Allison Schneider

Food, Glorious Food

The profession of preparing food is extremely male dominant. Seriously, think of it - do a quick google search and type in: famous chefs, and you’ll see tons and tons of men. There’s always Julia Child in there, and of course Rachael Ray and that little Giada woman who cooks delicious looking things, but from the looks of her, she only tastes it and doesn’t eat a slovenly portion like the rest of us, but I digress.

Fact of the matter is, in so many homes (may I venture to say the VAST majority) the mom is the cook. And the mom is often frustrated by the fact that she not only does all the preparing, as in from store to table (because most of us don’t live on a farm, mmmmkay?) as well as menu planning and actually cooking and plating the meals. Then dad makes Walking Tacos ONCE and the children think he’s not only the best cook in the world but that he is also the most fun human being because eating tacos out of a Doritos bag is WAY more fun than a balanced dinner of healthy chicken, brussel sprouts, and salad.

These little humans who we are responsible for keeping alive have to eat every. damn. day. Multiple times a day and let’s be honest, that gets friggin exhausting! And while the chef profession is male-dominated and men of the industry are often praised above their female counterparts, lauded in fact, when we hear people reminisce or miss a certain food, it is almost always, “My mom’s chicken pot pie.” “My grandmother’s sweet potato pie.” We all love our mama’s cooking and remember the special recipes, so how come mamas don’t get more credit.

A girlfriend of mine was talking about pizza bagels - they are the one thing she can ever recall her dad “making” and she said to be honest it was just a bag of bagels and a jar of sauce put out on the counter- everyone got to make their own(!) - but she and her siblings thought it was magic! Mamas in their homes are trying to insure the kiddos get good nutrients, plenty of protein, calcium, iron, etc. etc. etc. While it seems their counterparts are concerned with convenience and (dare I say) delicousness? Because don’t get me wrong I’ll take a bag of Walking Tacos over grilled chicken breast and steamed spinach most any day, so why wouldn’t my offspring?

Now, now before the in-home cooking dads get your hair nets all in a twist, I acknowledge there are plenty of homes where partners split the responsibility, alternate nights, or plan together. (But I really don’t think that’s the majority - and no, David, I didn’t take a Doodle Poll, I’m assuming and it’s my blog so I get to - so there.)

Why then, when we’re making delicious Chicken Picatta with a fresh Heirloom Tomato salad for a special dinner night are we not celebrated the way Guy Fieri is over a damn hamburger? Why are all the most celebrated cooks special dudes at Le Cirque? Is it because the restaurant industry functions primarily on nights and weekends? The exact time our children are home and we crave that time with them? Possibly. Are women deciding cooking for their offspring is more important than for a food critic? Also possible and highly likely. And good for the mama kitchen warriors who are at it - chopping and sauteing and crock potting for your families - I salute you!

What the hell is my point? Celebrate the nourisher in your life - and if you are the nourisher demand celebration. Remind everyone that food doesn’t just fall out of the sky onto the table ready to be consumed. In the beloved Christmas movie A Christmas Story - the narrator says, “My mother had not had a hot meal for herself in 15 years.” Teach your kids now that food is not just about filling their bellies, but a time for family to actually be nourished and that includes the chef - tummy nourished as well as soul.

And, listen, if you’re the mama who can’t tell a stock pot from a skillet and Trader Joe’s frozen aisle is your best friend - just read the late Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential - and rest assured that even the chefs at Eleven Madison Park have their secrets too.

Metal

I literally have no idea what I’m doing. My current parenting goal is to prevent my sons from coming home from school when they are teenagers and when I ask how their day was they grunt and head into their room and the next thing I hear from behind their closed bedroom door is heavy metal. I know, it’s good to have goals. Especially such lofty ones.

But seriously, I have no idea what I’m doing. I want them to be happy and feel secure and also teach them to be responsible and kind and generous and blah blah blah. But, and I’ll say it the third time because it’s been proven that things in threes work out somehow (check out the Holy Trinity or if that’s not your thing, the Three Stooges) I have no idea what I’m doing.

And who amongst us does? Parenting experts? Depends on what their expertise says. And P.S. To quote a parent, “Everyone’s a parenting expert, until you have kids!” It’s like that Jillian Michaels writing a book on how to get your body back after having a baby - and um, y’all, she never had a baby. Her wife had the baby. And I’m not saying it’s not a fabulous book or workout program or whatever. I simply prefer to hear from a woman who had to actually “get her body back” and I don’t even know that I agree with all that, but I digress.

Pretending to know what’s best for the children, or how to help them properly and age appropriately navigate life’s challenges, is a total crap shoot and I don’t care who you are. There will be a Sunday night when I have nailed the weekend, and I mean killed it. I mommed the shit out of the weekend. Everyone had all the right uniforms and plenty of snacks and got enough rest, got along splendidly, we ate at the table all together Sunday night and the children are clean and tucked happily into their beds, and I’m like - yeah I could write one of those parenting books. Then, for some unknown reason, perhaps it’s because his sock wrinkled up the wrong way during the night or the planets decided to realign whilst we all slept, but the older wakes up on Monday and hates EVERYONE - but mostly his little brother and no one will get dressed or put on their shoes or brush their teeth and now we’re running late and I end up yelling, “Why do I always have to yell to get things done? Why can’t y’all do it the first 5 times when I ask nicely?!?!” Then the car ride to school is silent and I remember I actually, yes you guessed it, have no idea what I’m doing.

Let’s just put all the cards on the table here. No matter what parenting “philosophy” we subscribe to, we’re still just winging it. Sometimes we know for sure we aren’t doing something the way our parents did - because it was traumatizing or just felt wrong. Sometimes we take a page from our parents’ book and model a certain parenting behavior around theirs. But even then, they were winging it. For several generations parenting wasn’t a verb as we treat it now. Kids were had, they were fed and clothed and bathed and maybe they played sports in school, maybe they took band, but they certainly weren’t “built” with a specific brand of parenting involved.

I’m happy that we are all so invested in how our kids are doing and if we’re parenting “right.” It’s terrifying to know that a good portion of the child’s college savings may have to go into the pocket of a therapist, but hey, that’s a reality I’ve resigned myself to. I have a good friend who has a magnet on her refrigerator that reads, You aren’t managing an inconvenience. You’re raising a human being. That seems about right to me. She also happens to have one that reads, Parenting: When screwing up your own life just isn’t enough. And that’s it - both of them. Because while it’s a really important “job” it’s also a total rodeo where you’re not the cowboy nor the bull, but the rodeo clown whose job it is to make sure the bull doesn’t gore the cowboy while risking being gored yourself.

We have to laugh at ourselves because we’d cry our eyes out if we didn’t. That’s what I’m getting printed on a magnet for my fridge. I’ll put it next to the one gifted to me several years ago: Choosy moms choose beer. And I’ll try to remember to laugh every day both at myself and with the boys.

As far as the heavy metal goes, maybe I can learn to love it and we can listen together and talk about the lyrics? No, never mind that’s a terrible idea. As a mom I reserve the right to hate heavy metal and as teenage boys they reserve the right to their angsty teen years. Ugh. Let me go find my kerchiefs so I’m more attractive to the bull.

This Ain’t South Padre, That’s For Sure

The end of Girl Scout Cookie season is a really bittersweet time for me. Over the years, I’ve developed the perfect strategy - four boxes of cookies - but the children and the hubs only know about three. See where I’m going with this? Yep, that fourth box is a hidden treasure. Just for me. Each night after the goblins have (finally) gone to sleep I delicately enjoy my Thin Mint with either a cup of hot tea or alongside my Cabernet - both combinations are heavenly. Well, the Thin Mints are gone - have been for a few weeks and now I’m morose as I sadly slip into bed without my chocolatey minty delight - and neither Safeway, nor Whole Foods, nor Target can help - it’s just not the same. However, there is hope! It’s Spring Break and due to the fact that I suffer from dreadful mom-guilt (because there are all those pictures of amazing families on the beaches of Mexico while my kids are stuck in their Denver bungalow during Spring snow storms) it’s the perfect time to bake cookies!

Scene: Small Kitchen in an Urban Denver neighborhood. The trappings of cookie making lay on the counter - powdered sugar covers every surface, including the floor where we can see tiny person powdered sugar footprints leading off SR. Enter woman SR - covered in powdered sugar with fresh streaks down her face and cheeks - it’s unclear if she’s been crying or sweating. From off-stage we hear:

Child 1: (screaming almost hysterically) HE GOT TO DO TWO SCOOPS OF FLOUR AND ALL I GOT TO DO WAS ONE SPOON OF THE OTHER STUFF AND IT WAS A TINY SPOON!!

Child 2: (also from off stage, also shouting) GROW UP YOU BIG BABY!

Woman: (also shouting) I said no talking and stay in your rooms!!!

Woman looks at wall clock which reads 2:50, sinks to the floor, her back resting on the cabinet, buries her head in her hands and sighs the sigh only a mother with children on Spring Break can understand.

Slow fade to black.

This scene is from a biographical play based on real events. (Read: it’s an excerpt from my actual life.)

And the thing is if it weren’t for the Spring Break Guilt of trying to be so FUN! And CREATIVE! And MAKE MEMORIES! I probably could have happily (or begrudgingly) settled for some of the very delicious overpriced gourmet cookies from the gourmet grocers. Had I simply learned my lesson with the koolaid pancakes over Winter break or the Mud Pudding last summer. But noooooo. I refuse to accept that cooking projects with my children are neither fun, nor memory makers, nor a good chance to bond and learn. And again, the reason? Guilt. Mom-guilt. Kids-out-of-school and pinterest-makes-it-look-easy mom guilt.

Truthfully, they’re just as happy to go to the jump-til-you-barf place, get a slushy and play some video games. While these activities cost money and don’t necessarily involve us doing it together (but I will jump like a mo-fo), at least they have a good time and I don’t turn into an irritable mommy-monster who is now wishing it were bedtime and who hates cookies and baking cookies and chocolate and sugar and everything!!

Working mamas and stay at home mamas and part time mamas and single mamas and young mamas and old mamas and all of us experience this at some time or another. It’s just kind of hard wired. We so want the kids to be not only entertained but to have fun memories of doing things with their hands with their parents. I think our generation has it the hardest, because while my mama got Southern Living in the mail for most of my life, she didn’t have Facebook, and Instagram, and Pinterest to remind her all the time of all the things she wasn’t doing with my sister and I. Plus, she was good with plants and not only am I not a baker I sure as shit am not a gardener. (Don’t get me started on the fact I can’t keep a succulent alive.)

This Spring Break I’ve worked every day so far. Not full days, but the boys have been enrolled in full time Camp Daddy. And while no one has been hospitalized, let’s just say I don’t think we’ll be getting any applications from other parents for the summer camp. Tomorrow I’ll stay home with them all day and yes, we’ll go to jump-til-you-barf, and yes before that we’ll attempt to make Animal Faces toast (which then the little won’t want to eat because it’s all touching). I’ll think next year we’ll plan ahead and we’ll get to Mexico finally or we’ll VRBO it in Vail. And who knows? Maybe we will. But most likely we’ll be right back here and I’m going to have to say - f*ck it. They can be bored and learn to get along and play some video games because next week they’ll be back at school with the tests and the homework and so for now, it’s ok just to veg.

And I’ll need to repeat this mantra that it’s ok again and again. Because I need reassurance and cheerleading to help me thru this guilty feeling I have of not making memories. That then evolves into making cookies, that then evolves into yelling, that then evolves into feeling guilty for yelling, and then evolves into feeling guilty that I hate making cookies with my kids.

Ugh. The guilt.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to google that new place where they get to train to be America’s next American Ninja Warrior - because it’s Spring Break and we’re going to have fun, damn it.

Sticks and Stones

I’ve heard so much lately, “I suffered from Postpartum.” “My girlfriend is really struggling, I think she might have Postpartum.” “I had Postpartum with my second child.” Postpartum is not something you have, it’s not something you can suffer from. Postpartum simply means that you just had a baby. That’s it. Postpartum is a stage in the childbearing year. It does not in any sense of the word mean that you are suffering from Postpartum Depression. And here’s why this matters:

All mamas need support postpartum. All mamas, all daddies, all partners, and often all older siblings. Postpartum is the time after the baby is born that things seem crazy, out of whack, completely different, new, and maybe kinda scary. These feelings are normal, expected, and none of them mean something is “wrong”. The postpartum period often includes the "baby blues," again totally normal, and again nothing is wrong. If we put too much weight into the word, "Postpartum" itself, it makes something totally normal and expected seem like something that needs to be treated or fixed.

Postpartum does not mean Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety. These two are perinatal mood disorders and are not simply the time after you’ve had the baby. Mamas who fall into this category may need more support than mamas not suffering. However, (and I’ll beat this point over the head until it’s unconscious) postpartum mamas - all postpartum mamas - need support.

That support comes in many forms, food for the new family, help with the laundry, holding the baby so mama can shower and get the baby poop breast milk smell off herself. It also means having people around who are supportive and loving so the mama can say, “This is hard.” “I’m exhausted, and I can’t even find my slippers much less that $70 nursing bra I was so excited to use. (Probably wouldn’t fit anyway, what with my boobs the size of cantalopes.)”

We need to connect so other mamas know that their partner isn’t the only idiot in the world who, for some reason, has recently lost the ability to recognize the trash is full and needs to go out and the dog hasn’t had an actual walk since the child was born, but somehow you’re the only one who’s aware of that? Not sleeping is frustrating, and being a milk machine is frustrating, and baby poop on everything is frustrating, and bottle washing is frustrating, and my haircut is frustrating, and the toddler’s loud breathing is frustrating, and whose idea was this anyway?! That, my friends is postpartum.

Partners and grandparents and well-meaning neighbors have all become stuck in thinking the word “postpartum” somehow means a mama is suffering from a mood disorder. No, she’s suffering from being in the fourth trimester of a pregnancy. She’s suffering from all the frustrations mentioned above. Ok, maybe not the haircut, but most of the other things. Support is necessary. So, if mama says she’s going to “Postpartum Support Group” don’t wig and call the therapist - be thankful she’s going - then she can get all her frustration out and come home feeling more human.

If, on the other hand, a mama is suffering from Postpartum Depression or Anxiety, it’s no big deal. She needs the same support, just a little extra. She may need a visit to a doctor on top of support group, she may need extra sleep, or more time to herself. But let’s make sure to stop - all new parents are in the postpartum phase, and that is in no way a heavy word - it’s just what it is. Help the new parents in your world by lending a hand or an ear or some arms to hold an infant. Let the new parents know they aren’t alone, and if they are suffering, they don’t have to suffer alone. And if the mama is your partner and she seems to need a little extra help, educate yourself and don’t make her feel broken. She’s not broken, she’s exhausted and that fourth trimester is a bitch.

YAWN.

Parenting a new infant is something else. It’s really just Something Else. It’s so difficult to explain to non-parents exactly what it’s like to bring home a tiny helpless human whose wellbeing is your sole responsibility. Plus you can’t get over the fact that there’s a tiny person here that is yours. As in your kid, your baby, yours forever and ever.

And when you bring the baby home, you have no idea what to do with it. You have to feed it all the time, and then it sleeps. But it won’t sleep in the bassinet, it won’t sleep in the bouncy thing your cousin Suzy swears by, it won’t sleep in it’s crib, or that doc-a-whatever, or the co-sleeper or ANYWHERE BUT ON YOUR CHEST!! And you think, this can’t be right. There’s just no way that all these people all over the world who have tiny infants just hold them all the time. How do they do things like eat, or bathe, or I don’t know, pee?

Truth be told, our infants as humans are born severely underdeveloped. And I mean that in the nicest way. They are literally born these premature little creatures when compared to other primate babies. This means their brains continue to develop at embryonic rates for a year after birth. Did you hear me people? Embryonic rates. Embryonic.

Why is this so, you may ask. Well it’s pretty simple. When we began to walk upright our pelvises had to change to accommodate this new modality. The pelvis became smaller and therefore the birth canal could no longer accommodate a fully formed head. Enter evolution and babies being born earlier in gestation and that means for a year after birth they’re completely not gestated. (Ok, gestated is ridiculous and I get that, but you catch my drift.)

So think of it this way - the damn thing should still be inside you. In its hot tub, floating around with food and drink on demand, being lulled to sleep by you walking around. Once we think about it - newborns like to be bounced and shushed. Remember what it sounds like in that pregnant belly from hearing it on the doppler? Member when the baby in your belly only “woke up” at night while you were laying still and not moving. TA-DA! The baby just wants back in, and can you blame it? In addition she wants to smell you. Hear your heartbeat and the sound of your voice. He wants your warmth and to know that he hasn’t been left for the wolves.

There are so many products that promise to lull your baby back to sleep for you so you don’t have to do that work. One in particular is extraordinarily expensive and will put the baby back to sleep with rocking, vibrating, and any other number of bells and whistles. I gotta say y’all, no. Just stop it. Now, there are the babies who never stop crying. Like never. And they drive the parents to tears and the edge of beyond. If that baby needs to sleep in a swing so it can stay asleep and let the poor tired mama get some much needed sleep - more power to you. The deal is, the parenting of the waking infant is not only necessary for that baby brain to continue to develop properly but it’s necessary training for the rest of parenting life.

Yes, it’s difficult with the baby up in the middle of the night. You’re exhausted and hopeless and frankly, helpless. But you have to do it. You must persevere. Because while they can develop a product to help rock a baby back to sleep I don’t think they have one yet to talk to your teenager about sex. Or one to prevent their first heartbreak or loss or to keep them from taking stupid risks and drinking at a party. Nighttime parenting is necessary parenting time. It’s necessary that you rock your baby thru the difficult nights. It’s necessary that you get up and change the diapers and attend to their needs for so many reasons.

Parenting is hard - just ask the parents of the teenagers in the High School down the street from you. It’s hard to be the parent. It’s hard to do all the things all the time. But you gotta do it, because they need you. They need you now and later and always. They need you and they’re crying out for you to tell you so. Remember, this first year you are completing the gestation of this tiny human. Remember, the baby is just a tiny helpless mammal. It needs you for literally everything, especially to make it feel safe.

But girl, let me tell you, if you need to get that damn rocker - soother thingy to keep yourself sane, get it. It’s better that than a really sad, tired, and crazy mama.

The Helicopter Parent

image source

So, the Winter Olympics just wrapped up, and let me say, holy shitballs, people - those athletes are amazing. They train for their entire lives and sometimes go home champions and sometimes just go home with stories. However, if you want to see some everyday Olympic caliber amazingness, watch a parent change the sheets on a bunk bed, or wrestle a toddler into a pull-up - sorry, Shaun White - I’m just sayin’, I haven’t even had time to train for this shit, but here I am making magic happen.

A fascinating event that some parents tackle with Olympic level focus, training, and voracious dedication is Other Parent Judgment. Listening to some of these Olympians (aka parents), you’ll hear all kinds of technical terms like “Attachment Parent”, “Free-Range Parent”, “Tiger-Parent”, and my personal favorite, “Helicopter Parent” being thrown around. Our everyday Olympians are experts on these terms much as I heard Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski call out a “Triple Toe Loop” or “Double Sow Cow” (or whatever the hell it’s called) like it was nothing. Now Johnny and Tara earned their licks to be critiquing the figure skaters but the question I have for the parent-athletes is: Where does this desire to label come from? Is it ingrained in them much as the desire for a gold is etched into the being of Mikaela Shiffrin? Or does it come from somewhere else? Somewhere less admirable?

Here’s the thing - parenting is hard. It’s really hard and having other parents, or even better grandparents, or even better than that non-parents judging our every move is so not helpful.

I could go on and on about all of the parenting labels that parents put on themselves as well as are bestowed upon us by others whether deserving or not. But I won’t. I will however address the one that I have been guilty of throwing around like an insult until I came to understand it better: The Helicopter Parent.

You know what I’m talking about - the mom who follows little Jimmy all over the playground equipment making sure he’s safe. The dad who won’t let the kids ride anywhere with their grandparents because the carseats haven’t been checked by the fire station. The mama who makes sure you’ve triple washed your hands and then still asks you to use hand sanitizer one more time before holding the baby, even though it’s August and flu season was over months ago. We’ve taken comfort in labeling these parents helicopters - hovering about their little person constantly so as to protect them from every scrape, bruise, unkind word, and unpleasant smell.

However, when we take a step back, we need to realize what we’re actually witnessing is something deeper. It’s not just care and concern for the tiny person these parents are in charge of keeping alive, but it’s quite possibly, and most likely, a perinatal mood disorder called postpartum anxiety.

The mama’s too anxious to just relax and chat at the playground, not because she’s uptight, but because her brain actually won’t let her. Daddy can’t enjoy a day at the pool with the kiddos because his mind won’t stop racing to the terrible “what ifs”. Leaving the baby with a sitter can be the single most stressful moment for these parents not because they’re worried that the baby might not get a nutritious meal or to bed on time but because they're terrified the sitter might strap the baby in the carseat and leave town. They can’t help it. Their mind won’t stop and it’s not their choice, it’s also not their fault.

Parents get to come at this lifelong Olympic event any way they want. So here’s what I suggest: as fellow parents we take a step back. As with everything in life, we have no idea what’s happening in someone else’s world. If you see a daddy hovering over his daughter all around the zoo, it’s not your place to label him. Have compassion, show him kindness, and know this parenting thing is not the same for any of us. I take solace in the fact that when I was suffering from postpartum depression I didn’t have to wear an armband to show I was not doing great. On the other had, it would have been extremely helpful if I had worn one so then people would maybe have had more compassion for me or at least more patience.

Let’s do this for one another - as a parenting community - as a tribe. Respect our fellow little-person-keeper-alivers and save the commentary for Johnny and Tara. Your fellow Olympians may be gold medalist mac-n-cheese makers while you don’t make the podium in that event, but they can’t hold a candle to you in bedtime story telling. We’re all aspiring to be the best at something (read magical bandaid application). We all have dreams, people.

Now, can we talk about Johnny’s hair?

Enjoy Every Second

tacos.jpg

It’s one of the most heard phrases by new parents. People cooing over your newborn look up at you and with all good intentions, say, “Enjoy every second. It goes so fast.”

First of all, stop saying this people. Stop it. Seriously. Stop.

New parents are stuck with a tiny little alien dictator who not only doesn’t speak English, or Spanish, or French, or Mandarin, but DOESN’T SPEAK and yet demands, very loudly what it wants, when it wants it, and mostly that’s right friggin’ now and it’s nearly impossible to determine what “it” is the little thing wants.

There are so many methods of bouncing and shushing and swishing and twisting and carry it on it’s belly, no with it’s belly pressed just so against your shoulder, no not like that, like this, oh my god never mind I’ll just do it.

What the well-intending wishers of this sage advice are really trying to tell new parents is that the infant stage goes so quickly, especially in the life of a human being. Many of the well-wishers are reminiscent about their time with their own infants. Because, while it was just a moment ago, it was a lifetime, and many of their own children are grown or growing and can feed themselves, and use the bathroom without a parental assist, not to mention some drive or are married or live halfway around the globe and only visit once every other year. What the brilliant advice-givers wouldn’t give to go back and enjoy just a few moments with their tiny cuddled on their breast as they snoozed on the couch.

Understandable for them, but for the sake of the new parents again, just don’t. Find something else to say like, “Hey do you like my slick new Converse?” or “I’m not sure the last time I made my three-year-old bathe” or maybe even “That is one cute damn baby!” Please, in the name of all things holy don’t ask if the baby sleeps thru the night, because not only, NO, but that actually makes you sound like a total idiot because no, new babies don’t sleep thru the night because they have to EAT. So no, Aunt Marsha, baby Lily doesn’t sleep thru the night, that would be very worrisome and bad at this age, you blithering idiot.

Truth is, it’s such a short time in the grand scheme of things, but one day can feel like an eternity, and it’s totally fabulous when the baby is first awake in the morning and cooing and life is good, but what are you going to do with it for the next 8 hours and 47 minutes until your partner gets home? There are no showers, no real meals, no way to tell if it’s been 20 minutes or 2 days, and while moments are so amazing, truth is a day with a baby who isn’t feeling well or didn’t nap can make a mama feel like a beached whale waiting for the kind townspeople to come along with buckets to keep her covered in sea water until the tide comes back in.

So, instead, remark on what good parents these rookies are. Point out how the baby is so happy to be snuggled up so happy on mama (or daddy). Tell them an entertaining story about the asshole at work they aren’t missing or maybe learn to do a couple magic tricks and simply entertain them. Should a new parent ask, then advise away. Until then: magic tricks, or just bring tacos, everyone likes tacos.