Motherhood Has Made Me Much More Sensitive

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Aren’t they cuddly, though?

 

As published in Romper.

Before having kids, I was kind of a badass. I wouldn’t say I had a black heart, but my heart might have been singed a little bit around the edges. I didn’t know that motherhood would change me, turning my singed heart soft and red, maybe even with cute little sequins. Motherhood has turned me into a big old softy.

My first career out of college was a court and public safety newspaper reporter. In that role, I reported on some gnarly incidents and trials, like murders, brutal assaults, and crimes against children, without so much as blinking. I quickly became emotionally “hard” because I had to be. I had to protect myself from becoming too involved in the stories I covered for my own well-being.

My emotional toughness extended well beyond the courtroom walls. I prided myself on not shedding a tear at weddings, and even funerals if the person who died wasn’t especially close to me. I just didn’t allow myself to experience the full emotional impact of situations that pull at the heartstrings. I thought of other things instead and gave permission to feel removed from the circumstances I encountered.

I didn’t understand that once I had children, separating myself emotionally from heart-wrenching and even heart-warming moments would no longer be an option. Motherhood has made me so much more sensitive.

From the minute we smell our newborns for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget.

As a parent, I empathize with every other parent out there. Although I’m not directly experiencing the panic of losing a child in the grocery store and the knee-weakening relief of finding the child again, or worse, I can’t help but put myself in that parent’s shoes. Every news story, each TV commercial with a slightly sappy premise, and every song on the radio speaks to me differently now. And they don’t even have to be about a child for me to dissolve into a pool of sniffly tears.

NOW THAT I’M A PARENT, I SEE THE CHILD IN EVERYONE.

Now that I’m a parent, I see the child in everyone. I realize that the lonely old man in the airline commercial waiting for his grown children to come visit him was once someone’s child. The fact that the man is old becomes secondary to him being lonely, and in him, I see my own 5-year-old son when his best friend at school won’t play with him. I see and feel the unifying emotions at the core of people, instead of just their superficial outer shells.

It’s clear that parenthood molded me into this mushy, sensitive person, but how? I believe that loving someone as vulnerable as a baby, who fully depends on you as their parent or caregiver to protect them from any and all harm, helps a person better appreciate the fragility of life.

From the minute we smell our newborn for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget. In turn, we know that the parent we are learning about in any given newspaper story, or the fictional parent we’re reading about in a novel, must experience that same unique brand of love we feel for our children.

IF WE’RE GOING TO RAISE CARING YOUNG PEOPLE, WE BETTER DAMN WELL BE CARING OURSELVES.

I believe parenthood does us a service by making us feel so deeply, and bringing children into this world and raising them is the act of uncovering our inner empathy and leaving it raw and exposed, again and again and again, every single day, for the rest of our lives.

There’s a reason why so many of us parents’ guilty pleasure is ugly crying while binge watching This Is Us. Feeling strong emotions not only is good, it literally feels good. Feeling is about living fully, experiencing every bump and curve in the road and sitting nothing out. Life is full of emotions, and nowhere is this so acutely demonstrated than in parenthood, through a baby’s adorable first laugh or the joy and heartache of your last child leaving the house for college. It’s a roller coaster ride of feels, and there’s no “chicken” exit once we have children. We’re stuck on the ride, like it or not. But I feel we are better because of the ups and downs of parenthood.

I thought I was strong before I had kids, because I didn’t cry and kept my emotions on the back burner. I now see that heightened emotions are an advantage of parenthood. Not only does being sensitive make us more alert to our children’s emotions and able to comfort them, it helps us be more aware of the emotions of everyone we encounter. This heightened sensitivity helps us be better people in general, even if that’s as simple as buying someone who seems to be having a bad day a cup of coffee.

If we’re going to raise caring young people, we better damn well be caring ourselves.

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My Friends Gave Me The Best Advice On Taking An Extended Maternity Leave

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Can you blame me for wanting extra time with this cutie?

As published in Romper

My job has always been an important part of my identity. OK, maybe not my first job as a teen working the concession stand at a movie theater, but everything that came after. Even while shoveling popcorn, I was committed to offering great customer service and a smile. When I got pregnant with my first child, quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom wasn’t an option on the table. We needed the money, and I wanted the satisfaction of using my skills outside the home and to contribute to society through working. I literally worked until the baby popped out and took the minimum maternity leave. For my second baby, however, I received some important advice from friends to take an extended maternity leave and enjoy some extra time with my baby. And honestly, it was the best advice I got from my friends.

With my first pregnancy, I took the 12 weeks for which I could receive pay under California state law, and not a day more. I didn’t realize that I could receive additional paid leave for time needed to rest and prepare before the baby was born. Under state law, I was entitled to up to four weeks of disability leave before the birth of my baby as needed, according to the State of California Employment Development Department.

Before I fully understood state law during my first pregnancy, I was working as a newspaper reporter. I planned to work until the day my son was due. However, my son was due on a Friday and I typically worked Tuesday through Saturday, so I decided to continue working until the day after my due date. I wanted to save every day of my 12-week leave for after my baby was born.

 Pregnancy and parenting a newborn are hard enough without having to try to navigate complicated state and federal maternity leave laws, but that’s exactly what I was doing, and badly. By the last few weeks of my pregnancy, even walking was uncomfortable, with the baby weighing heavy on my bladder and my muscles aching. Still, I trudged out out to crime scenes to report on them, and up and down the courthouse stairs to cover trials for the newspaper. I received a lot of questions and comments.

“Still working, huh?”

“You must be due any day now.”

It was just too soon to be away from my baby.

Somehow, I made it through my last day of work without going into labor. As if my body knew it needed to hold on just long enough, I went into labor in the early morning Sunday, just hours after I finished my last work shift.

The 12 weeks of maternity leave after my son’s birth came and went quickly, but I was grateful that I had that much time home with my son. I knew of many new moms who worked and only received six weeks of disability pay as they didn’t qualify for Paid Family Leave or another paid leave program. Therefore, some of these parents could only afford to take a six-week leave. Others couldn’t even afford the partial pay, and returned to work a week after birth.

I was able to take 12 weeks of leave because of disability leave after the birth, followed by the six weeks of Paid Family Leave, which I qualified for as someone with a job who was contributing to State Disability Insurance. When I returned to work, I did little more at first then stare at the album of baby photos I brought as my eyes welled with tears. It was just too soon to be away from my baby.

 Pregnant for a second time, I initially planned to take 12 weeks again. However, a few conversations with friends and coworkers changed my mind. One coworker at my same company who’d recently given birth took a full four months, including some time before her baby was born. I was intrigued. I’d heard of similar experiences from other friends inside and outside the office. You’ll never get this time with your baby back again, they’d say.

I did some research and found that in addition to my 12 weeks of paid leave, I was entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Although six weeks of that 12-week leave would be used consecutively with my state Paid Family Leave, that left me an additional six weeks of unpaid leave I was able to take. I decided to take four of those six weeks of unpaid leave, for a total of 16 weeks. But I elected to not take the full 18 weeks allowable under the law as I didn’t feel our family could afford to be without my income for that extra time.

When my work supervisor asked when I wanted to begin my maternity leave and how long I’d be taking, I was anxious to say I wanted to start two weeks before my due date and four months after the baby’s birth. She seemed surprised, but OK with it. She had no choice but to accept my decisions, legally anyway. That’s because she was required to hold my job for me, or something comparable, during my leave due to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.

At eight-and-half months of pregnancy, I was more than ready to take some time off work and enjoy some rare alone time. At the advice of my friends, I didn’t feel guilty about keeping my son in preschool for those couple of weeks and sitting home catching up on crappy daytime TV while I washed and folded baby laundry. I was resting and relaxing, and my body and mind needed the break.

 My daughter was born a couple of days before her due date, and during labor I was able to pay attention to my early contractions that lasted several days, timing them and monitoring them closely. After my daughter was born, I didn’t feel as rushed as I had with my son when the days and weeks flew by and were jam-packed with visitors. Instead, I took my daughter to the park and the store in the front carrier. I let my eyes linger over her sweet little baby features and made time for snuggles whenever possible. The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.

 

The last month of my leave was unpaid, but my husband and I saved money beforehand in preparation. In the end, I felt the few weeks of unpaid leave were well worth the money lost because of the extra baby-bonding time and moments to myself before birth. Once again, we were fortunate that we had the means to support ourselves without my income for a short time. And after I’d gone back to work after both babies were born, my husband took several weeks of paternity leave so that he had time alone with the babies as well.

 My friends had been right. I wouldn’t be able to get back this fleeting time with the babies once it was gone. They’re little once, and for such a short time. My job could wait, and thankfully, it did. My boss didn’t give me any grief about my leave, and I was able to pick up where I left off after a short catch-up period. Fortunately, my boss has young children of her own, so she was fairly understanding as I got back in the swing of work.

Returning to work, I was refreshed and fully healed. I had a solid breastfeeding routine down, and was ready for adult interaction and the challenges of the workplace. Thanks to some great advice from friends, I was able to find a work/life balance that worked. Without their advice, I would have probably taken another less-than-adequate maternity leave, not fully understanding state and federal leave law and stressing out about my job.

All said, I wouldn’t trade a day of the chubby baby snuggles that came with my extended maternity leave.

My Confession: Parenthood is Terrifying

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She’s a cute little scary beast….

 

As published in Romper.

Parenthood is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It’s also knee-knockingly, heart-poundingly, sweating-until-my-shirt-is-soaked-throughterrifying. Expecting my first baby, my head was in a cloud of all the possible names we could choose and the cute little onesies we had to look forward to. I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know the thing no one tells you at your baby shower, the thing no one warns you about as they’re wheeling you to the delivery room. The thing no one says until you say it out loud, alone, in your first real minute to breathe: that parenthood is scary.

It’s scary for so many reasons. Because kids are so vulnerable. Because the world is full of bad people doing bad things, and you can’t stop them. Because, why is your kid making that weird nose when he breathes? Because you love them so, so much. Like so many expectant moms, I was admonished by well-meaning more experienced moms to enjoy my sleep while I could because the baby would keep me awake due to constant nighttime feedings and fussing. I imagined some sort of cute little colicky doll, like those crying dolls you took home in home economics class in middle school to “experience” parenthood. Instead of returning this doll at the end of the class, I reasoned, I’d trade in my fussy newborn after a few months for a sweet infant who slept like a dream. My worries would be behind me. It would be all over-sized hair bows and charmingly posed family photos from then on.

Wrong. Sure, I was fortunate that both of my kids were relatively good sleepers, even as newborns. But my days of restful sleep were behind me, because I’d be constantly listening for my kids’ little voices yelling “Mommy!” down the hall in the middle of the night. Somehow, my husband could sleep through their midnight noises but I could probably hear them sigh if they were spending the night at the North Pole.

I didn’t know then what I know now: that your babies are always your babies, and parenthood is scary.

Even now, all these years later, before heading to bed, no matter how tired I am, I check on my kids to make sure they’re covered with their blankets and sleeping soundly. But not so soundly that they’re dead or something. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to drive to my kids’ houses at night when they’re grown and living on their own to make sure they’re still breathing.

As a parent, I have new appreciation for what my siblings and I put my mom through. How we stayed out until 2 a.m. as teenagers, not knowing or caring that she always stayed awake until she saw our car headlights reflect on her bedroom window as we pulled into the driveway. I didn’t know then what I know now: that your babies are always your babies, and parenthood is scary.

My husband and I are solely responsible for our children’s well-being. Every choice we make about where to live, about where they’ll go to school, about whether to feed them cereal or waffles for breakfast, is crafting the blueprint for their lives. There’s no one telling us how to parent or enforcing our good parenting. It’s terrifying that there’s really no one to fall back on but ourselves when it comes to parenting.

As a former newspaper reporter assigned to the crime and courts beat, I considered myself pretty thick-skinned and unflappable. But that was before I had kids.When I lose my temper and curse at my husband in front of my kids, that’s no longer just damaging my relationship with my husband. That’s setting a bad example for my kids. I have to choose each day to be a good example. Sure, I have the freedom to be a terrible parent, but the responsibility to be a good one. that responsibility is daunting and terrifying.
 

We parents generally don’t receive much training for parenthood. With the exception of child development, teaching majors, or veteran babysitters, there’s little in the way of formal parenthood education. We have to learn parenting as we go, with maybe a little help from parenting books and articles we don’t have time to read. But no matter the knowledge we glean from the articles we scarf down through stolen moments in the bathroom or because we stayed up too late and will definitely regret doing so the next morning, one thing remains: Parenthood is scary.

And of course, this is a big world and there’s bound to be bad news coming in from somewhere at any given time. As a former newspaper reporter assigned to the crime and courts beat, I considered myself pretty thick-skinned and unflappable. But that was before I had kids. Once I did have kids, someone could practically mention the word “kid” and I’d dissolve into a bucket of tears. As a parent, every kid is your kid. Every tragic news story involving a child makes you think about your own child, and how the thought of anything awful happening to them would shatter your life beyond repair.

I feel a responsibility as a parent to not only take good care of my kids, but of myself as well. My two children are depending on me to stay in good health so I can look out for them. Just as our kids are at the center of mine and my husband’s world, we’re at the center of theirs. It’s scary to think about something happening to one or both of us. Who would take care of our kids? Who would make sure they’re tucked in at night and breathing? It’s scary that we have to give our kids the freedom to experience heartbreak from a not-so-nice “friend” at school. It’s scary that life is full of lessons they’ll have to learn by themselves, on their own, firsthand.

I feel that parenthood is totally overwhelming and we’re ill-prepared for it. There’s no denying it. Still, we trudge through as we have for centuries. And yet the human race continues and even thrives. We’re obviously doing something right. Maybe our anxiety about parenting is what keeps us on our toes and ensures we give our best effort to raising the next generation.

As a parent in my own right, I’ve learned to embrace the unknown. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I can do my best to take care of myself and my family today. I can love my kids so much that watching the news hurts, but still trust that they’ll turn out all right. Because for me, parenthood is worth every nail-biting, knee-knocking, armpit-sweating moment.

I Have Kids, But I’m Not A Mom

 

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Who has time for this? Not me!

I have two kids, but I’m not a mom.

Don’t get me wrong. I love them to pieces. Like, I could sit there and sniff their heads for days love them. But I’m not a mom.

I strive hard to parent my two kids to the best of my ability, and to help mold them into thoughtful, caring little people. But I’m still not a mom.

Let me explain. I don’t define myself as a mother. I’m a person who loves to write. Who has a career I find fulfilling. Who chose to have children. Who loves her family beyond measure. Who has a strange addiction to bleu cheese. Who is way too into 90s R&B. Who screws up. All. The. Time.

I’m a person who has goals and dreams of my own beyond children.

My children are a huge part of my life, but they’re not my life. Admitting our children are not the center of our universe is hard to do in the society we have created, especially for women who are mothers. Society does not place the same expectation on men as fathers.

We as mothers are expected by society to be “mom” all the time. To sacrifice every comfort and indulgence in the interest of our children. To bake flawless goodies for school bake sales. To throw amazing birthday parties every year for each of our kids with Pinterest-perfect decor.Have a job? No matter! Stay up as late as you need to to finish those cupcakes. Of course, if being “super mom” makes you happy, and you like defining yourself as a mother, that is your respectable choice and right. But being defined as “Mom” is not for all of us.

Lets be honest. The only truly acceptable Facebook status updates for women who are mothers are professional-quality photos of our kids and grateful musings full of “#blessed”. And make sure in any and all photos your children have carefully coordinated outfits that appear to be handmade.

Our Facebook feeds are full of the status updates that are the most popular, and kid pictures are most popular. Just try to post anything else, and watch it be ignored. We are rewarded for being mothers, and punished for trying to be anything else once we have children.

Parenting magazines geared towards women are full of time-consuming craft projects and impossible to heed advice.We don’t have time to read those magazines, let alone do half of what they suggest! A stack of wrapped parenting magazines do make a decent drink holder on a nightstand, though.

Men, regardless of whether or not they are fathers, are encouraged and expected to have interests and hobbies and ambitions of their own. To take weekend trips with friends. To join clubs. To be leaders in the workplace. It’s a bonus if men happen to be great dads, too.

I believe not making my life all about my children will benefit them in the long run. They will have a well-rounded mother they can look up to as a role model, and not only because I’m a good mom. They, in turn, will grow up  as people who don’t feel pressured to define themselves in narrow terms.

We raise our daughters to be articulate and goal-oriented. We teach them they can be anything they want to be in life. But we don’t afford ourselves the same privilege. Our parents worked hard to raise us to be the amazing, multifaceted people we are. We owe it to them to not just be mothers.

We are women who happen to be moms, and so much more.

 

Why Our Kids Deserve Our Time Now, Not In “Just A Minute!”

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Mom! Mom! Mom! Mooooommmmmm! Look. I’m a Ninja Turtle.

“I’ll be there in just a minute!” I yell to my preschooler for the 50th time today.

He wants to show me his Lego creation. A slight variation on the one I already got up twice in the last 10 minutes to see.

I summon all the enthusiasm I can muster on a Tuesday afternoon and go look at what he built. Again. It looks like the ruins of a house that’s been in an earthquake. At least a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. One that caused massive structural damage and resulted in Lego people stuck to the crumbling roof of their house.

“It’s awesome!” I say.

See, I’ve learned it’s important to be present for our kids now, not when it’s convenient, because it’s never convenient. Even though we’re tired. Even though we’re busy. Even though there’s 100 things we’d rather do than look at a Lego house for the millionth time or watch his Ninja Turtle and dino puppet routine again.

Fighting the urge to tell my son “just a minute” is something I wrestle with everyday. Of course, there are many situations where it’s unavoidable. I’m cooking dinner and can’t leave it alone. Ha! Just kidding. I don’t cook. OK, my husband is cooking dinner and he can’t leave the water  boiling unsupervised. Or I’m in the middle of an important phone call.

Kids having to occasionally wait for our attention teaches them patience. But it’s too easy to brush them aside over and over again for our convenience. Because we’re in the middle of a TV show. Because we’re cleaning the bathrooms. Because we’re just not in the mood.

No one tells you at your baby shower when they hand you the adorably gift-wrapped onesies that kids are exhausting. They don’t say “little Katie is going to have massive poop blow-outs that will probably ruin all these precious outfits I’m giving you. And when she’s done pooping, she’s going to want all of your attention. And then more of it after that.”

No one tells you that as your kids get older, they only get more demanding of your attention.

That they often try to get your attention in the least-appealing ways possible.  Like screeching really loud. Or yelling inappropriate things. Or hitting. Of course, ignoring the more positive calls for attention just make these negative ones worse and more rampant.

No one tells you “kids are annoying”. But they are. They’re super cute and squishy, but they also grate on your nerves. Hearing “Mooooooommmmm!” over and over isn’t exactly easy listening.

It’s so tempting to tell our kids “just a minute”. But when we do that, inevitably something truly important pops up that we have to take care of. And that minute with our kids is lost forever.

Maybe we just lost the chance to see that slightly altered Lego house for the zillionth time. But maybe we missed the chance to demonstrate our support of their creativity. Maybe we lost the opportunity to have our kid legitimately beat us at Zingo and gain some much-needed self confidence. Maybe we lost the chance to snuggle and tickle and tell jokes, if even for a few minutes in between laundry loads.

Minutes turn into hours and hours turn into days. Let’s give our kids the best of our days.

Kid Not Your Mini Me? That’s A Good Thing

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If you’re anything like me, you probably fantasized for much of your life about having a little mini me one day.

Yes, there’d be a partner in the equation, but their genes wouldn’t matter much. Or something like that.

Of course, the reality of parenthood is that our kids will inevitably be everything we don’t expect them to be, and often, nothing like us. Sometimes, nothing like us or our partner.

My mini me fantasy didn’t evolve much from the time I was a little girl to my first pregnancy five years ago.

I’d pop out a ruddy-faced baby with thick, dark hair like I had. She’d be kind of a funny-looking thing, like yours truly, but then evolve into a precocious, cute toddler with brown pigtails.

She’d talk a lot but stutter, and be physically awkward. She’d have a crazy imagination. I’d tell her it would all be OK, because, after all, I turned out alright.

Needless to say, none of that happened. I had a boy, and he was one of those rare babies who pops out gorgeous. Yes, I’m biased, but he was really a looker. Wispy, dark blond hair. A flawless complexion.

He grew into an agile, coordinated toddler. Worst of all, he was fearless. As soon as he was able, he was climbing on rocks and walking along narrow ledges.

I was a big mommy’s girl and homebody, but he wasn’t. He never really liked to be held. He’d rather sit by himself and talk to you. He’s super smart. Has a memory like an elephant. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

He loved daycare and then preschool. When I come to school to pick him up, he runs away begging for a few more minutes.

He’s a lot like my husband in looks and personality, but not exactly like my husband.

I recently had my second child. When I found out in the ultrasound she was a girl, I did the ugly cry. I couldn’t believe it. I was convinced after the birth of my son I’d have another boy, and I certainly wasn’t going for three.

Here it comes, I thought, my mini me.

Not so much.

She, like my son, came out gorgeous. Porcelain skinned. Big, long-lashed eyes. Auburn hair. She looks a lot like my sister who I look nothing like. Go figure.

In some ways, she is similar to me. She’s a momma’s girl. She likes to cuddle. The rest remains to be seen. I’m sure no matter what she’s like, she’ll be very much her own person.

That’s the beauty of parenthood, isn’t it?

We’re not here to replicate ourselves. We’re here to facilitate new, unique life with all its perfections and imperfections. We’re here to help mold that life to be the best it can be. The kind of life that changes things, lived by a person who comes up with new ideas no one’s thought of before.

All on our kids’ terms, not ours.

The Ugly Truth In Gender Stereotypes

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I was determined to be one of those parents who buys my boy dolls and my girl tools. Who lets my son wear pink if he wants. Who is not bound by gender stereotypes.

Then I had kids.

And my boy wanted Ninja Turtles, not baby dolls. He wanted nothing to do with pink. My baby girl, too young for toys, likes to cuddle and coo sweetly while my son was most content as a baby sitting in his baby seat and screeching his presence to the world.

It’s been interesting to find out, that at least in my case, many of the gender stereotypes ring true.

Sure, our babies’ gender is colored almost from the beginning, and literally at times, in pink or blue. At baby showers we are given “boy” or “girl” clothes and likewise for toys.

But my 4-year-old boy has always liked to help clean, and I bought him a toy broom as a toddler. Pink and purple, of course, because apparently only girls sweep. Ha! True if you ask my husband.

My boy swept, but mostly used the broom as a makeshift sword to whack us.

Most interesting to watch is the boy and girl dynamics at daycare and preschool. My son has been surrounded by boys since he was just months old at daycare, and loved to watch the boys roughhouse around him until he could toddle around and join the fun.

Bumps and bruises have always been commonplace for him.

After my daughter was born and I started bringing her to pick up my son at preschool, the little girls at preschool had baby fever to the max. They swooped in, trying to inject their germs into her not-yet-vaccinated little immune system through their nose-picking fingers. They’d walk up to me, feeding their dolls bottles and full of questions about my real life baby.

The boys generally didn’t give two hoots about my baby. They were too busy pretending to be superheros and pushing eachother down and crying.

Other times when I pick my son up from preschool, most of the girls are sitting quietly doing art or having snacks. The boys are off playing on the play equipment or running in the yard.

It’s like despite our best efforts to make boys and girls the same, the genders are often just plain different. Maybe that’s OK. Each gender (whichever that is, regardless of your physical sex) brings its own strengths. What’s important is ensuring all children have equal opportunities and are accepted as they are, not that we roll them together into one big ball of gender nuetral playdough.

Of course there’s a good deal of socialization involved in shaping gender, but is it more than that? Are boys acting on some primal hunter-gatherer instinct and girls are being the nurturers we have evolved to be out of necessity to ensure our children that we alone are naturally equipped to feed are cared for?

Lord knows, at least in my house, the baby just might get left in her seat out in the family room while her dad sleep walks to bed. Someone has to hold down the fort. And someone else will probably whack that fort with a pink and purple broom.