co-sleeping is the same as handing your baby a meat cleaver? Milwaukee, PLEASE.

Are these people serious?

Here we go again. According to Huffington Post Parents, the city of Milwaukee’s Health Department decided this was the best way to warn parents of very young children about the potential dangers of babies sleeping on their backs, or under a puffy comforter, or next to a parent who’s had a few.

A baby’s unsuspecting, fat hand inching toward a MEAT CLEAVER.

Here’s what annoys me about advertisements like these– it’s the way marketers think they have to speak to mothers. (Okay, parents, but you know it’s the mother-guilt they’re always after). They think we’re such flipping idiots that they have to completely sensationalize. Co-sleeping is the same as handing your baby a giant knife! It’s totally, exactly the same! They think we’re incapable of understanding nuance, of handling anything with a gray area– and as anyone who’s been a parent for a day and a half can tell you, parenting is all about the gray areas.

I never co-slept with my first, but with my second and third, I did. Half the night. In another room from my husband. Sometimes. And I didn’t surround my babies with Princess-and-the-Pea levels of downy softness, and I put them on their backs, and I gave them a whole half of a queen-sized bed just to be safe, and when I had toddlers to get up for the day with at six a.m., I think it may have saved my life.

This ad would have done nothing to make me change that behavior– it would have only made me feel really, really bad about myself, even though I was taking all the proper precautions. This ad is short on useful information and LONG on guilt. Making it black and white– all co-sleeping, ever, is basically almost-murder– is not news you can use.

It’s always this way. Overly ardent breastfeeding advocates talk about “nipple confusion” and how any bottle, EVER, will ruin nursing, because they think mothers can’t handle the honest truth: that the occasional bottle can be a lifesaver, and might even help you nurse longer. Pediatric cough medicines were taken off the market entirely in 2008 because a few children were given overdoses. Of course that’s not good, but rather than inform the public and trust most of us to dose our children safely, the medicines were taken away forever (and toddlers are up all night with hacky coughs). Or how about the repeated studies telling us children under two should never, ever watch television? Read the fine print: it’s not because the TV waves warp their tiny brains. It’s because “there is no discernible benefit” (italics mine). It’s because we’re supposed to doing Mandarin flash cards with them all day instead. And it’s not like Mom ever has to take a shower or anything, right?

But the real danger of ad campaigns like this, I think, is that sooner or later most mothers figure all of this out for ourselves: this is ridiculous. And so we stop paying attention. We give ads like this one an eye-roll. And the underlying message of the Milwaukee Health Department– which IS important, if ham-handedly presented– gets missed entirely.

So I’ll take a minute here for this more useful safety reminder: if you choose to co-sleep with your baby, they are  safest in one of those doohickeys that attach to the side of an adult bed, rather than where Mom or Dad might roll on top of them. All babies should sleep on their backs. All babies shouldn’t sleep on anything too fluffy. There, parents– do you think you can handle that?

Do you (or did you) co-sleep with your baby? Did you have mixed feelings about doing so?


mother’s little helper: not a bad idea

This morning my daughter Maggie was at my side by 6:30 a.m. Usually she climbs into bed next to me for a few glorious minutes of snuggling. But no such moss would gather on my preschooler this morning.

“Mommy!” she stage whispered in my ear. “Guess what my job at school is today?”

(As of last week, every preschooler in Maggie’s class had a JOB, on the JOB CHART, and this was big news. Someone would be “line leader.” Someone else, “line ender.” Someone else, “weather reporter.” You know, all the heavy duty stuff.)

“Are you… door holder?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.

“No!” she answered, beaming. “I’m Teacher’s Helper!”

Teacher’s Helper, as Maggie’s teacher explained to all the parents on Back-to-School Night, was a new job for this school year. “We used to have ‘Day Off’ on the job chart,” she explained, “but whoever had a day off was always devastated. So this year we’ve added ‘Teacher’s Helper,’ and we’ll find something or other for that person to do.”

But while Teacher’s Helper started out as an afterhought, it has apparently been quite easy for the teacher to kept the designee quite busy. While Maggie was beyond excited to wear the Teacher’s Helper mantle for the day, she was also a little stressed about what lay before her. “Daddy is going to work,” she explained, watching him shave, “and I, am also going to work today, I will be doing a lot of jobs.” She chose her outfit accordingly (sneakers and leggings, very movement-friendly), as opposed to the usual high-tea ensembles she usually prefers. She broke into a run as soon as we reached the end of the school hallway, hurrying in to her class, not wanting to miss a moment of glue-stick-rearranging or chair-pushing-in-after-snack-time that awaited her.

Compare this, if you will, to the boneless flopping around all my children do whenever I suggest a task, such as taking a bath, putting a glass in the dishwasher, or picking up their own coats off the floor.  “Oh my GOD!” Connor cries, unable to bear the workload another moment. “Why can’t everyone just leave me ALONE!” Maggie hasn’t gotten that histrionic yet, but she does have the eye-roll mastered quite well for someone who cannot yet write her name.  And Seamus just ignores me entirely, which seems to be working quite well for him, actually.

I have recently seen the wondrous effects of list-posting on my children’s cooperativeness. I’m thinking it’s time to up the ante and create a Job Chart. Here are a few rotations I’m considering:

  • Shoe Liner-Upper (the bench in our hallway has about 10 pairs per person)
  • Backpack-Bullshit-from-School-Unpacker
  • Figure-Out-What’s-For-Dinner-er
  • Alternative-to-Postprandial-Wrestling-Planner

and, not at all as an afterthought,

  • Mommy’s Little Helper,

who will just follow me around and do whatever I say.

Any chance this will work half as well as when a pretty preschool teacher suggests it?


What if a Mother Had Been in That Locker Room?

I have an essay up on Huffington Post Parents today about the whole awful tragedy at Penn State, where nine (and counting) children were sexually abused for years while adults stood by and did nothing.

I hope you’ll take a look.

What if a Mother Had Been In That Locker Room? 

I don’t mean to say that only mothers are capable of putting children’s well-being first. I do believe that these men– and all of them were men– failed miserably. And if you’re a mother like me, you’re haunted by the thought of that boy being raped in the showers, and seeing another adult come in– who then LEAVES WITHOUT SAVING YOU.

I’ll try to get back to saying something funny next week.







how to make your kid-free time more productive

Most mothers I know are deeply in awe of any mother who gets anything done, ever,  besides raising her kids. I feel incredibly inferior to the friend I ran into at dropoff this morning, a mother of two young boys who ran her third New York City marathon two days ago. She was at school this morning, smiling, and, like, WALKING, and I just couldn’t believe it.
Whenever a mother asks me how I managed to write a book (and even blog once in a while) with three kids underfoot, I’m always happy they’re impressed, but I’m also determined to explain how productivity is possible for mothers, and GOOD for us. I believe it’s even good for our kids when we have something else that matters enough to us that we carve time out for it– because we’re happier mommies when we do.  Here’s the secret, whether it’s marathoning or writing: find that block of kid-free time, a stolen hour, a Friday afternoon babysitter, and make a date with whatever your passion is in the datebook for that time. Put your head down. Let nothing distract you.
And ay, there’s the rub, for any mother: our lives are full of adorable distractions. So for me, the only way I get any writing done at all is to LEAVE THE HOUSE. If I’m home, even if the kids aren’t around, I putter with the laundry and the dishwasher and the permission slips and oh my goodness, time for pickup. Days like that always make me cranky. I feel unaccomplished, and at loose ends, and unproductive.
Days like this make me feel very happy indeed:
I’m writing this post outside, at this outdoor coffee shop near my kids’ school. Is there anything better than a seventy-degree November day? Yes: free wireless and a grande decaf.
Even better: once I finish this post, I’ll log onto Freedom, the program that prevents you from accessing the internet for however long you specify. I quite literally could not have written my book without it. Motherese has a great essay about Freedom on Blogher this week; read it and become a believer. (This is not a sponsored post; I just feel that strongly about this $10 software.)
For me, leaving my apartment is my own, larger version of Freedom. There’s nothing on this table but my coffee and my laptop. Might as well get some sh*t done.
Okay, I’ll do one more thing online before logging off: I’m going to submit this photo to Microsoft’s “Out of Office” Office Photo Contest.  Submit a photo of yourself in your favorite “out of office” workspace, using your favorite technology (smartphones count).  Entries with the most votes can win a Samsung notebook, two-year Verizon Wi-Fi personal hotspot, or a  Nikon D3000 Digital SLR camera. Sounds like a great deal to me.

Get out of the house on this beautiful fall day. Do something that you love. Tell me what it was!

serious buzzkill: “light” drinking increases risk of breast cancer

I enjoy a glass of wine on a weekday evening. Like many mothers of young children that I know. Not every single night or anything, but an evening of all-new back-to-back episodes of Sister Wives, for example, is a perfectly acceptable reason to kick back and sip some relaxation once the kids are down.

For a while, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that those last six pounds I never lost since Maggie was born (four YEARS ago) might just melt away if I gave up the vino. My friend Stacy, who had much success with the 17 Day Diet, said wine is the first thing that’s got to go: it’s all sugar.

But I was always able to tell myself that hey, I was being heart-healthy. Plus, a glass of red wine a day is said to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, which is something that runs in my family. Really, I was doing the only responsible thing, keeping my particular genetic propensities for disease at bay with a little Montepulciano.

That is, until last night, when the CBS evening news led off with reports of a new study linking “even light drinking”  to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Even better, Connor was standing there watching the story, in total panic, while I scrambled for the remote. Damn. I really do try hard not to have the news on TV when my kids are around. This is why.

“Mom! YOU DRINK WINE!” he said, aghast. “Are you going to get breast cancer?”

“No, honey,” I said. “They’re…well, they’re trying to scare people. Plus, I don’t drink that much.”

“They said even if you drink a LITTLE BIT,” he said, not at all dissuaded.

“Okay, then… I won’t drink wine anymore,” I said. (Where you can see me.)

“What if you go to restaurants?” he said, pressing the issue like a regular Nancy Grace. “WHAT THEN? Will you have wine THEN?”


“No, sweetie,” I said. “I won’t.” I then tried to change the subject by telling him of all the breast-cancer-risk-lowering behaviors I practice, like no aspartame, and exercise, and breastfeeding three kids.

Then I tried to explain that even a 15% increase in risk (as claimed by this study), for someone at low risk for breast cancer, is not a very large increase. But he hasn’t done percentages at school yet. So he wasn’t reassured so easily.

And of course, neither am I. Here’s hoping some other study comes out in a couple of weeks to debunk the fearmongering of this one. Until then, I’ll struggle with my conscience every time I have a sip of wine, even at a restaurant. Sigh.

Here’s an easier resolution for me to keep: no TV news when the kids are around. Maybe not for me either. A media diet might just be the miracle diet I’ve been looking for– I could lose six whole pounds of guilt.

Did you hear about this study? Will you change your drinking habits (if you drink) because of it?