3am

Little Dude’s been up since 3. I’m currently not tired, so it’s ok. We’re both just sitting up in bed, working on our hobbies: I’m playing with him and blogging; he’s playing with me and crawling.

Outside the door, I can hear the cats meowing and scratching on furniture. They know some humans are awake. This means there are people who could be feeding them.

Shufs is snoring away. We stayed up late, well, late for us. We watched both Ghostbusters in memory of Harold Ramis. Little Dude stayed up later than usual. He just wasn’t tired. No worries. These things happen. His tooth broke through. He’s moved onto a decent crawling stage. It’s not the most elegant method of transport, but I’m not that graceful either. Shufs has a cartoonish grace that suits him.

Ok, eye rubs and fussing. Time to go to sleep.

Learning How to Love

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Four months into parenthood, and I feel like a different person. Not only have I gone through immense physical changes over the past year – going from pregnant to childbirth to maintaining a child on the outside – there has been amazing emotional growth. I’m incredibly thankful for the chance to go deeper and learn more about myself, my husband, my child, my friends, my family, and my community.

Childbirth and, subsequently, parenting has allowed me to see a greater potential in my ability to love. I am certainly not saying that parenting is the only way to learn a deeper love. Far from it. The world presents us with amazing situations in which we can all learn something more about ourselves and others. We are not shackled by our pasts or by our biology or by what we are “supposed” to be. Everyday, I see new examples of the human spirit that make me grateful for the people that fill my life.

It’s just so happens that childbirth is what jumpstarted my growth. I live in a pretty woo-woo place and have done lots of meditation classes and integrated lots of “natural” and holistic aspects. My husband is someone I both love and respect. My viewpoint on love has evolved tremendously, but nothing prepared me for the total renovation of my spirit that Little Buddy has provided. He loves without fear. He loves without judgment. He loves wholly and completely. I can easily say that he is my role model in the kind of person I want to be. This is both inspirational and sad.

There is a vast emptiness in modern American emotion. Shufs would say in the Western World in general, but I can only speak to my experience as an American. True, we are afforded lots of freedoms in our country. I can create a blog about my life and talk about my beliefs without too much fear of government reprisal. I have the ability to provide my family with pretty much anything and everything they need. That being said, and without othering or fetishising other cultures and countries, I do believe that our culture prevents us from trusting and loving fully. We crave independence and individualism, which is lovely, but it’s manifested in isolation. I’m often encouraged by my parents and in-laws to start distancing myself from Little Buddy so he can learn independence, so he can learn to be alone. Learning how to be alone is an important lesson, but I don’t believe it’s one that needs to be learned at 4 months. Right now, the important thing is learning trust and love. We want to reinforce to Little Buddy that we are here for him and that we love him without question. That doesn’t mean free reign to do whatever whenever. It means letting him know that affection and care exist within boundaries. He can grow, experiment, learn, and fail without worrying that his parents will absent emotionally.

That doesn’t mean this all comes easily. Right after his birth, I was deeply depressed. I bemoaned the loss of my former life, terrified that I would never get to leave the house again. Everything about parenting terrified me. He was in constant need of me and, to be honest, I resented him for it. I was raised with great affection by my parents, but with a large amount of independence. Both my parents struggle with depression and required a lot of personal space to cope. So when my post-partum depression and anxiety started, I was at a loss on what to do. Typically, I retreated. I closed myself off until I was able to function again. This was a luxury I no longer had. There was this person who depended on me. He needed me to be present. So, I took the steps that were best for me and started being available.

Initially, Shufs and I were going to room-share with Little Buddy. We were very selfish sleepers, needing a lot of our own space. So, we set up the co-sleeper and study pillows for the both of us. When it was time for Little Buddy to eat, we started the process of getting him out, setting up the right positions, getting him to latch, unlatching when he struggled, relatching, having him drift off, putting him down, and then sleeping for about thirty minutes before he woke up and the whole process started again. One night, Little Buddy was having a hard time. He was still healing from being suctioned out and he was a little jaundiced. All of this resulted in a sluggish, uncomfortable baby who needed lots of reassurance. Every time we put him in the co-sleeper, he would fuss and wail. Rocking, singing, burping, swaddling only worked a little. Finally, Cam put him between us and we watched as he nuzzled ever closer to me and drifted off to slept without complaint. We haven’t looked back since. We learned that night that it was important to hear Little Buddy’s needs. We both lowered our walls and let him in. It works for us. He is a loving, emotional snuggler who likes to observe the world with us close by. He will reach for things, make loud noises, chew on toys, roll over, kick and squeal with joy. He’ll turn to us and smile, as if to ask, “Like this?”, and we reach back, smiling so big it hurts, and proclaim, “Yes! Try again! You are doing so well! We love you!”
And he does. Without fear and with complete trust. That is something I’ve never known until now, and each day I’m grateful to love even more.

Some Changes

So, I kept saying that I didn’t want this to become a mommy blog, but I felt weird having my family opinions mingle with my political, pop culture, and social beliefs. What if someone was looking for breast feeding advice and stumbled across a post about rape culture? Unprepared, that could be a little jarring.
Tiny Revelries will now be the mommy blog. I do believe that family life and child rearing can be a political act, so most of my posts will have that quality. This also gives any friends or followers who don’t care for mommy blogging (I totally understand) a place to go if they care to read my ramblings about other things. anabominablesort.wordpress.com will be that place!
I hope this encourages me to blog more, though my updates will still be sporadic. We’ll see what happens!

After 2 months – Kintsugi

Kintsugi is the art of repairing ceramics by illuminating the flaws with gold resin. This makes the piece more beautiful and valuable, the history being celebrated instead of tossed to the side.

Ten days ago, I woke up at around 2:30 in the morning with a rock solid right breast that felt like someone had taken a bat to it. About 12 hours later, I had a hot red mottled spot on the underside of the breast and every muscle and joint ached. A trip to the hospital – it was a Sunday – confirmed my suspicion: mastitis. With all the struggles that Little Buddy and I had with getting to a decent space with breastfeeding, this felt like a huge setback. But I was committed to continue feeding through the mastitis. The nurse and physician’s assistant, though, both said I had to formula feed for two days while the antibiotics dealt with the infection.

There were days, in the beginning, I would imagine how much easier things would be with formula feeding. My nipples wouldn’t be missing chunks of flesh. Shufs could have some feeding time bonding. It seemed like a far flung dream. Yet, when the nurse told me I couldn’t breastfeed, I felt like she had put a knife through my heart. While breastfeeding wasn’t enjoyable, I realized I didn’t want to give it up. Luckily, when I got home, I called the hospital back to double check the antibiotic they had given me and the new nurse and doctor on rotation said that I was able to breastfeed and that I absolutely should continue.

The last post used the word “surviving”, which was just kind of tossed out without really thinking. I find that a lot of people talk about surviving something that is, truthfully, quite easy to manage. While raising a child is difficult, it isn’t living in a war torn community or being a power minority in white supremacist America. It also perpetuates this idea that your child is an antagonist, that they must be something you overcome. It’s a strange circumstance we put ourselves in with our own children. I do understand that for lots of people, raising a child is a daily practice of survival. That’s why I shouldn’t toss that word around so loosely. My privilege has afforded me the luxury of being able to raise a child with minimal frustration. Since that’s the case, I’ve been trying to engage with the difficulties in a different way. It’s shitty of me to use a term that actually applies to other people.

I’ve always had body image issues. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the difficulties I wound up focusing on were body centered. While bodies always change and develop, they do so in somewhat predictable ways for the the most part. But birth and breastfeeding sent my body into a chaotic spin. My nipple are terrifying surprises with lumps, pains, and growths. They leak. They grow and shrink. While I was prepared for stretch marks and sagging regions, I was not prepared for the rapid changes in both me and Little Buddy. Cluster feedings can take a real toll the first go around. There are literal scars to prove it.

There’s something else, though. I’m healing. There are fresh patches of skin on my nipple. I’m getting stronger. Little Buddy is growing into his relationships with me and Shufs. When doing night feedings, he will instinctively curl into my body. He’s teaching the both of us to tread with more intention when it comes to our reactions to situations. He is both resilient and fragile. He is simultaneously the biggest and smallest thing in our lives. He has opened our hearts so wide that it hurts. It’s an exquisite tenderness. It is unlike anything we’ve experienced.

My body now holds bright gashes of gold highlighting the moments I’ve learned something new about myself, about Shufs, about Little Buddy. I’m not broken or damaged. I’m repaired. I’m improved. The piecemeal vessel I’m building myself into is brighter and stronger than I was before. It’s not about burden. It’s about integration.

Surviving The First Month

This post is about dealing with a newborn. While my experience is from a heteronormative viewpoint, I think some of the advice could help families of all backgrounds. Always consult your healthcare provider before making any medical decisions. If you are dealing with depression and/or anxiety, please talk to your healthcare provider. Trigger warning for breast talk and cisgendered viewpoints.

Surviving the first four weeks of parenthood can be brutal and unforgiving. I took classes and I still wasn’t ready. Things changed so quickly physically and mentally! Literally, one hour I was elated and the next I spiraled into a deep depression. By the time we got home, I was weeping on the phone with a friend about how I was terrified of my own baby. I thought I would never emerge from the anxiety and depression.
But I did. Two weeks passed and there was a growing light at the end of the tunnel. While I still struggled, and STILL struggle, things became more stable. Each day presented a new challenge that we had to engage with and it showed us we could adapt and grow.
It’s been five weeks and time had never been more relative. I decided to post some lessons we’ve already learned.

1. Invest
Are you breastfeeding? Then get a good pump to help you out. Are you formula feeding? Get decent bottles to prevent mealtime struggles. Buy a baby sling, wrap, or carrier. Take a baby class or lactation class. Subscribe to Amazon Prime and get diapers and wipes shipped to you. Get good bras. Buy or check out baby development books. Take the time to talk with friends and family about their experiences with newborns. Get a fan if you run warm. get a blanket if you run cold. Even a good pillow, study pillow, a water bottle, or a decent pair of shoes can make a huge difference. Little Buddy and I both run warm and he was born during a heatwave. A fan makes a cluster feeding spurt bearable. Whatever can help you prevent even two days if stress will be worth the extra money or time.
I was so freaked out by my breasts once I started breastfeeding that I didn’t even want to touch them to express milk. Add to that not having nursing bras, you had me walking around with heavy, engorged breasts that were scabbed and bleeding from latching issues. I was exhausted. My mother bought me a pump and my stepmother bought me nursing bras. They made the days and nights much easier.

2. Stock Up
It’s a little like investing, but for things you already use or may need. Besides the obvious like diapers, wipes, or formula, you may want to prepare to hunker down the first two weeks and limit your errands.
– Pads. You will need them if you give birth.
– Toiletries. Things like hand soap or hand sanitizer run out real fast. Check your bathroom before baby comes home/your due date. Is your toothpaste running low? How’s the toilet paper situation?
– Pain medication. Check with your doctor to see what you can take that is safe and won’t incapacitate you. It will help after cesarian birth, vaginal birth, with breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Babies are surprisingly heavy and will struggle while eating. Your shoulders and back will feel it.
– Vitamins. Once again, check with your doctor for safe brands and doses.
– Food and snacks. Good healthy stuff like fruits, veggies, complex carbs and proteins. Also, treat yourself. I started craving hamburgers and Newman’s Own ginger and cream cookies. Make food ahead of time and freeze it. All babies have growth spurts and there will be days you are only able to feed them, so having pre-made food on hand will lessen the stress.
– Nipple Cream. If you are breastfeeding, it may be a necessity. I use Lansinoh HPA lanolin. I live in a super dry climate and it eases rough latches.
– Towels. I’m totally serious. Small ones, big ones. Doesn’t matter. I carry about four with me all the time. Spit ups are inevitable. Blowouts will happen anywhere. If you breastfeed, you may just start leaking everywhere.
– Entertainment. I found that familiar things like my favorite tv shows or movies helped me get through rough patches will a little more calm. Find some things you love – books, video games, tv/movies, music, etc – and have it on hand. Nighttime feedings were less dreary with a distraction.
– Patience and amusement. Babies are learning everything for the first time. They grow more in the first year than they ever will again. The world is loud and confusing. All they know is you. Take a deep breath, have a good cry, whatever helps you get centered. You are both learning together, so be patient.
Understand that your baby will cry and you should respond to them promptly. But, if you’re showering or eating lunch, it’s okay to take some time. Give yourself permission to have two seconds all your own.
Also, laugh. I bought new pants because my pre-pregnancy clothes don’t fit. I put on a pair of new pants that are super awesome. Little Buddy promptly spit up on them. I just laughed.
So your little one just ruined three onsies with three intense poops and it’s not even noon? Laugh it off. There’s not much you can do about that!

3. Be Organized.
You will need to keep track of things: poops, pees, behavior, etc, etc. I use the note app on my phone to remember when he ate last, what breast, and how many dirty and/or wet diapers he’s had.
Maybe a notebook will work best for you, or a whiteboard by the changing table. I’ve read about breastfeeding moms who wear a bracelet or hair tie around the the wrist that corresponds to the breast they’ll need to use next.

4. Work On Being Less Squeamish.
Poop. Constipation. Little private parts that need cleaning. Eye goop. Breasts and nipples. You will encounter most of these things.
My brother-in-law changes his child’s diapers while wearing latex gloves, which is a vast improvement from when he wouldn’t change them at all. Babies are gross. They can’t help it. Be one with the grossness, and be okay with not being okay with it.
My big hang up is eye goop and all the weird breastfeeding stuff. Little Buddy pretty much took a chunk out of my right nipple with poor latching. Both nipples cracked and bled. I’ve hand a milk bleb I had to pull off. Possible mastitis. Hard, painful, engorged breasts. It all freaks me out. While breastfeeding may be “natural”, it does not come naturally. Little Buddy is a rough nurser. He sharks around and is impatient with latching. We still struggle with feeding and there are days I cry because my breasts are so foreign to me now. It’s okay to feel weirded out, but you’ve got to come to some kind of peace with it.
Two weeks after Little Buddy was born, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and toddler nephew visited for a week. This was after I saw a lactation consultant, but was still struggling with latching. I had to get ok with having my in-laws see my breasts and nipples out and about often. There was no other choice because they insisted on being around all day. The universe will throw you the things that trigger you the most. Step up and conquer it. Believe me, you can.

5. Don’t Read The Comments Section.
You will want to seek advice and information. You will read books and scour the Internet. Whatever you do, do not read the comments. Do not visit forums. Do not listen to well intentioned but know-it-all family and friends that talk at or down to your choices instead of providing support.
I spent the first month obsessively lurking on mommy blog comment sections and baby website forums. That is where worst case scenarios live. It’s where people go to feel self-righteous. You will work yourself into a state if you aren’t careful. Find your info, then leave. If you are desperate for content, go to a website that has nothing to do with babies. Keep trashy magazines on hand. Get a Pinterest account. Just don’t read the comments.
Save questions for your doctor. If you’re worried, go to urgent care or the hospital.

Suddenly, a day, two weeks or a month will pass by so quickly. You will notice your little one is growing out of their diapers and onsies. They will start displaying their personality. Congratulate yourself on your victories, big or small. Go easy on yourself during the hard times. You know what is best for you and your family. If your little one is growing and loved, then you’re doing it right.

Pant-hood

This blog post is about certain demographics of guardians/parents. I understand that parenthood comes in a multitude of shapes and sizes. This is also coming from the perspective of a white, cisgendered, heterosexual woman who primarily socializes with other white, cisgendered, heterosexual people. A lot of these situations may not apply to every demographic. I also write this as someone about to become a parent.

You know what I really dislike? When people say “You’ll understand once you have a child”. This comes in various forms:

“You can’t understand. You’re not a parent.”

“Once you have children, you’ll see what I mean.”

“It’s a parent thing. You wouldn’t get it.”

“You can’t possibly have an opinion; you’re not a parent/you don’t have kids.”

Fuck. That. Noise.

For real.

These kinds of phrases frustrate me. They set up an unreasonable power dynamic that neither party can really live up to. The frustration part stems from how dismissive these statements are to people who either choose to be child-free or cannot have children for whatever reasons. There is a whole landscape of people who do not have children. Unfortunately, I find that when guardians/parents of children utter a phrase similar to the ones above, it comes from a place of assuming that anyone who doesn’t have kids is selfish and incapable of empathy. This kind of attitude is built on the notion that being a guardian/parent is a far more important job than any other job. This isn’t saying that being a guardian/parent isn’t hard, because it is. I’m simply stating that it is one of many difficult life paths a person can engage with.

When entering this defensive space, it seems as if many guardians/parents are under the impression that they are a highly sought after specialist. It’s like they’re saying, “You wouldn’t get it; you’re not a physicist for the Large Hadron Collider”. Which is true. I’m not a physicist. I didn’t go to school for physics. I don’t read physics journals or books. My knowledge of physics doesn’t extend past the theoretical physics class I took in high school. It had no math. If I physicist tells me I won’t be able to understand, I’m going to trust them on that. Also, not a bunch of physicists just walking around. A fair amount, sure. But, from what I can tell, being a guardian/parent is not like being a physicist. There’s no test. You don’t have to read books. You can, but you don’t have to. Most high schools don’t even teach sex ed. Also, guardians/parents are literally everywhere you go. There’s nothing specialized about it. Guardians/parents might as well say “You wouldn’t get it; you aren’t wearing pants.” Well, currently, no. I’m not wearing pants. Maybe I’m wearing shorts or a kilt or a dress. Maybe I’ve never worn pants, will never will pants, or cannot wear pants due to other restrictions or situations in my life. Guess what? I’ve seen people wear pants. I have family members who wear pants. I have friends who wear pants. I may have even walked around the store with a pair of pants in my cart before putting them back on the rack. I even tried sewing a pair of pants. I’ve taken pants off of other people in consenting situations. Truthfully, the chances of me having pants adjacent hijinks in my life are pretty high. I think I have the capability to talk about pants with you. Just because you’re wearing pants doesn’t make you superior to me or mean you have access to some secret sartorial knowledge that took decades to hone. No, you made the choice to put on pants one day and now you’re mad at me because I’m wearing a bathing suit.

Now, I know that being a guardian/parent is harder than wearing pants. It’s also less complex than physics, although I’m sure there could be a lyric or literary argument as to how they are the same or how finding the Higgs-Boson is easier than raising a child. I get all that. Poetic semantics aside, when someone says “You’re not a parent”, what they’re really saying is, “I’m struggling with being a guardian/parent and I need to be angry at someone who I think has it easier”. That’s where this power dynamic comes into play: I’m a guardian/parent and my life is hard so I’m immediately more important.”

Except that people without children don’t always have it easy. Maybe they can’t have children because they’re partner doesn’t want them or won’t allow them to have children. Maybe their life situation isn’t ideal for a child. Maybe they can’t physically have children. Maybe they don’t want children. Maybe they spent their whole childhood raising their siblings or cousins because their own parents were crap and decided that was enough child-rearing for one lifetime. Maybe they lost their child. How is their life experience less than the life experience of someone with a child under their supervision? Surprise, surprise, most people are capable of empathy. If not, they can probably logic something out.

Then the argument may turn to, “Well, it’s not that they’re less important. It’s just that they don’t have kids. That’s an experience they just can’t relate to.”

You know, except for the fact that most adults were once kids. And while being a child and raising a child are different things, I would wager that most of us remember the difficulty of growing up. While some people may not have direct access to the guardian/parent perspective, we do have access to the child perspective. An experience I can’t relate to is an experience I have no actual access to. I will never know what it’s like to be LGBTQI* or what it’s like to not be white in America. That is something I could never speak to. But I was a kid. I can speak to that. I would agree that tones and attitudes could use a little shaping during a debate. I would never say, “I think it’s disgusting when parents put their kids on leashes. They should be ashamed.” I would say, “My mom put me on a wrist leash and I remember hating it. It made me feel like a freak.” Guardians/parents can take that anecdote or leave it.

Also, as a mildly snarky snide note to anyone who thinks that your guardian/parent friends will start taking them more seriously once you have kids… they won’t. It’s a continuous game of one-upsmanship. First it was, “When you have kids, you’ll understand”. Then it’s, “You think newborns are tough? Try toddlers.” Then it’s, “Elementary school kids are the WORST. I miss having sweet toddlers.” Then it’s, “Don’t even start complaining to me until your kids hits puberty.” Then it’s, “You have it easy. 12 is the best age. Teenagers are horrible.” Then they complain that they’re adult children never want to call them or visit and we’re ALL SO ASTONISHED AS TO WHY.

I get it. Wearing pants is a singular experience. Sometimes they don’t fit right and this one pair shrunk in the wash because you didn’t pay attention to the label. Then, all your friends go and buy jeans or leggins and pretend like they’re the same as pants. But they’re not because jeans are denim, leggings are polyester, and pants are usually made from more delicate fabrics. Also, some people give you dirty looks because your pants are too loud or too wrinkled or have these really big meatball stains on them and you’re like, “There’s nothing I can do about that right at this moment, unless you want me to just strip here in the middle of the store and start ironing”. But really, you don’t care about ironing because that’s not who you are. You’re more concerned about keeping them from fraying at the seams or splitting down the side. These pants have to last the long haul and that’s your responsibility. Maybe you bought these pants at the store. Maybe you sewed them yourself. You want that acknowledged, but everyone keeps acting like these pants aren’t work. They’re fucking work even though you love them and would never choose another pair of pants or even regret not wearing the skirt.  Guess what? Everyone gets it. We respect and love you for wearing those pants day in and out. So when you ask us, “What should I do about these pants? Are they too bright? Should I put a patch here?”, we’ll probably give you an answer. If you don’t like our answer then… why did you ask? Did you just want sympathy? You should be clearer next time. If you didn’t ask, there might be a reason we brought it up. Maybe you keep brushing your leg against our and we’re allergic to the fabric. Maybe we think it would make you happier if the pants were hemmed up because your dad used to hem his pants and he really liked how it looked. If that was the wrong advice or unwelcome, we’re sorry. You just seem really upset about your pants. We just wanted to help. Also, body bubble. Wool makes us itchy so stop brushing your knee against ours. We’re not going to apologize for expressing discomfort at something directly affecting us. We’re wearing dresses; we’re not idiots. We are having a barbeque tomorrow and we want you to come. We’ll do our best to accommodate your pants, but you may want to bring a lint roller. We have cats.

Thank you card how-to

I hope that this blog doesn’t become a mommy blog. While the following post was inspired by receiving baby gifts, it really is multipurpose. Thank you cards are expected after many large events that are tied in with gift-giving.

I just finished writing the second wave of thank you cards for gifts we’ve gotten from our baby registry. While I felt weird about making the registry in the first place, I also knew there were members of my family and my family friends who would be upset that there WASN’T a registry in place. So, Shufs and I made a registry and send out the link to both our mothers and let them do the rest.

Of course, the day came when my mom asked when the thank you cards were going out. I dropped the ball pretty hard on wedding thank you cards, so I didn’t want this to be a repeat of that. While I’m not particularly hung up on the convention of thank you cards, I do think it can be a nice way to make a connection with people. If you’re the kind of person who, like most people, feels like they have to do them but HATES doing them, I’ve come up with some quick tips on it. You can still be sincere with your gratitude without spending hours on crafting the perfect thank you.

1. Thank You cards are too intimidating to start.

They kind of are intimidating. What do you say? How much to you write? What if you barely know this person who is a co-worker of your aunt that you met that one time? They don’t have to be a manifesto, though. I find that, on the whole, four to five sentences is plenty. All a basic thank you note really needs is:

-A direct acknowledgment of gratitude and thanks.

-Mention a specific gift or something specific about the gift the person sent you.

-Acknowledging the kindness involved.

-Including something fairly personal.

This is how I write a typical thank you card:

Dear [blank],

Thank you so much for the [insert gift name here]. It should be a really useful/helpful/adorable/etc addition to our/my home. It was really kind of you to think of us/me. We’re/I’m really fortunate to have someone like you in our/my lives/life. We/I cannot wait to get started on using this! Can’t wait to see you when you’re next in town!

[closing],

[name]

Really simple. So, when not filled with blanks and slashes, a thank you can look like this (none of these names are actual people I know):

Dear Katrina,

Thank you so much for the portable swing. We were so excited to get it in the mail because I’ve been really looking forward to having it available for Damon. It’s so adorable! We are so fortunate to have you in our lives. We’ll make sure to send you some pictures of Damon swinging in it.

Love,

Henrietta and Kristin

Seriously. It’s super simple. Once you get the basic idea down, you can switch up structure so not every single card sounds the same. That is pretty helpful when you are sending cards to members of the same family.

2. But what if I don’t know the person that well?

The above still applies, pretty much. As long as you say thank you and acknowledge what the person got, you’re set.

3. Uhm… I kind of… forgot what someone got me…

It happens. The best thing to do once you start a gift registry/start getting gifts from people is to find the best way for you to keep track of gifts. Some people really thrive off of spreadsheets. Some can just keep a checklist. I am really bad and keep track of spreadsheets, so we just held onto receipts or packing slips in a binder clip. That worked for me. I don’t know why. If you forgot or lost that information, no worries. Just don’t include the specific gift in the letter. Essentially, you can say:

Dear Uncle Kendrick,

Thank you so much for sending me a graduation present. It came in the mail a few days ago and I was so happy to open it. You are really kind to think of me. I’m so glad to have such generous family members. I hope I’ll get to see you at the barbeque before I head off for the Peace Corps.

Love,

Gordy

Just emphasize your gratitude. Truthfully, be as sincere with the things you can be honest about and the note will write itself. If it’s a person you know well, fill the space with things about their life. If it’s someone you don’t know well, be very very grateful.

4. Do I really have to write a thank you note to my family member/friend/co-worker that I see every single day?

No. You don’t HAVE to do anything. But, if you’re wanting to avoid inadvertent hurt feelings then, yes, you should. It actually depends on the person. If they are the kind of person who is fine with a face to face thank you, then great. If they are fine with a phone call or email, great! I figure that as long you express the gratitude and acknowledge the effort someone put into giving you a gift, you’re pretty golden. Some people, though, will expect a thank you in the mail or hand delivered. If it is someone you see everyday, you should know if they’re going to care or not. A week after I got married, a co-worker actually emailed me to see if I had gotten their gift they brought to the wedding because they hadn’t received a thank you card. So, yeah. People get really worked up about these things.

5. I actually don’t like the person who sent me a gift/don’t like the gift they sent. Can’t I just ignore them?

If you are sending thank you cards to people, you should probably include this person. Make the note as basic as you can just so you can move on. You might not like your dad’s friend from college, but they went to the effort. Do it for the sake of not having to think about it again hopefully ever.

As for gifts you don’t like, it’s basically the same premise. When I graduated high school, I got a lot of religious themed things. Still sent out thank you cards to the people who got them for me. Still never used them. It’s okay.

6. Thank you cards are so stiff and formal. Do I have to be so formulaic in what I write?

Of course not! The more personal the note, the better.

7. I hate writing. I hate typing. Can I do something else in the place of a thank you card?

Sure! One thing I’d like to do after holidays and birthdays is to send pictures to people of the baby with the item that the person gave them. Maybe you really love collaging or doing tiny watercolors. In the end, a thank you note is more about acknowledging the person. For me, I’d still feel the need to write “thank you” on there somewhere because I’d be worried people wouldn’t get that it was in reference to the gift they sent.

8. I just got a gift from my brother. I know he’s the one who chose it and bought it. Do I need to include his partner and children in the thank you card?

I usually do, just because it’s pretty standard that most gifts from a family are technically from everyone in that family. My sister-in-law bought us a boppy pillow because she used hers a ton and knew it’d get used. Shufs and I both knew his brother had NOTHING to do with getting the gift. Neither did their 16 month old son. I still acknowledged them in the greeting. So, unless your brother buys you one gift and his partner buys you another, just put them both in the same thank you card.

9. My co-workers went in on one gift together. How do I address the note?

I just had to do this. My mom’s co-workers went in on a gift together. I just wrote one note. I put everyone’s name in the greeting(there were like… seven different people) and then mailed the note to my mom directly. She’s going to bring it to the office and it will make the rounds. If it’s a situation where you don’t know everyone’s name or who was directly involved, there’s nothing wrong with asking. Did Stephen from accounting contribute? What’s the name of that lady that only shows up on Fridays, because you were told she pitched in five dollars. You don’t have to write a thank you note for each separate person because that just gets a little redundant. If someone gets their feelings hurt, you can always talk to them separately or write a quick personal thank you to them. Or you can just let them stew. You already wrote one thank you that included them.

10. How soon after receiving the gift do I have to write the thank you card?

The sooner the better, especially if you don’t like writing them. Then you don’t have to worry about it. My dad and step-mom spent some of their wedding night writing the thank you cards and then put them in the mailbox as they were leaving for the airport to go on the honeymoon. That is a bit much for me. I’m pretty lazy. I would say the longest you should wait is 6 months, and that’s a pretty large window. You can always say in the note, “It’s been a busy six months and I’m so sorry these got out late”. If people are going to get insulted, they’re going to get insulted and there’s nothing you can really do about that. Think about it. They’re getting upset because you took to long to tell them thank you. Whatever.

11. How do I address the envelopes? I’ve gotten really formal thank you cards before. Is that the standard?

Addressing letters is a weird thing. The old school rules are centered around heteronormative, cisgendered, and patriarchal family systems. If you want to be SUPER traditional about addressing names with honorifics, then their name on the address should looking something like the following:

To a single person household:

M./Mx. Lee Dorian – From what I’ve read, M. or Mx. is the honorific you use for anyone who is gender neutral/genderqueer/genderquestioning. M. is also the honorific you use if you are unsure of the recipients sex and/or gender and you feel like a title is needed/expected. You would choose either M. or Mx., not do the M./Mx. thing above.

Miss Ayesha Nicholson – Miss, in the old school traditional way, is used for any woman who isn’t married. I think this is bullshit. These days, it’s typically used for young women under the age of 18.

Ms. Janice Franks – Ms. is an honorific that was made to be the female equivalent of Mr. It can be used for married or unmarried women of any age. It’s the honorific I prefer, although no one ever uses it for me. Typically, it’s used for unmarried woman over 18. I find it’s the best honorific if you don’t know if the woman prefers Miss, Ms., or Mrs. but it’s a situation where one should be/is expected to be used.

Mrs. Leona Watson OR Mrs. Bernard Watson – I HATE HATE HATE HATE the last one. I have gotten things addressed to me as Mrs. My Husband’s name. It is the super traditional way to address things to a married woman, especially one with which you only have a passing knowledge of. These days, most married women are acknowledged by their honorific and their preferred name. But, I have used the Mrs. Name of the Husband for older women of a certain generation and class. It is their preferred way of receiving mail and I do my best to respect that. Mrs. is used for widows, too, unless you know they prefer Ms.

Mr. Samuel Brown – Mr. is the only honorific used for men, married or unmarried.

To a dual-person household:

Mr. and Mrs. Kevin and Bea Darby OR Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Darby – Like the previous, the last one is the most old school traditional. I rarely use it unless I know or am pretty certain the people receiving it prefer to be acknowledged that way. I rarely even use Mr. and Mrs. Blank and Blank Blankerton. In a case of mixed sex/gender honorifics, you put the honorifics first and then the corresponding names.

With the Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Darby one, the reason why that exists at all is due to the outdated notion that the man is the primary head of the household in terms of money and power. This is outdated and absurd. Now that all types of families are being acknowledged, there are different ways to acknowledge them utilizing honorifics. And, once again, if you are set on using honorifics, I would think these are various ways to use them:

Mrs. Gina Hernandez and Mrs. Hope Douglas – If the people who are married kept their respective last names, I think you would need to acknowledge that. This means it could look like the following:

Dr. Debbie Dupre and M. Ian Green

Rev. Doug Larson and Mr. Paolo Villareal

Etc., Etc. You get the point, right? These would also work for non-married couple who are living together.

If the married couple has chosen to have the same last name/have a combined name, it could look like this:

Ms. and Ms. Victoria and Raquel Drake

Mr. and Mr. Frank and Jamal Preston-Aleksandrov. I think you can also do Mssrs if you are being super formal. Mssrs is the plural of Mr and is primarily used in business for “My sirs”.

M./Mx. and M./Mx. Parker and Kim Carlson-Jones – This is how I would address something to a dual-person genderqueer household using honorifics. Like in the previous section, choose either M. or Mx., not the slash-up I have above. Use whatever last name the family goes by.

The reason why I didn’t include a Mr. and Mr. Blank Blankerton version in these is because unless you know how the family chooses to acknowledge power distribution within their family, the best bet is to go with one of these. If you know, for a fact, that a couple would like to be acknowledged like “Mrs. and Mrs. Regina Wadsworth”, then do it.

To a multiple-person household:

If it’s a multiple-partner/polyarmorous household with more than two people, I would do some version of the dual-person household, acknowledging each person.

Mr., Mrs., and Mx. Will, Alexis and Arlin Carlson. While polyamorous marriage is not currently recognized, this example is working under the assumption that there was a legal name change or that this is a chosen name.

If it is a household with multiple partners and different last names and you still wanted to use honorifics, try something like:

Ms. Wilma Nelson, Ms. Aiko Warren, and Ms. Francesca Wilco.

Non-Honorifics

The Nguyen Family – This is how I usually address a dual AND multiple person household. This covers a multitude of family situations. Some people aren’t married. Some people can’t get married. Some people are polyamorous and have multiple partners. Some families have children or older relatives that live with them. It’s inclusive, covers a lot of bases, acknowledges them as a family. This might not really cover a family with different last names, so use your best judgement. You can also use “The Nguyens”.

If you have friends who are married or coupled, who do acknowledge first? Typically, I go with who I met first.

Trish and Sally Yeardly

Greg Oleander and Ashley Smith

If you met them at the same time… I don’t know? Go alphabetical? Go with what sounds the most musical to you? Pick one of them out of a hat and go with that name first?

Names in letter openings/greetings:

If you refer to the person by their first name in daily life, refer to them by their first name in the letter. If it’s someone you refer to by an honorific – like an older friend of a parent, teacher, boss, or superior officer – refer to them by that title.

Dear Quinn,

Dear Capt. Fujiwara,

Dear Mrs. Kurtz-Wilson,

Obviously, in a thank you card, you’re not going to do any “To Whom It May Concern” or other formal greetings. Dear is a fine precursor to a name. If it’s to someone you know really well, like a best friend, you could drop the dear and just do:

Jon-

Hey Padma!

Or whatever greeting you think is suitable. These are your friends and family. Trust that they’ll appreciate your sense of style.

In this day and age, most people dispense with formality. You can address a letter like “Josephine Masterson”. That’s totally fine. If someone gets insulted, once again… who is going to get insulted at a thank you except a person who is more concerned with appearances and tradition than the actual gratitude. In that situation, you’re really not going to make them happy and that’s kind of too bad. You did your best.

12. UGH, paper is so long. I can’t fill a whole sheet! Four lines just isn’t enough.

Don’t use letter paper! Cut that shit in half or in quarters. Or go by little thank you cards. They are small and four lines is more than enough. Or get a greeting card that’s a thank you card and let the little generic greeting on the inside take up the space for you. Thank you cards are made small. Don’t even fret.

13. UGH, thank you cards are so small! I can’t fit all my thoughts into that tiny space! Four lines just isn’t enough.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Seriously, just do the reverse of 12. Get some pretty stationary and write to your hearts content. If you are loquacious person, then you probably aren’t reading this for advice anyway.

And I think that’s it. Here’s the deal: if you spent all this time reading a random blog post about thank you etiquette, then you have the time to sit down and write some thank you cards. In fact, you’d be done by now.

Measurment of Worth

Trigger warnings for discussions about pregnancy. This post focuses around my experience as a cisgendered heterosexual white woman.

I had a friend recently suggest that I write some poems about being pregnant.

There is a strange… mmm, expectation, I guess, around pregnancy and childbirth where it must immediately change you in a profound way. That’s not saying it doesn’t. In 9 to 10 months, your body goes through some radical changes and no one’s pregnancy is really the same. I never threw up. Another friend of mine threw up a lot through her first trimester. Some people have their periods. Some people know immediately they are pregnant while others don’t find out until months later. It is an event that is as wide and varied as the human race.

All that aside, I haven’t felt compelled to write anything poetry-wise about this experience. I’ve even been hesitant to portray an online opinion on it but that has more to do with privacy and respect than anything else. Truth is, most people don’t really need to hear daily updates about my belly size or what I’m craving or what various pains I find myself having. Poetry, though, wouldn’t be anything I would broadcast unless I attempted to publish it. Also, I don’t think I’ve reached a point where I have anything worthwhile to add to the already large pool of pregnancy/motherhood/fatherhood/guardianhood/child-rearing poems.

We don’t really know how to engage with body changes in America. The realization that our bodies grow and change leads us to realize that we’re fallible, that we eventually fall apart. That’s terrifying. We don’t want to actually confront the fallibility, so we ignore it or spend lots of money to prevent it or lots of money to hasten it. Pregnancy is a weird in-between area because it’s a huge change that creates something new to help us continue our perceived legacies. We see it as important, know that it is a fairly common occurrence, but cannot discuss it. In my birthing class, there were women who could not say the word “vagina” and did not know what their cervix was or where it was. They were terrified at the notion that something would be altering their body in such a way that they could not control. This is the disconnect. We encourage pregnancy, but we don’t talk about the real down and dirty shit. I’m not talking morning sickness stuff. I’m talking everything. The process, the plumbing involved, the expectations vs. reality. All of that is secreted away in online message boards that are less about support and more about one-upmanship on who has it worst or who did it best. There is this notion that the trappings of pregnancy and child-rearing define the true experience. What belly bands did you buy? Are you buying pregnancy clothes at a big box store or are you getting organically sourced outfits? What sort of shower will you throw? Are you doing to do an ultrasound party? A sex-reveal party complete with color coordinated cake? Do you have the right burp cloths? Attachment parenting? Simplicity parenting? Nanny? Doula? Midwife? Induction? Epidural? We fill the months with all this minutia so we don’t have to focus on the physical stuff.

That isn’t to say the physical stuff hasn’t been discussed. Like I said, you can go onto any online space “for women” to find plenty of horror stories. That’s how these things are couched. “TEN DISGUSTING THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT GROWING A BABY IN YOUR MEAT CAVITY” or “WHAT THE FUCK, ARE THESE SIX SYMPTOMS NORMAL” or “THE HORRIBLE TRUTH ABOUT YOUR BODY AFTER SHOVING A BABY OUT YOUR VAGINA”. Because we don’t talk about these things or see these things in realistic portrayals, we have to eventually discuss them in the most horrific terms possible to be “real” about it. Holy shit, guys, did you know that your body FUCKING CHANGES?! It also doesn’t help that all the terms for things that happen during pregnancy all sound like horror movies or bad band names: bloody show, mucus plug, sweeping the membrane. It feels like the whole process is set up for shame and fear. There’s no extensive education for people. Serioiusly, can we just teach legitimate sex-ed so we can all be a little more body savvy? Is that too much to ask? So maybe people can say vagina in a fucking birthing class?

So, what does this have to do with me writing poetry? Shouldn’t I want to share my experience with others? Shouldn’t I want to express my opinion? Truth is, I don’t know how. I can’t really do the whole “magical earth mother” angle and I can’t do the “beautiful misery” line. It’s just… been a pregnancy. I’ve learned a bunch, sure. There’s been some woo-woo spiritual stuff. There’s been rough patches. Nothing too impressive. I mean, growing a baby is pretty impressive but a lot of living organisms do that. The fact that I have the ability to doesn’t really make me special. It don’t think it’s connected me to any sort of elusive womanhood thing, but that might be more because I don’t see how having a baby makes me more of a woman. I actually think it’s kind of bullshit to make childbearing a defining trait of womanhood. Being pregnant has had me consider the kind of person I am and the kind of person I want to help raise. That’s not really poetry material. Can’t get too lyric about middle of the road, y’know? Why try to add to the glut of these poems if I don’t have anything of value to contribute. The things that have shocked me about pregnancy aren’t the things I should be shocked/altered by. I’m terrified of the profound change oxytocin creates. I’m not really prepared for that. Also, I’ve been more horrified by the reaction people give me when they find out I’m having a boy than the changes in my body. Evidently I should feel incredibly blessed and grateful that I’m having a boy because girls are really hard and needy? I don’t know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense and it makes me sad to hear these things from other parents. Those are the only two things that have had large impacts on me. The weight gain didn’t really bother me because I’ve been scary skinny and super fat. I’m used to the fluctuations. The exhaustion has been interesting, but I also deal with depression so being tired really isn’t anything new. Okay, I will admit that gaining the super power of heightened scent was cool until I couldn’t be in the same room as… pretty much anything with smell. Then it sucked. Then it stopped.

Overall, I don’t want to write pregnancy poems because I don’t want to be a pregnancy poet. I don’t want a defining attribute of my work, which is funny because I do consider myself a poet that writes about the body. Maybe I’m afraid that once I do it, it will be one of the only things by which I’m measured. It certainly my primary value right now. I think of this print I purchased from artist Colleen Clark. Bodies do amazing things. They do weird things. They do terrifying things. Mostly they just do… things. I’m not going to hamfist some kind of meaning into a situation. I’m not going to let my only measurement of worth be my pregnancy.

And before anyone who ever reads this jumps on my case about “silencing mothers” – no. That is not my point here. If someone had a significant experience with pregnancy that they feel needs to be written and shared, please please please share it. It’s important that the discussion happens. All I’m saying is that my contribution would wind up being, “Yeah, it was weird. But mostly fine.”

That is some Pushcart Prize shit right there. WOW.

Raising Feminist Sons

Very topical.

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* Guest Contributor Shannon Brugh grew up in northern Idaho, but later moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, where she received her B.A. in English Literature. After receiving her Masters in Teaching from Seattle University, Shannon went on to teach high school English. In addition to her contributions to Rattle & Pen, she can be found blathering away about motherhood on her personal blog, Becoming SquishyShannon still resides in Seattle with her husband and two young sons, where she is writing a book and constantly trying to convince her children to nap.

Before my first son was even born, I remember screaming in half-seriousness, “Don’t put my kid in a gender box!!” I was looking around at all the sweet baby clothes—boys in blue, girls in pink—and wondering why it had to be that way. From birth children are told what is for them and…

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A tale told by an idiot

Today, I made the decision to take a Facebook sabbatical. Not all social media, just FB. I have friends who live in other areas that I still want to have some contact with and the internet is, right now, the best way to do that. Facebook has long been the refuge of psuedo-news and half-hearted activism that does little more than give me anxiety. Current life choices have left me feeling a little overwhelmed. I don’t need any more things I can’t directly control. Actually, I really just need to understand that control is not going to be a tool I can use for quite some time. I think FB exacerbates that urge, though.

The other things is that I have a lot of time on my hands and recently have felt myself slipping back into bad habits. My job, though busy and often-times socially difficult, kept me engaged. It was a social venue. I’m not a particularly extroverted person and having a people-centric job kind of did away with the guilt I felt around not being social. Now that I’m often alone, that whole system is defunct. I find myself sitting on the couch, lobbing ideas into cyberspace, desperate for a response, and constantly refreshing pages for a stream of new content. My brain is bored and I know that only boring people are bored. It’s frustrating and the next three weeks loom vast, grey, and infinite.

Crafting is an option, although I really don’t want to create more waste. We just got rid of a bunch of stuff in the house and we still have a ton of things taking up space. Soon, there will be more nonsense that will take up space and 8 collaged canvasses aren’t going to help in the long run. I guess crafting would be better if the items were small or self-contained or if they served a legitimate purpose.

Obviously, I could try and write more. That is supposed to be what I “do” and all. It’s just that I feel like I’m doing it a disservice if I can’t do it “right” or “well”.

Reading is something I’m gravitating back towards. It’s easy to trick yourself into feeling well-read when you scour the internet for quick and easy content. But I feel the need to commit to something more long term than an article.

Truthfully, the issue is less boredom than it is fuel. Underneath all the anxious laziness is a real need for replenishment. When talking with F, my suggestions for her concerns have been centered around giving back to the body and nourishing and providing, etc. While not bad advice, I wonder how much of it is me projecting. Quiet, solitary times can be incredibly fulfilling if used wisely and intentionally.

Turning inward for growth.

Turning inward for growth.

Except, at times, the internet is the antithesis of that. It’s the cliched sound and fury, signifying nothing. Adding to the deafening stream only exhausts us. It does not bolster. To utilize another sound and fury reference, the Internet can make Quentin Compsons of us all if we do not work to reintegrate with our physical lives from time to time. Listen to what the body is saying, allow it to work our emotional and spiritual aspects to produce something worthwhile.

That being said… I still don’t know how to begin.