t last forever (or a year), so I’ve had to think about how I can stay with you, and still contribute financially. This is real-world stuff that a lot of people don’t talk to their kids about, but I think they should.

It’s always been my dream to be able to make things for a living. When I see cool things online or in stores I think, how can I make that? I like figuring out how things work, and then reimagining them. But having a job like this, where you make whatever you want, seems impossibly difficult. Only very lucky people (who are more talented than me) have the privilege of making a living from their passions, right?

I’ve realized that I don’t want to teach you that.

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You know what I think is scary? Putting yourself out there. Writing deeply personal things on the internet and caring about it. Waiting to see how people will respond, or if anyone will read your work. It’s scary to make things, and then think anyone would ever value them, give you money so they can have them. It’s scary to start a business, knowing that it could completely flop, and you’ll look sort of silly and quixotic for ever thinking you could earn a living that way.

But Lucy, you’ve inspired me to be brave. You’re teaching me that life is too short and too full of magic to not spend every spare minute I have, every nap of yours, creating cool things. I’m learning how to weave, sew, paint, and build stuff with my hands. I want you to grow up knowing that work is a big deal, it’s important to know how to work, but it’s also important to do the things that you love that sometimes no one else will value, things that might fail. I have always been scared of taking risks, and I’ve never valued myself the way I hope you will. I want to change that in me, so you can grow up with that kind of mom.

So, I’m taking off on a new adventure. I’ll be part of a little company where I get to create things while you’re sleeping. Maybe it will be wonderful, and I can earn a little money to buy you sweet potatoes and bananas and whatever else you’ll be eating soon. Maybe when you’re older I can teach you how to make clothes for your dolls or science fair volcanoes (I’ll do that regardless). Or maybe in a year or two I’ll go back to my job in cancer research, and devote myself to that instead. They’re all noble pursuits.

Don’t be scared to do scary things. Don’t be afraid of putting yourself or your work out there and falling flat on your face (you’ll do it over and over again whether you mean to or not). Devote yourself to people you love. Ask for the things you want and then run after them, head first. Accept criticism, but don’t internalize it. Keep trying to build the life you want, even though what you want will keep changing. Do what makes you happy, and be grateful for it.

Love,

Mom

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How To: Embroider a Celebrity Portrait

Is this cheating? Because I basically already wrote this post when I shared how to create Australopithecus fan art for your unborn. The only real difference is that today I stitched a moody portrait of Tom Waits instead of an extinct genus of hominid.

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Here’s how to make your own:

1. Draw a picture of whoever you want to stitch:

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2. Tape the drawing onto your material. I usually stitch on felt, but any fabric will do.

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3. Prick an inky pen through the lines of the drawing, to create dots on the felt (which you’ll later connect with embroidery floss).

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4. Remove the drawing. Thread your weird big needle with embroidery floss (here’s a cool video on how to do that).One strand of embroidery floss is composed of six little threads. I separate one long piece into two long pieces with three threads each, because the thread gets doubled-over and you don’t want it to be too thick.

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5. Start stitching. You’re basically just connecting the dots.

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You’ll need to tie off your thread when it gets low and re-up your needle a few times to get everything sewn.

6. That’s it! Add some freehand text if you want, like this quote which I don’t think is actually accurate? Close enough.

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7. Frame your masterpiece and reward yourself with two pieces of sourdough toast with butter and strawberry jam, like I did.

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I made this little guy for my favorite person’s husband, who is graduating from business school tomorrow (his favorite musician is Tom Waits). Is there any gift nicer than a janky, homemade craft? I don’t think so.

If you’re not up to making one of your own, I’ll stitch your favorite celebrity, frame it, and mail it to you for two twenty dollar bills. Email me at eringoosecamp at gmail and we’ll talk.

Get Out of the House

I was chatting with one of my oldest friends the other day, who had an adorable little baby boy a month ago. She’s in that stage of manic new-momness where it’s hard to imagine leaving the house some days, where there’s no point in dressing a baby in anything besides pajamas (because it’s way too complicated snapping and unsnapping all the crazy million components of “real” baby clothes the 40 or so times a day they poop everywhere), where you can’t remember what it ever felt like to get more than two hours of sleep in a row. When I was in that place a million years (7 weeks) ago, I never, ever believed any of the many people who told me it would get easier.

As a new mom, everything feels like a FACT. If the baby’s not sleeping, she will never sleep again. You’ll never learn how to understand her cries the way the internet says you will. I was completely convinced I’d be a floppy, milky zombie wandering around with shit in my hair for the subsequent decade.

Anyway, it really does get easier. I have no mom advice to offer on that front, besides to try and survive the early days. Don’t listen to people who tell you to “enjoy every minute of it; it doesn’t last long!” because those people are sleeping and don’t have human feces in their hair.

After 3 or 4 weeks of sitting around the house, I got really restless. Against my midwife’s advice, I convinced my mom, who was visiting for a few days, to help me escape. Desperate for my independence, I lugged the 400 pound car seat back and forth from my front door to the car. We loaded Lucy in and did anything I could think of with an infant that wouldn’t annoy people: went to the mall and walked around, went to a different mall and walked around, spent an hour eating lettuce wraps and diet coke at P.F. Changs.

The mind and body don’t always agree on what they need, and after a week of these grand adventures, I started profusely bleeding again. (It turns out they tell you not to overextend yourself after major abdominal surgery for a reason.) I was told to park myself on the couch and not leave for another two or three weeks.

Have you guys seen all four seasons of Homeland? Really great show. I also watched every Bravo show ever made on demand and lost 20 IQ points in the process. I haven’t read a book in six months, but consider it an accomplishment that I still know how to read. (Truly the only advice I have for new moms is: get Netflix).

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I have now kept my baby alive for 11 weeks, which is 47 decades in mom-time. Once I allowed my surgical wounds heal, Lucy and I became a professional team of house-leavers. To all my fellow new moms or moms-to-be out there, you will learn to leave the house again, and it will feel amazing. You’ll get used to putting her in the carseat, and she will eventually stop crying in it. You will stop obsessively worrying about how she might blow out a diaper in public, because it will happen, and you will both be fine. You’ll stop worrying about her throwing a tantrum in a restaurant, because that will happen, too. The other patrons will look at you in abject horror or sympathy, and you will not care, because you left the house today and that makes you a champion.

Leaving the house will make you feel like a whole person again.

In case you need some ideas of what to do out there, here are the things that Lucy and I do:

1. Go to the library. We got lots of books as presents before Lucy was born but we’ve read them all twenty times already. Go get more. Get there early and line up with the hobos outside who are waiting to shower in the bathroom sink, like we did yesterday. Some libraries also have readings for kids.

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2. Walk around. It’s good for the bod (whatever is left of it- I think my scale is broken?). We like to walk around outside if it’s nice out, either around a town or on local paved trails. When we were still living in the arctic apocalypse that was this past winter, we walked around malls, which have the added bonus of cinnamon sugar pretzel and lemonade availability. Sometimes, I just go to Costco, and think about buying a 10 pack of Tevas.

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3. Post-natal Yoga (a.k.a. Mommy and Me Yoga). You can bring your baby and no one will judge you if she starts wailing, plus you have a solid excuse not to stand in Warrior 2 forever while the instructor talks for fifteen minutes about her 500 hours of Bikram training (you have to tend to the baby!). This is also a nice way to meet other new moms.

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4. Go to Baby Gap and Carters. What if you never have another child? You better buy All The Tiny Baby Clothes before it’s too late. Also, shopping involves walking, which is exercise. As stated by Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

5. Sit in a coffee shop and make something. Write your birth story while the baby naps in her stroller. Draw some pictures. Scour Pinterest for ideas of stuff you can DIY when you get home, or dinner ideas that require very little cooking. Chat up all the other new moms who are hanging around the coffee shop, because they had to leave the house, too.

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Whatever you do, you’re doing great. You are both still alive. And if it’s still too much for you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with playing Donkey Kong in your underwear while you eat pizza for a week straight.

Please Get Your Werther’s Original Off My Boob

I’m not sure if there’s a more hotly contested topic out there these days for internet moms than breastfeeding. There are people out there who think it’s disgusting, people trying to normalize and promote it, and women out there doing it until their kids are five years old and having actual conversations with them about it. (I confess I think it’s a little strange to breastfeed a kid through preschool, but fully appreciate and respect that women have the right to feed their children however they want. Unless you’re giving them bottles of Diet Pepsi, in which case, you should really switch to the organic one made with natural cane sugar, JK.)

My take on it is that you should do what you want.

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During my pregnancy, I decided that I would try to breastfeed, but if I hated it or it was too hard for me, I would give her formula. I wanted to breastfeed, but not at the expense of myself. I’d read a lot of stories about women having a very difficult time with it (everything from consecutive boob infections to never being able to leave your kid for more than 3 hours in a row). To me, it made total sense that you try, but don’t kill yourself over it.

Believe it or not, this ended up being a really controversial attitude.

After 48 hours of labor and a difficult birth, I spent another 4 nights in the hospital. I chose this particular hospital because they’re more progressive in some of their policies: you can labor in a bathtub, have skin-to-skin contact with your baby right away after birth, and bring in your own doula or labor support.

As it turned out, they also aggressively promote breastfeeding. Very aggressively.

I know there is good reason to promote breastfeeding. I realize that some people look down on it, when actually it’s a natural, nutritionally complete, totally free way to feed your baby. Free! For many, it’s a wonderful option.

I ended up having many, many problems breastfeeding. Whether they’re common or not, it was too much for me. It took me what felt like a really long time to quit it (because of how difficult it was to breastfeed, and because I felt so guilty for not wanting to sacrifice that much of myself and my sanity for the sake of my child).

In those first few days after Lucy was born, I breastfed her. Mind you, babies don’t actually get any milk the first several days, while your milk supply takes it’s sweet time coming in. (They get this other magic stuff, called colostrum, which is great for them and totally made out of unicorns, but comes out in teeny tiny drops, so they’re still hungry.) It might be more accurate to say that I allowed her to chew on my boobs every two hours until she drew blood.

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To help support me, the hospital sent in a member of their Army of Lactation Consultants every couple of hours. Some of these women were gentle and kind, but some were really pushy. They’d over-explain to me the importance of breastfeeding (which I was doing; I was already doing it! Why are you explaining to me that I should do it!). They’d grab a boob and twist it; shove it in Lucy’s mouth while she wailed.

My very favorite lactation consultant, Shelly, was tall, maybe mid 60’s, and smelled like a cocktail of clorox bleach and cough drops. She came to my bedside and orated the same speech about why I should try to breastfeed (that I’d already heard six times). Then she leaned over my naked body, grabbed my right boob while Lucy yelled in my lap, and promptly dropped a wet butterscotch hard candy out of her mouth onto my child’s body. She apologized while scooping the candy back into her mouth with a yellow fingernail, and suggested I try using a plastic nipple shield.

After I left the hospital, I was still trying to breastfeed. I was way beyond what I decided prior to birth I would go through before switching to formula. The hospital staff, the midwives I’d seen throughout my whole pregnancy, my close friends who breastfed their babies: I listened to them try and convince me to keep going. I transmogrified their encouragement (sometimes it felt more like bullying) into giant boulders of guilt, which I shouldered while telling myself that I was a weak, bad mother for wanting to quit. What was supposed to be lactation support ended up feeling like constant shaming. I felt ashamed that my body wasn’t working right. I felt ashamed that the physical pain and emotional trauma made me yearn to quit. I couldn’t determine what was best for me, and I didn’t trust my own instincts.

So, I went to another lactation consultant, voluntarily. She gave me a 24 point list of what I’d need to do to improve. Here are some highlights:

– Put a warm compress on your boob before and a cold compress on your boob after every feeding (aka every 2 hours)
– Buy an electric toothbrush and put the vibrating end on your boob in between feedings to soften the lumps
– Put $60 antibacterial/antifungal cream on both nipples after each feeding (because the skin was so broken)
– If I had to pump because the pain was too unbearable, or I wanted to let myself heal, I should not use bottles. I should fill a plastic syringe with breastmilk, attach it to a tiny tube, tape the tube end to my pointer finger, and feed her through that tube. Every two hours.

By her account, I should warm compress, vibrating toothbrush, pump or feed, do the syringe/tube/finger thing, nipple cream, and then cold compress EVERY TWO HOURS. While recovering from surgery. And trying to hold a newborn who’s screaming so hard she’s turning into a bleating, purple goat. While alone with her for 12 hours a day.

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It took me 6 long, long weeks of breastfeeding (that’s feeding or pumping every two hours for 42 days) before deciding that I am not a bad mother for wanting to stop being miserable. It is not required that you suffer so your baby can thrive. Breastmilk is wonderful stuff, but formula is not the devil’s dirt: I was raised on formula, and I turned out just fine (except for the late 90’s. and early to mid 2000’s.).

I wish women would stop criminalizing each other for making decisions about how they want to raise their own babies. I wish I hadn’t spent so many weeks criminalizing myself.

Some women love breastfeeding, whether they had an easy time doing it or a very difficult one. Some women overcome the difficulties after weeks or months of trying, and then are so glad they persevered. I have nothing but respect for these women.

I wish that I had felt respected (and had respected myself) earlier for not wanting to continue to be in pain, for wanting the freedom to leave the house for an afternoon without worrying about my boobs exploding, for wanting to quit.

Ultimately, I’m glad I gave it everything I could, but I’m also sure that I’m better and happier now. I’m a better mother for it.

To all of the women out there working hard to destigmatize breastfeeding: my former army of lactation consultants and I salute you. But don’t forget that new moms are total physical and emotional wrecks, and there’s a fine line between supporting someone in their journey to become the best possible mother, and pushing them away from trusting their own, brand new instincts. We all need the support of other women through early motherhood. We need to support each other through the hard-fought decisions, even if we disagree.

Being a new mom is really, really hard. Let’s just all have each other’s backs and be generous with the high fives. Hakuna matata, okay?

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