I Have Found My Village

Everyone’s heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” Apparently it’s an African proverb, which would make a lot of sense, but it really only gained attention when Hillary Clinton said it. Regardless, you’ve heard it. Maybe you live by it and maybe you don’t, but here’s my tale…

When I was pregnant with my oldest and even when she was very young, I resented the idea of “the village”. I didn’t want a village. I didn’t need a village. I’m the mother and it’s my responsibility to make this work, to raise this tiny being into adulthood. How dare they suggest that a mother can’t do this without a group of people helping her?!?

My mom wanted to help with her… hold her, diaper her, feed her when possible. My take on that was that I was actually doing my mom a service. It had been years since she’s been able to spend time with a baby and a grandchild is supposed to be the greatest gift. OF COURSE she would want to spend time with her granddaughter. Who am I to deny her of that?!? She wasn’t doing these things because I needed her to, she was doing them because she wanted to. Even now, when she keeps all three of my kids, she swears up and down that she wouldn’t do it if she didn’t want to. I call bullshit, especially with the older two arguing like cats and the three year old hanging off of her like a leech.

But my mom is family, and family doesn’t count. Family isn’t part of the village, right?

Even when I had my second kid and my oldest was three, I didn’t need anyone’s help. Sometimes they offered and sometimes I let them, but I didn’t need it. Sure, my parents would usually keep the girls when Daniel and I went out for our anniversary or either of our birthdays, but if they weren’t around, we just would have managed and stayed home with a movie and take-out. It wasn’t a matter of survival, it was a matter of luxury. Of convenience. And again, they’re family. Still not a village.

So maybe I got through about five or six years without a village, if family doesn’t count. That’s success, damn it! It wasn’t until Delanie finished kindergarten that I started to see the benefits of having a village.

See, when kids have been in school for a little while, they start to make friends. And they want to start hanging out with those friends. Playdates at our house, playdates at their friends’ houses. And THEN it turns into more than playdates. Outings here, there, and everywhere. Outings that involve carpooling. And THEN it turns into sleepovers. Those are the work of some demonic entity, set on torturing parents (usually mothers) with endless giggling, shrieking, and arguing.

But when friends come into the picture, so do their parents. For some people, the thought of meeting and socializing with other parents is terrifying. For others, it’s a dream come true and a long-awaited side effect of parenting.. For me, I was indifferent. But I would do what was necessary to allow my kid to form bonds with other kids and to blossom socially.

Little did I know, when I opened the door to new friends and their parents, I was going to make some pretty fantastic friends of my own. And in doing so, I may have let them into my village to help me raise my children.  Behold as I proceed to eat some crow.

Early on, it was just nice to have someone take my kids off my hands for a couple of hours in an effort to entertain their own. But as time went on, it became so much more. If my kid and their kid were going to the same event at school, I would offer to drive their kid with mine while they picked them both up. Half the hassle disappeared, just like that. We have one another on speed dial (who am I kidding, more like in a recent text message thread) if emergencies pop up. One friend in particular has a kid Delanie’s age and a kid close to Elysa’s age, so we do kid swaps… I take the bigs while she takes the littles, or vice versa. They treat my kids like their own and I do the same with theirs.

We rely on one another… A LOT. And for more than just help with our kids. We call one another to rant or gush, we go out for margaritas at our favorite Mexican restaurant or have wine nights at someone’s house. We are soul sisters, if you will. Our kids may have brought us together, but they are not what are keeping us together.

I know that come hell of high water, I have a group of women (and some men) who are there for my kids. And me. Just like I am there for them and their kids.

I have found my village. The one I never thought I wanted or needed. And it’s better than I could have ever imagined.

Since my mom is bound to read this, I want to make it clear that I appreciate each and every little thing she has done for me and my kids. And maybe she actually is a part of the village. The difference is, with her, I knew I’d be happy to accept her help. With others, I wasn’t so sure. But now I am. So there.

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They’ll Be Women One Day

I have two daughters. Two little girls. And you know what I recently realized? That one day, assuming there is no shift in gender identity, they will grow into women.

I know, you’re probably asking “What did you think they would grow into? Monsters?” No, no, I didn’t think that. And only partially because they don’t need to do any growing to become monsters, they already are.

Yes, I always knew that they would be women one day. But what really hit me is that they will be women in this world. A world that values women below men. A world where women are not viewed as equal or capable or worthy of the same pay as men for doing the same job. And it broke my heart.

When I first heard the word “feminism” as a kid, it was attached to all of the stereotypes that have been floating around for years. Bra-burning, hairy-legged man haters. This is not to say that this is what my parents or teachers or other family members believed, it was just the stigma that had always followed the term. To be honest, we never really talked about feminism or women’s rights in my house. So I had very little basis to form an opinion of my own. It wasn’t until college when I actually started to understand the reality of the feminist movement. How the world had already evolved, how it was continuing to evolve. The number of women in the world who were sticking their necks out to make life better for all women.

Of course things are better than they used to be. Better than they were even ten years ago when I first became aware of the feminist movement. But they’re still not good enough. And they won’t be until hate and condescention and inequality are no longer part of the equation.

But I look at my girls and to think of them working themselves to the bone in school or college or at their jobs and not being compensated adequately, in the same way as a male for the same work and effort, downright disgusts me. This is not the world I want for them. Being born with two X chromosomes and a vagina shouldn’t mean that you drew the short stick right out of the gate.

Oh, and let’s talk about the social treatment of women. The sexual harassment, the cat calling, the rape culture. Women are not weak. Women are not objects to be judged and compared. Women are more than breasts and curves and physicality. I shouldn’t have to worry about my daughters being called awful names or attacked when they’re walking down the street simply because they are women. But I do.

Being a woman can be a pretty wonderful thing and I am teaching my girls to embrace that. To be proud of who they are and to not let preconceptions and stereotypes break their spirit. But when they get out into the real world, they won’t be able to ignore the fact that those preconceptions and stereotypes are the way of society, of the job industry. Stomping our feet and screaming “BUT IT’S NOT FAIR!” isn’t going to change anything. We are the change. I am raising daughters and a son who will be the change. Daughters who won’t tolerate second best and a son who will respect women for their brains rather than their bodies. Children who will teach others that the current treatment of women is unacceptable.

I feel like a lot of what I’ve just written is common sense. Or at least that it should be. So maybe I just reiterated the thoughts of every woman out there. But it still needs to be said. Shouted from the rooftops, even. Until things change for the better.

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They’ve grown so much already.  They’ll be women before we know it.

The Baby Oven Has Been Closed For a Year… and I’m Still Okay With It

I love babies. I’ve loved babies since I was old enough to be aware of them.

I’m an only child, so I admittedly had minimal access to babies and that may have impacted my opinion of them. As far as I was concerned, they were the most amazing things that I had ever laid eyes on. And I didn’t understand why my friends who had baby siblings didn’t appreciate them like I did.

From the age of eight, I was dead set that I was going to have AT LEAST ten babies. I wanted to be a Duggar before the Duggars had five children of their own. Even at 18, I wanted an army of kids. At least I thought I did.

Then at 21, after an extremely low-key and virtually painless labor and delivery, I had a baby. A beautiful, perfect, cherubic baby girl. Delanie really was the easiest kind of baby… mellow and content and slept like a champ. The kind of baby that most parents don’t believe exists. My transition into motherhood was about as smooth as anyone could dream of. But it was still fucking hard. BABIES are fucking hard

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                                                   A picture of a picture, but adorbs nonetheless.                                                     The little roly poly who made me a mother, 11 years ago.

After Delanie, I knew I wanted more kids. But that dream of having ten kids? BUH-BYE.

We waited until Delanie was two and out of diapers before we started thinking about having another. And we bought a house… that was contingency #1. I got pregnant in late 2006 and had Elysa about a month after Delanie’s 3rd birthday.

Elysa. OH, ELYSA. I’m convinced that my little ginger was trying to kill me in utero, and again when she made her grand entrance into the world. It was storming on that particular August day in 2007 and Daniel said that only evil babies are born during storms. At the time, I’m pretty sure he was just screwing with me. Now I’m not so sure. Especially since she put me through hell that day, as I labored on my back, immobile, but still feeling everything that I didn’t want to feel.

Elysa wasn’t a bad baby… only because I don’t believe in bad babies. I believe in difficult babies. I believe in high needs babies. I believe in exhausting and frustrating babies who make you question your decision to procreate. Yes, I just said that. But when you’re in the midst of it all, hanging on by a thread, you start to think things that you don’t really want to be thinking. Of course I don’t still believe that, but I might have at the time.

I mean, it was sink or swim, and I couldn’t sink because I had another kid to take care of. In order to get through that first year (or first few years), I mustered up every ounce of energy, every ounce of patience, and every ounce of love that I could find. We got through it (with a lot of help from babywearing), because that’s just what you do. Elysa has grown into an awesome big kid. But she is still my little leech. And I have grown accustomed to having an extra appendage, because I’m not about to cut her off.

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                         My redheaded demon baby, in all her cherubic glory. immediately                          after I thought she was going to kill me.  Deceiving, isn’t she?

All things considered, I don’t think it’s a mystery why I was unsure if a third baby was in the cards for me. I swore up and down during her delivery that I would never have another baby, that I wasn’t doing this again. But if all words spoken during childbirth rang true, there would be a hell of a lot of castrated men out there.

Yeah, I did eventually go on to have another baby, but it took me a long while to get there. I didn’t even get bitten by baby rabies until at least three years later, and it was yet another year before I actually started thinking about it as a legitimate possibility. And when I reached that stage in conception planning, I knew immediately that this would be the last time we would do this. The last time we would make a baby. The last time I would carry a baby. The last time I would birth a baby. The last time I would hold my gooey newborn to my sweaty chest and nurse them during those first incredible moments.

From the instant the “+” sign popped up on the pee stick, I promised myself that I was going to cherish every moment of this pregnancy. Even the awful parts at the beginning, because those meant that my body was transforming into the perfect baby oven to cook our last little family member. Even the frequent finger pricks and insulin injections that I eventually had to deal with later in the game, because they meant that I was setting my own comfort aside for the health of my growing son.

I was also determined to have a natural birth, after my previous hellacious experience. I was going to embrace each contraction, each wave of pain. After all, my body was doing what nature intended, what it was made to do. And I am so happy to say that I got the birth I wanted and I didn’t have to fight for it. I brought Sir Calvin into the world through a gutteral roar as an intense wave of pain washed over me. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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The last time I ever gave birth.  Beautiful and bittersweet.

Having a son is an experience that I was totally unprepared for. One that I think should require a manual, a straight jacket, and a good deal of wine. Maybe sex has nothing to do with it and Calvin is just an overly curious, mischievous, strong-willed, loud, and destructive child. Regardless, he is in no way like the girls were and had he been my first kid, he may have been my last. But as it stands, he is my third kid and definitely my last. I knew this when he was nothing but a dream, when he was the size of a peanut growing within me and when he peed on me (thus marking his territory) the moment he was placed on my chest. And I especially knew it once he hit those challenging toddler years.

But you know when I finally ended my fertility? July 24th, 2014, when Calvin was a little over two years old. No more babies, this had been decided long before, but to put a permanent end to my fertility was a little harder to accept. Between Daniel and I, we conceive babies pretty easily, so I knew that this was something that needed to happen sooner rather than later. But I wanted him to do it. I had carried and birthed these babies… he needed to take one for the team. Of course he was nervous, of course he dragged his feet. And in the end, it worked out in his favor.

I had a large cyst on one of my ovaries that was giving me a lot of trouble, so I was going to undergo laproscopic surgery to remove it. Tubal ligations are done laproscopically. It only made sense to have the doctor take care of that at the same time. And so it was done, the same day that a painful cyst was removed and my other ovary was detached from my digestive tract (that was a surprise). I still think that Daniel should have a vasectomy based on principle, but I just might be a little bitter.

When I consented to the tubal, there was no hesitation. I was ready. Three children was enough for me. Money wasn’t the deciding factor, the size of our house wasn’t the deciding factor. I didn’t want to be a mother to more children than I already had. That was all I needed to know.

I thought I would have periods of regret after the procedure. Get hit with baby rabies when friends and family announced that they were expecting, or when I visited them and their new bundles of joy in the hospital. But no, not once. Not even on Calvin’s third birthday, which sort of marked the end of his babyhood.

It’s been a year, over a year, and I am 100% at peace with my decision. I’m amazed that I’m able to say that, but there you have it. Big(ger) kids are great in ways that I hadn’t thought about when I was in the early stages of motherhood. They sleep, they can feed themselves, they can sit on the toilet, they can carry their own shit and require less of it on short trips, they can explain how they feel in words. You can have somewhat adult conversations with them and learn how very, very cool they actually are. They can see when you’re having a rough time and more often than not, they care and they will try to help.

I still love babies. I will cuddle the babies of others any time I have the chance, and then I will gladly hand them back when they start to fuss. I get to smooch cheeks and pat little butts and rock them as I did my own. But then I can look over at my own brood of big kids and think “You are perfect for me. I have everything that I need.”

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These three are just enough.  Family = complete

My Name is Ashlie and I Let a Male Boss Me Around

I am not one for gender stereotypes.  I don’t encourage them and I’m not going to lie, in the back of my mind, I tend to discourage them.  In reality, I let my kids be who they want to be and generally do what they want to do.  I want them to be respectful and tolerant of others, but in terms of their interests and lifestyle choices, that’s all on them.  My girls are awesome… at the tender ages of 9 and 6, they are both very content with who they are and don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks about it.  Peer pressure?  What’s that?  It doesn’t even register in their minds.  And neither of them have really fallen into the definition of what a stereotypical little girl is supposed to be.

Then I have Sir Calvin.  When he was in the womb and he’d kick me to death and try to claw his way out like an alien, I would jokingly say to Daniel, “You need to teach your son that it’s not okay to hit women.”  I envisioned raising this sweet and mellow, long-haired little boy who loved his mother and sisters in a way that Hallmark describes.  I really wanted him to defy all stereotypes, that boys are supposed to be rough and tough and a little crazy.  That they are supposed to play with trucks and toy guns and have no interest in baby dolls.  Who am I kidding?  I secretly wanted him to get attached to a baby doll.

You’d think with my third kid, I’d have realized that I can’t just mold them into what I want them to be.  Granted, I never had any desire to do that with the girls.  But with my precious son?  I had other hopes, other expectations.  And I was an idiot.  A closed-minded idiot who was creating stereotypes all of her own.  I painted a world in my mind where the color blue and toy cars and playing rough were somehow frowned upon, simply because they were the typical gender stereotype.

But he came and he grew into a toddler.  And he showed me exactly what an idiot I was.  Who the hell am I to tell him that he can’t play with cars or wrestle?  The kid lives and breathes for cars and trucks and trains.  He throws toys across the room and laughs gleefully.  He tackles his sisters.  He climbs like a monkey.  He pulls on the dog’s tail.  He growls.  And unfortunately, he does NOT worship is mama like I dreamed that he would.  Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true.  He might, but he has a funny way of showing it.  In his own little way, he yells at me to get my ass in the kitchen and make him a sammich (i.e. points at the kitchen, shrieks MORE, smacks my leg, and won’t let off me until I do what he wants).  He grunts and throws the television remote at me, which is his way of saying “Woman, put on an episode of Thomas before I get REALLY mad.”  Demanding?  Yeah, that’s a nice way of putting it.

He’s mischievous and a little violent and LOUD and rambunctious.  But ya know what?  He’s a kid.  A toddler, at that.  Male or female, it doesn’t matter.  This is just who he is.  When Elysa would act like that, I’d laugh at the irony of it all.  So why should I not be just as accepting of my son’s crazy antics?  Simply because he is a boy is NOT a valid reason.

I should probably clarify a little.  I DO discourage poor behavior.  I don’t want them being totally unruly or hurting others or being disrespectful.  But I also don’t want to crush their spirit.  I’m not going to create a home where children can’t be children.  It’s not “girls will be girls” or “boys will be boys”.  It’s that children will be children.  End of story.  Some children are calm and quiet and naturally well-behaved.  Some children are tiny tornadoes with plans to take over the world.  And I’m learning to be okay with both.