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Category: Pen Name Jane

Pen Name Jane was a weekly parenting column started by Katherine Shirer and Chris Sansbury.

What Does Buddha Eat for Breakfast?

Buddha dumbs it down for Chris’ simple brain…but not enough.

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, my husband, my mother and I came to the group decision that instead of the home birth that I desired, I would have the baby at a birth center. It was an agreeable compromise. They were both nervous about a home birth, and I was nervous about a hospital one.

My husband and I were not sure if our insurance company was going to pay for the birth center, even though it was about $6,000 less than an uncomplicated hospital birth. I procrastinated doing the paperwork because I didn’t want to find out  it wasn’t covered. Instead, I preferred to have anxiety adrenaline pop my eyes open every morning at 5 a.m. worrying that we were going to have to come up with four grand on our own. Finally, we got the news back from the insurance company. The birth was going to cost us $35.

Now I can rest easy, I thought.

Yet the very next morning my eyes popped open at 5 a.m. and my anxiety brain shouted, Oh no, what if you can’t nurse your baby!? Forcibly kicked out of bed by my new worry, I walked groggily to the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of Cheerios.

I sat hunched and cross-eyed at my dining room table shoveling spoonfuls of cereal into my mouth. As I loaded my spoon with O’s and pulled them up from the milk, my mind exploded. Pop! The spot, where I had just removed the O’s with my spoon, was filled back up with Cheerios.

Inebriated with a toxic mixture of adrenaline, hormones and exhaustion, I drunkenly gazed down at my cereal bowl and experienced multiple epiphanies (I’ve heard only a select few talented women can have them.)

The bowl appeared the size of a Ferris wheel in front of me announcing: This is your mind on anxiety. You get rid of one problem and — Pop! — another one eagerly takes its place.

In that moment I comprehended that I was addicted to anxiety. It wasn’t that I had an unusually bad life, although that year had been particularly stressful, but worry was the state my brain felt comfortable in, like my brain was chewing its cud with my adrenaline:

Frontal Lobe: I’m bored, what should we do today?

Medulla Oblongata:  Let’s jolt her awake at 5 a.m. with anxiety.

Cerebral Cortex: Pick something really extreme like the idea that food coloring will make her children so hyper they will spin around like the Tasmanian Devil until they spontaneously combust.

Hippocampus: Do none of you remember that we did that yesterday by making her think she had a brain tumor?

Amygdala (damaged): Let’s go BASE jumping!

Basal Ganglia: Ugg!

Secondly and a little quieter, I understood that anxiety was simply the desire to control future outcomes. And if anxiety is desire then I had to remove it.

A few years earlier I had learned my first lesson about desire. At the time my husband and I were living on Red Dog Beer and cheap cigarettes in a 150-year-old apartment in Savannah’s historic district. Every week we had to haul our clothes to a scary laundromat that I swore reused other people’s dirty water to “clean” our clothes. I would dream, just dream, of having my own washer and dryer. I promised every god in the universe that if I got them I would never ask for another thing ever again.

Finally we had the money to buy a washer and dryer. The week they were installed I was twinkling, light and airy, filled with glee, and smelling of Gain (Original Scent). I got what I wanted. I wanted. I got. I was satisfied.

It took seven days for me to decide that since we owned our own washer and dryer, we really needed our own house to put them in. (If you give a woman a washer, she’s really going to need a house with that.)

I was as desperate for a house as I was for a washer and dryer. Why? In that moment I had an ant’s comprehension of Buddha’s Noble Truth about Suffering: to end suffering, one must end desire. Not because desiring things are bad but because desire in itself is insatiable.

Desire is a bowl of Cheerios: If you remove one, another just pops up in its place.

Now how do I end desire?

I really want to end it. I do. I do. I really, really do.

Buddha: Sigh

Polygamy Ain’t Lookin’ So Bad

Ahhhh, polygamists: scary old white men marrying dozens and dozens of 13-year-old sisters or… Bin Laden.

I’m starting to think we are brainwashed to believe polygamy is a creepy thing. (Not sure who is brainwashing us. Not men, I wouldn’t think, but who?) It has been practiced for millions of years and not just by sickos. I have read the Bible, thank you very much, and quite a few of those revered guys had multiple wives.

Then I had kids. When my first child was born, my mother stayed with us for 10 days, cooking and cleaning, bringing me water whenever I nursed. It was wonderful … and then she was gone. I was alone all day with the baby. I cried and cried. It seemed like I could hardly get away from nursing and changing diapers to make myself a cocktail … I mean, a sandwich.

Seven days after my mother left, my friend Ginny came to live with us for six weeks. She was four months pregnant with her first child and her husband had just been deployed to Afghanistan. He would be gone for 15 months.

It was an emotional time for both of us, and we needed each other’s support. But it was also amazing to have a woman in the house. Being female, she was a mind reader. She would just look at me and know to bring me my Tab and my Nembutal. I never felt like I was nagging for help.

Although I think my husband was going a little crazy having different women living with us. But, I wondered, if they were cooking for him AND he could have sex with them, would he have been as annoyed? (Paging Dr. Freud.)

Last May, when Ginny’s husband left for another year-long tour in Afghanistan, she moved back with her 2 ½-year-old son. We spent every day together. Soon after, my husband’s job required that he work out of town each week. That was when Ginny and I started the coolest thing I have ever done (an exaggeration, I hope). We planned a menu together and switched off eating dinner at each other’s house every night.

One of us would go to the other’s house at 4 p.m., and the ladies would cook together while the kids played. We drank wine, chatted and gossiped. Working together, we made the most amazing meals: goat cheese and spinach crepes with balsamic glaze, penne with walnuts and roasted broccoli and Greek salad hummus wraps with homemade pitas. We grilled “Dinosaur meat” for the kids. I started to bake homemade bread. Each night after dinner was over, Ginny and I would clean up the kitchen, give the kids a bath and then go home. It was bliss.

It was awesome only having to come up with, and shop fortwo or three meals a week. And it was so nice to have someone there to talk to while I cooked. It changed from being a chore to being fun. For so long, the end of the day had been my most dreaded time. What to do with the kids? What to make for dinner? I was feeding the kids canned dogfood(organic) because I was too exhausted to make a good meal AND clean up after it. It was a depressing routine.

Being home with kids all day can get lonely. And I know women have tried hard to come up with moms groups and playground play-dates as a way to get out and socialize with other mothers. But I kept wondering why I found these groups so unsatisfying. Finally I realized: They’re taking me away from all the stuff I have to do. I have to do laundry and cook and clean and sitting here at the playground is driving me CRAZY. I hate playgrounds.

Yes, my kid broke his leg on one of the curved ladders, but I think maybe I hated it before that. What are we doing here? Am I supposed to play with my kids since Louis C.K. isn’t here for my kids to hang on, or should I just sprint around having a heart attack as they perilously peer over the six-foot edge, laughing, “Look at me! Look at me!”? Seven adult conversations (started but never finished) later … “Come on kids, it’s time to go home.”

Shouldn’t my kids be playing by the riverbank with all the other kids in the village while the ladies do the laundry?

Maybe I’m sexist, maybe I’m a realist, but I have been seriously rethinking my stance on polygamy. Maybe there is some in-born pack mentality that causes women to collaborate, working and gossiping while all their kids play together, older kids watching the younger kids. (It is a laundromat/playground.)  I’m telling you this is how women work. (Ever found yourself discretely cleaning out your friend’s refrigerator?)

For all the help men now give us, there is still a big difference between a man and a woman. And as much as we may try to force (with our village-less society) men into the caretaker roles, no amount of waxing, pink shirts, and no-polish manicures will turn a man into a nurturer. (Now don’t get all huffy. I’m generalizing, but I think most men would agree that the thought of caring for an infant freaks them out.)

Women help when they see another woman working. Men take that as their cue to go lay on the couch. Woman don’t come home and leave their muddy shoes on a freshly mopped floor. Women automatically – that means they don’t have to be asked – help when one kid desperately needs the green cut off his strawberries while the other kid has his head stuck under the bed. When kids are fussy, women take turns letting each other eat.

Women know when to give another woman some time to take a shower, AND a woman knows how to break it gently to her friend that she smells, looks like a meth addict and needs to wash her hair.

I really think that we might find it helpful having a couple other wives in the house. (I would obviously have to choose the wife.) Especially since many of us live far away from other family members, and/or we had kids so late that our 75-year-old parents aren’t thrilled about being left for two hours with a hyperactive 18-month-old.

Plus many of us wanted big families, but with only 15 minutes left on our biological clocks and three more kids to spit out (not to mention the guaranteed divorce and asylum stay that another infant would cause), it would be nice if another wife could get busy pushing out a couple kids. Then we could have that nice big family we all dreamed about (without the prolapsed uterus to show for it).

So possibly there are some “hypothetical” downsides to polygamy.

I’m sure you won’t admit it now, because it is probably the middle of the day, and you feel all perky, but you can’t deny, late at night, when you are half asleep on the couch (or even worse, early in the morning, mouth full of hot garbage) you wish you could tag out of it, just this once, and let one of the other wives do it. So maybe you exchange exhaustion for some jealousy. I think it is a fair trade.

Sadly, I don’t see polygamy being legalized anytime soon. So, yes, I would love to have a play date with you and the kids. Why don’t you come to my house?  And don’t forget your Dyson.

Stay-At-Home Mom is Not the Hardest Job in the World

Oprah used to state — when the subject came up — that stay-at-home mom was the hardest job in the world.

Each time those words left her mouth, it felt, to me, insincere, like she knew she had to say them but what she wanted to say was,

“Seriously? I work 18 hours a day, I run a zillion businesses, I own a school and I’m responsible for hundreds of people’s livelihoods, and someone who is home, at this very moment, watching TV, in the MIDDLE of the day, has the hardest job in the world?”

And one of her employees, with a mic on their head and a clipboard in their hands, would say, “Remember who your audience is.” And Oprah would sigh and repeat the words.

Those words “the hardest job in the world” feel disingenuous to me no matter whose mouth they come out of; like it is an expression of pity, a verbal pat on the back saying, I’m sorry you’re not ambitious enough to have a career, but at least it’s the Hardest Job in the World that you get paid ZERO dollars to do.

It’s the participation award of job titles.

It is a neon sign saying, “World’s Best Coffee.”

It’s the “At least you have your health” of useless statements that don’t make anyone feel better.

The only person who does not pat stay-at-home mothers’ flabby egos is comedian Bill Burr. (Whose target audience is not mothers, but rather pimply 13-year-old boys trapped in the bodies of middle-aged men). Burr says any job that you can do in your pajamas is not the hardest job in the world. Isn’t being a redheaded roofer in Arizona in August harder, he asks.

But is Stay-At-Home-Mom the hardest job in the world?

Well, it is hard to be a parent, whether you are a mother or a father, working or not. It’s hard to keep these creatures — who don’t even have the sense to save themselves when their head is under water — alive every day. Creatures that put their hands in fire, walk into traffic, crawl into drainage pipes and stick their hands into dark crevasses. Creatures who pop everything in their mouth, including chewed gum found under tables and cigarette butts. Creatures that want to pet alligators and hug rabid raccoons.

It’s pretty hard on your sanity to keep your kids alive every day.

Plus, you get punched in the nose a lot and stabbed in the eye. Your boob may get bitten, you will get vomited on repeatedly. Possibly— if you ever fall asleep while holding a sick child — you may have the unforgettable experience of having someone vomit into your mouth.

And that can be very hard, both physically and emotionally.

And the only job that has more screaming and crying is horror movie sound editor, so it can be hard on your ears.

But honestly, I don’t think stay-at-home mother is a job at all. Just because it is hard work does not mean it is a job.

That is why it is called motherhood and fatherhood. It is a state of being, not a career. It is where you live, like your neighborhood. If it was a job, you could put in your two weeks’ notice and you could get promoted (moved up to grandparent?) and you’d get paid, and receive benefits. You could retire, or switch careers. You would be able to have a holiday and get time off. But you don’t get any of that as a stay-at-home mom, so stop comparing it to other jobs.

Being a stay-at-home mom is a wonderful, albeit lonely and possibly insanity-creating, opportunity, but raising kids is not my current career. It is simply an additional state that I will always be in: that of being a mother.

You are a parent whether you stay at home or go to work. Just because one person spends more time with their kids than the other, does not make it one person’s job and the other one’s hood.

It is hard whether you are the father or the mother.

And even Bill Burr might run to the top of a roof in August rather than be stuck inside in his pajamas alone with a colicky infant.

Plus, if it was a job wouldn’t it be called the oldest profession?