It’s what you are, not what you do

The transition from being a family of two to being a family of three was one of the most challenging things my husband and I have done so far.  Those first months were full of doubts and uncertainties.  But then when Kiddo was a few months old, parenting seemed to get a little easier.  It was no longer this big, huge, scary cloud of millions of choices.  Things started feeling more natural.  My husband and I gained more confidence in ourselves and in our ability to shape this wailing creature into a functioning member of society.

Around that same time, my self-identity began to change as well.  If you had asked me in August 2009 to describe myself, I would have said I was a software engineer, married with a new baby.  A year later, I would have reversed that order and put the parenting part at the top of the list.  Of course it’s a context-sensitive thing; if I were introduced to our company’s CEO, I’d refer to my job first without even thinking about it.  But in casual conversation, or when filling out my profile for some social website, I’m a mother first.  (This does backfire if I don’t think carefully about my wording.  In a popular site’s blog directory, my first crack at my blog description said I was a “mom to a toddler and a software engineer.”  Kiddo is a clever young mister, but that’s pushing it.)

So, what changed that brought about this reversal?  In a nutshell, my attitude about parenting.  I’d finally internalized that parenting is not something to do, like reading or cultivating mushrooms.  It’s something to be.  It’s what I am.  I’m a Mother.

Think about the difference implied when someone you’ve just met says “I bake” compared to “I’m a baker.”  The first one implies a more casual association with the activity, putting it on par with all the other activities that fill up your time, including going to the dentist or going for a run.  The second phrase conveys a sense of authority and ownership.  It’s an integral part of who they are.  Someone who casually bakes could whip up a fine batch of chocolate chip cookies from a recipe.  Someone who’s a baker would be able to read the recipe, instinctively know that something sounds off with the proportions of butter and sugar, and tweak it accordingly to produce something even better.

Technically I was a parent from the moment we first found out we were expecting a baby (in fact, a few weeks before that).  But like any activity, parenting is something that takes some practice and some getting used to.  There are lots of mental adjustments, as you break hundreds of old habits and routines and lay in new ones.  It’s not necessarily as instinctive as we’d like; consider all the stories of people who have fathered or given birth to children but then end up neglecting them or worse.  But I’d like to believe that most parents have made a choice, albeit a subconscious one, to do the best they can in caring for their child.  It’s tough, and for many people there’s a lot of questioning and self-doubt.  But then one day, something happens or someone says something, and they realize that, like the Velveteen Rabbit, they’ve finally become Real.

Now, when faced with a mammoth pile of shirts in the toddler section of Target, I know which ones to get: the orange ones.  In less than a second I can tell the difference between his “I’m hurt” cry, which gets an immediate response, and his “I’m frustrated” cry, which might need nothing but the space to work it out for himself.  And when I’m reading books or scouring the internet for advice, I can filter out suggestions that don’t seem quite right for us, modify others to better fit for our family, or even go completely off-book if necessary.  I don’t expect that I’ll always have the answers, but I feel a lot more confident in my ability to search for them.


Toddlers versus the TSA, redux: Well, that was anticlimactic

Last week I wrote about my jitters around bringing a toddler through the security lines at Sea-Tac airport.  I even called the TSA to try to assuage my concerns.

As often is the case, my worries turned out to be fruitless.  Going through security was easy, and frankly, the least troublesome part of our flight.

We arrived at the airport about two hours ahead of our 7:30 p.m. scheduled departure.  Our carry-on count: two backpacks, one diaper bag, one car seat in carrying bag, and one Kiddo-carting stroller.  I estimated 40 people in line ahead of us at the security checkpoint we initially chose, but a helpful TSA agent pointed us to another checkpoint that had no lines at all.  By the time we got there, there were about 20 people in line ahead of us, including several families with small children.  Excellent, I thought; I can watch what happens with the other families before we have to face it ourselves.

What actually happened with them was a whole lot of nothing.  In fact, no one in our line got pulled for secondary screening.  Even the occasional person who had to step back through the metal detector was passed along eventually.

Metal detectors?  Wait, weren’t they supposed to have been removed and replaced with the body scanners?  Nope.  Once again, I’d led internet hype mislead me.  The body scanners and pat-downs are only brought into play when a person fails to clear the metal detector.  And in the entire time that we were watching the people ahead of us, or going through the line ourselves with all our baggage, or waiting for my backpack to clear a hand search, or packing up afterward, not one person was pulled for secondary screening.

I was almost convinced that the machines weren’t even turned on–that they were set up to let people get used to their presence, but not yet functioning.  We had to walk past two other screening areas on our way to our gate, and at each one I craned my neck, hoping in vain to see the AIT in action.  Finally, at the third security area, we saw a single adult male standing in the body scanner.  That was it. 

And considering what else we had to go through that night to make it to California–snowy roads, slow service in the food court, a mechanical delay, having to unload off the first plane and wait for a second plane to arrive, having to board 150-plus people in less than 20 minutes to avoid the flight being canceled–getting through security was a breeze!  Even with a toddler.

Those people setting up web sites asking whether you “posed for porn” or “got groped” are tweaking public perception by leaving out the option most likely to happen: neither of the above.  But no one gets web hits or ad revenue off stories of systems working correctly. On the other hand, it’s great gossip to pass along links of things that outrage us!  Here’s the problem with doing so (and I’m guilty of this myself): it creates the impression that the outrageous occurrences are more widespread than they actually are.  There’s so much fear and misinformation flying around that it’s a wonder there’s room for the actual planes.

I’m not thrilled that there’s a chance I may have to deal with a full-body scan or pat-down at some point in the future.  But now that I’ve seen firsthand what’s actually happening at the security checkpoints, I’m no longer stressing out about it.

By the way, here are a couple direct-from-the-horse’s-mouth blog posts about how to make your holiday travel go more smoothly (and reduce the chance of getting pulled for secondary screening):

Kiddo watches the airport activity during preboarding

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Toddlers versus the TSA

Update: I’ve noticed I’m getting some hits from web searches on this topic.  Thanks for visiting!  Our trip is Sunday evening, November 21.  I’ll take some notes on what happens when our family goes through the security lines, and I’ll try to write up a good detailed description of how extensive the toddler pat-down is (and the adult one too, if I end up getting that.)  I’ll try to have the new post up by Monday afternoon, depending on how much computer access I get.


Next Sunday afternoon, we’re flying to visit family for Thanksgiving week, departing via Seattle-Tacoma International.  Sea-Tac is one of the many airports that has installed full-body scanners at the security checkpoint.  I’m starting to get a little anxious about this.  It’s not the privacy issue at all; it’s the question of how it’s going to work with a toddler.


I’m sure I’m just letting myself get paranoid about it, but here’s the scenario that’s playing in my mind:

We get to the airport and check in.  Knowing us, we’re already a little stressed and running slightly behind schedule.  We go to security and get into the Family line.  Since it’s holiday time, the line is long.  Kiddo is getting antsy and doesn’t want to be held, but doesn’t want to hold someone’s hand while standing.  I’m already juggling too many carry-on bags and having a hard time keeping him mellow.  At last we get to the front of the line, only to be confronted with the full-body image scanners…

The problem I’m mentally crashing into is that everything I’ve been able to find (which isn’t much) about how the scanning process works says that the person being scanned has to step into the scanner and stand still while the image is being processed and analyzed.  It can take up to 15 seconds for this to happen.

Fifteen seconds doesn’t sound like much, does it?  For a toddler, it can be an eternity!

…Husband and I pass Kiddo back and forth while we empty our pockets.  He takes Kiddo while I walk into the scanner, pause for the imaging, and exit.  Then it’s Kiddo’s turn.  He balks.  He squirms.  Then he sees me on the other side and sprints through.  The TSA agent turns to me apologetically and says, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we need him to stand there for a few seconds.”  I guide Kiddo back into the scanner.  Kiddo stays for a moment, fidgeting, then runs back out and clings to me.  The line behind us is getting longer and the waiting travelers grumpier…

I called the TSA to get some clarification.  It only took a few minutes to get through to a real person (most of that due to me mis-navigating the menu) and the agent I spoke to was nice, but just repeated the same information I’d found elsewhere: They will not separate me from my child.  I can opt for a pat-down if I don’t want to go through the screener.  The agents are trained to work with children.  She did tell me that the pat-down for children is less invasive than it is for an older person, but right after that there was a burst of static and the call got cut off.  I should have called back, but I didn’t have the heart to do so.

…At this point, we have to go with the pat-down.  But by now Kiddo’s had enough.  He just wants Mommy to hold him.  He doesn’t want someone else taking him, even if I’m standing right there, and he doesn’t want anyone touching him.  Tension rises.  Kiddo fusses.  I stress.

Flying with a toddler is going to be challenging enough.  Logically I know that it’ll be just a couple of minutes and then it will be behind us, but not being able to plan for what’s going to happen is the part that’s causing me the most worry.  I feel a little silly, because in the travels with Kiddo that we’ve done so far, the TSA agents have been helpful and respectful, and I don’t know why I’m worried that things will be different on this trip.

In the meantime, my husband has declared the issue moot.  We’re not going to expose our son to more radiation than necessary, he says; we’ll opt for the pat-down for him right off the bat.  It does give me one less thing to worry about, but frankly, I never thought I’d long for the days when “all” we had to do was take off our shoes and walk through the metal detector.  I don’t want to be THAT MOM whose kid is screaming and putting everyone else on edge as well.

At any rate, I’ll report back next week on how things went, and we can all have a good chuckle at my still-relatively-new-mommy paranoia.  Right?  Right.


Gotta get my fix

It’s been a stressful day. I’m feeling run down, and I need a little sumthin-sumthin to pick me up. Fortunately, I’ve got a regular source in my back pocket, and I’m on my way there now. I park the car and rush in, skitter down to the basement, slip in to the room. As soon as I lay eyes on my prize, I can feel myself calming down already. A blissful smile breaks across my face.

Perhaps it’s true.  Perhaps I actually am addicted to my kid.

After reading the Time article linked above, I felt concerned for my own well-being, and pulled up an online list of addiction symptoms, just to put my mind at ease.  Unfortunately, several of the items ring all too true:

Extreme mood changes – happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc
Life is so wonderful! I’ve never been happier! Except when I manage to make myself feel like the worst mom on the planet.  And I start thinking of all the things I’ll miss because I’m not around my son 24/7.  And then I think about all the terrible things that could befall him while he sleeps and tiptoe furtively into his room, hoping not to be spotted.  I watch him sleeping, and… life is so wonderful!!

Sleeping a lot more or less than usual, or at different times of day or night
I’ve had this one in spades for the past 16 months. We’ve only just started getting consistent through-the-night sleeping, and in fact I’m hesitant to even mention it for fear of jinxing it.

Changes in energy – unexpectedly and extremely tired or energetic
All of a sudden, I’m actually awake at 7 a.m. and clear-minded enough to assemble all the things we’ll need for an entire day out.   We go and go and go!   Then we come home, Kiddo goes to bed, I wander downstairs, and collapse in a heap.

Weight loss or weight gain
Granted, I did drop about forty pounds since Kiddo’s birth. But I’m sure you’ll be reassured to know that it’s making its way back to me, slowly.

Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd cell-phone conversations
So I’ve started running with a new crowd, what’s wrong with making new friends?  And they’re all really nice people, you’d like them in an instant.  “Latching on”?  “Blowouts”?  “Handling smacks”?   Totally not odd, not in the least.   Right?

Whatever.   I’m sure I’m not an addict.  After all, I–hold on, Kiddo is crawling into my lap.  I need to give him a big hug and sniff his just-washed hair. MMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmm. Sorry, what was I saying?

Right, the article.  Am I addicted to my kid?  I prefer Time’s take on it:

Why else would behavioral studies find that the most addictive pattern of reinforcement is not consistent bliss, but inconsistent and unpredictable rewards? Loving each other is hard and not always pleasant; taking care of children certainly includes as much pain as it does pleasure.  In other words, humans evolved “addiction regions” in the brain not so we could become junkies, but more likely so we would persevere in love and parenthood.

Suddenly it makes sense why, after struggling through the newborn and toddler years, we’re willing to go out and do it again, and again and again.

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New shoes

This weekend was the first in months when we didn’t have anything planned.  However, Kiddo’s shoes were worn through at the toes, and my husband had been awake all night dealing with work problems, so we decided to have a Mom-Kid day at the mall and give my husband a chance to get caught up on his sleep.

Our first stop was Stride Rite where we picked up two new pairs: one for indoor wear, and one pair that is a little sturdier and more waterproof.

After that, Kiddo and I went to McDonald’s for his first-ever Happy Meal.  The place was crowded with families (it was Saturday, after all) so rather than fight for a highchair, we took a small booth in the back and sat together on the bench.  It was easier to put his nuggets and fries next to him on the seat.  By the way, the cut on his forehead is healing up nicely.

Kiddo was so sleepy during lunch that I thought he was going to nod off in the stroller.  But he perked up afterward–maybe he just needed the food–so we went upstairs to the Kids’ Cove.  This was our first time in a public playspace and I wasn’t quite sure of the proper parent etiquette.  So I just followed Kiddo around, trying to not be too overprotective but also trying to keep him from getting too run down by the bigger kids.


We took a break and went downstairs for a snack, and to wait for my husband to arrive.  Once we were reunited, we went back upstairs to check out the play place again.


Before long, we could see that Kiddo was drooping, so we bundled him into the stroller and did some shopping, hoping he’d fall asleep.  It didn’t take long.

We ended the day with dinner at Matt’s Rotisserie in Redmond Town Center.  While we were there, a bunch of cars from the local exotics club were driving through.  One of the organizers told us it was for a music video.  It was pretty neat watching them all pass by below us.

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A day in the life of a geekamama

It’s 7 a.m.  It’s still dark. I wake up.

I might have been woken up by the beeping alarm clock.  This is fine; I can snooze for a few more minutes, or I can drag myself out of bed into the shower.  Or, I might have been woken up by my son whimpering in his bedroom.  Most days, this is the case.  Ideally, I’d be showered and dressed before Kiddo wakes up, so that I can focus on getting him ready.  This has happened maybe a dozen times in the past year that I’ve been back at work.  Usually he wakes up either before I can get to the shower or while I’m showering, and my husband has to wake up and keep an eye on him until I’m ready.  On rare occasions I’m on my own, and I confess that I cope by skipping the shower and hoping that I don’t have to deal with many people that day.

It’s 8:45 a.m.  Time for Kiddo’s breakfast.  On weekdays we’re pretty consistent: yogurt and cereal.  I toss another yogurt into my tote bag to eat at my desk later; usually I don’t have time to enjoy my own morning meal while also feeding my toddler.  He’s getting more adept at spoon-feeding himself, so in a few months maybe we can yogurt it up together.  After breakfast Kiddo gets to play in the living room while I zip around packing up our needs for the day.  Extra shirts for daycare, a reference book I brought home from work, a birthday card I need to remember to mail.  With that done, I gather up two pairs of shoes, two jackets, and one toddler, and get both of us ready to leave.

It’s 9:20 a.m.  Or possibly 9:45.  We toddle down the hall to say goodbye to Daddy, who has gone back to bed for a little more precious sleep.  Hugs and kisses, a quick confirmation of plans for that evening, and then we wave goodbye and head downstairs to the garage.  There’s a small battle of wills over whether Kiddo has to hold my hand in the garage as we walk to the car; depending on who wins, he either goes willingly into his carseat or we have a quick wrestling match.  When he’s buckled in at last, we blow kisses and I walk around to the driver’s seat and buckle myself in.

It’s 9:50 a.m… or possibly later.  (Or if it’s a Wednesday, much earlier, because Kiddo has Spanish class at 9:15.)  The car ride to Kiddo’s day care has taken about 25 minutes.  We like to sing on the way there–rather, I do the singing and Kiddo does the appreciation.  “Itsy Bitsy Spider” is a favorite, although recently he’s shown a preference for “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”  At the day care I walk him to his classroom, hand over the supplies we brought, and then wave goodbye.  This used to cue up tears (from him, not me), but now my departure is no big deal.

I drive to work, 10 minutes on a good traffic day, 15 to 20 if it’s not.  At last, three hours after waking up, I can eat my breakfast!  I make my plan for the day.  Check my email.  Change the plan.

It’s 11:15 a.m.  One of my co-workers stops by and I command-H to hide the browser.  Since I’m at the computer all day long, I tend to keep a window open to my favorite websites.  It’s how I keep myself motivated when faced with tedious tasks.  Just 15 more minutes of this, and then you can have five minutes of web time.

My cell phone rings.  It’s the dentist, or the hairdresser, or the spa, confirming my appointment for tomorrow.  I’ll be there, I tell them.

It’s 2 p.m. and I’m off to a team meeting.  I grab a Diet Coke and a notepad and spend the next half hour (or hour) jotting notes.  Sometimes they’re even relevant to whatever the meeting’s about.

It’s 3 p.m. and I’m back in my office.  Notice how I haven’t yet mentioned eating lunch?  I’ve forgotten about it until just now.

My office phone rings.  It’s the day care, calling to let me know that Kiddo has fallen down (again) and he’s fine but there will be an incident report for me to sign (again).  I thank them for calling, because one of the things I really love about this center is how great they are at communicating with parents.  If it’s one of my husband’s nights for pickup, I pass along the message to him.  We are united in our lack of surprise.

It’s 5:30 p.m.  I probably haven’t finished everything that was on my plan for the day.  If it’s Tuesday or Thursday, I save my code, toss things in my tote bag, and head for the garage and then the day care.  Other days, I start thinking about dinner.  We have a system: whichever parent is not picking Kiddo up from day care is in charge of dinner that night, whether that means cooking or visiting a favorite restaurant.  Before Kiddo entered our lives, we went out for dinner at least four out of five weeknights.  That was because we tended to stay at work until 7 or 7:30 p.m., and by the time we finally got home from work it was very late for starting to cook.  Now we leave work earlier, which makes it easier to make dinner at home.

It’s 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday/Thursday, or a little later on other nights.  Home at last!  Time to stop thinking about work, if I can.  Most nights after I get home, I have enough housekeeping and mothering to do that I don’t have time to log on and check email or work remotely like I once did.

We play a little bit.  We make dinner.  We all sit down together and eat.  Kiddo has blessed us by being a really great eater.  He usually has a smaller portion of  whatever we’re having, although sometimes we do a little food editing before he gets his.  If we’ve got leftovers for him from a previous night and it’s taking a long time to make dinner, one of us might feed Kiddo early, and then let him play while we eat.  We probably don’t clean up after ourselves just yet–that can wait until after Kiddo is asleep.

It’s… whatever time we finish dinner.  It’s either bath time or play time for Kiddo, followed by bedtime.  My husband changes Kiddo into his pajamas while I pick up some toys, refill the water cup, and grab tonight’s bedtime stories.  The guys walk around upstairs turning off lights in the living room, hallway and the overhead one in the bedroom.  When that’s done,  Kiddo comes back to me, and the guys say goodnight.  We read a few books, turn off the bookcase light, nurse for a few minutes, and then he goes into his crib.  My husband and I listen to his babbling over the baby monitor until he falls asleep.

It’s 11:30, or midnight, or possibly a little later.  Husband and I have been watching TV downstairs, but I’m starting to doze off.  I head upstairs, brush my teeth, and fall into bed.

It’s 4 a.m., give or take half an hour.  Kiddo wakes up and cries, and refuses to fall back asleep.  I stagger down the hall and nurse him for a few minutes.  We’re hoping to drop this nursing session before long, but at 4 a.m. I’m often too tired to go through the trials of convincing Kiddo he doesn’t need it.  I really should know better, but… it’s 4 a.m.  Fortunately for me, this one’s usually pretty quick.  Back to bed for each of us.

It’s 7 a.m.  It’s still dark.  I wake up.


Violating my toddler’s privacy

Twenty years from now, my son will be an adult, forming relationships and seeking career opportunities.  My choices today and in the next several years might have an impact on how that goes.  I’m not referring to the old breast vs. bottle debates, or which school we eventually send him to, or how long we keep him rear-facing in his car seat.  I’m talking about how much of his personal information I share online.

When I was growing up, there were no social media websites.  No one had a blog back then; if you were really good at writing you might get an op-ed column in a newspaper or magazine after you demonstrated that you had the chops for it.  Finding out people’s information involved actually talking to them.  (Gracious me, I sound so curmudgeonly.)  Today, teens and adults voluntarily put that data out there for public consumption.  Gone, apparently, is the fear that an Orwellian government will track our every thought and move, because now we voluntarily broadcast those thoughts and movements, offering them up for anyone to monitor, archive and analyze.  Sharing photos has become second nature–just snap a picture with your phone and send it off to Facebook with the click of a button!  Web services like FourSquare let others know where you are, right this second!  Something on your mind?  Tweet it to the world!  Too ponderous to fit in 140 characters?  Sign up right here.

Those of us who opt to do this for ourselves are implicitly agreeing to deal with any fallout that comes from sharing (and sometimes, oversharing) our personal data.  But for my 1-year-old son and his classmates, there’s no opting in.  Some of their personally identifiable information is already being shared with the world–by us, their parents, the very people whose job it is to protect these kids.  We think little of mentioning where and when they were born, or physical characteristics like hair color, eye color, or scars.  We detail their health history when asking advice from online message boards.  More than that, though, are the photos.  Lots and lots of adorable baby and toddler photos, followed a few years later by back-to-school photos, Halloween photos, family vacation photos, graduation photos, et cetera.  Whether our kids like it or not, we’ve been putting information about them out there since (or even before) they were born.

Kiddo at the zooI spent a lot of time mulling over whether to publish photos on this blog.  In the end, as you can see, I decided in favor of it.  But I still wonder whether I’m doing my son a disservice.  I wonder whether I’m taking away his future option to control which information about him is publicly available.  But I also wonder, will he even care?  By the time our little Kiddo is old enough to understand that he’s a searchable term, it might be something we as a society have just come to accept, that all our day-to-day activities are going to get publicly surfaced one way or another, by us ourselves or by others with whom we interact.  I can’t even conceive of how the concept of Privacy will have changed twenty years from now.  Perhaps our son’s college exploits documented by his buddies won’t interfere with his getting a job, because everyone shares this information with everyone else.  Maybe it won’t be embarrassing that Kiddo’s new date can find his baby photos, because he’s already seen theirs too.

Meanwhile, in the here and now, my husband and I have the onus of deciding how much about our child(ren) to make public.  At first, I restricted my photo sharing to password-protected sites like Facebook.  I soon found that calling this option “privacy” is misleading, because all someone needs to do to get around it is copy the picture to their own computer.  Avoiding the web altogether and simply emailing the images is no sure thing either.  Last fall we forwarded a cute photo from Kiddo’s daycare teacher to a couple family members.  Next thing we knew, it was up on Facebook!  Once that picture or tweet or status update gets out of your direct control, you might as well consider it public property, because it’s just so darn easy for the people with whom you share it to pass it along further.

Is there a solution?  I’m not sure.  Even if we restricted ourselves to snail-mailing actual photographs, that still wouldn’t prevent someone from scanning them and uploading the images for their own digital collection.  We have to either choose to live unconnected to the social web, or accept that by sharing pictures and commentary, we’re releasing a snapshot of our lives to the public domain.

Let me be clear: I think social media is a great thing.  It allows us to have regular contact with far-away family members, and it facilitates virtual communities where we can connect with others like us.  Just like face-to-face friendships, we chat about our families and swap pictures and advice.  But somewhat ironically, the conversations we carry on in real life circles often are less permanent than those in the virtual world.  It’s each person’s personal business how much or how little they put out there about themselves.  As parents of children too young to decide for themselves, we need to be custodians of their personal information as well as our own.  Where’s the line?