|Holding a friend's baby in Kerry Park|
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Mommies and Me
I'm spending this last rotation before Thanksgiving at WIC, a federally mandated supplemental food program for women, infants and children who meet certain income guidelines determined by the number of household members living at 185% of the federal poverty guidelines. Housed in the county's public health department, there are certain perks to the job. Election day is one. Veteran's Day is another. Which is not to say that the best things about my job are the two days off this week, but after five months I'm feeling ready for vacation. I'd assume that many of the new moms I'm working with would say the same.
Working at WIC has forced me to face the obvious: I'm a women of childbearing age - perhaps closer at this point to the end of my childbearing years than to the beginning - and I know nothing about motherhood. Sure, I studied the nutritional needs of expecting and lactating moms and have memorized the stages of feeding for children but some parts of it are foreign simply because I have not experienced it myself. I keep having to check when it is that most kids start to roll over or crawl or speak or walk so I can reassure women that their children are early geniuses, very advanced, right on schedule or taking their time progressing from one stage of development to the next. As part of WIC's big push for exclusive breastfeeding (BF) I congratulate nursing moms. I also encourage moms to make sure their kids get more activity and less television time, though I understand little of the demands on their time and energy that inevitably lead them to fail in this regard. I see the looks of fear, concern and guilt on their faces when they learn that their child has jumped percentiles and is showing early signs of childhood obesity when they promise that their child eats well, no juice, no junk food, no television, has a healthy appetite and healthy level of activity. I sympathize with them, comfort them and mostly (at least during my first week) I just smile at them, wondering if they'll see right through my overeducated childless facade.
There's an unspoken divide between women who have children and women who do not. Greater, it seems to me, than the gulf between women who are single and those in relationships. I expect this is because having a child entails a combined physical, emotional and spiritual transformation that only those who have gone through it can understand. And while I expect that one day I will cross the threshold and enter this exclusive club, right now I can only guess what it really means. I face this reality every day working at WIC.
Many of my friends are now parents and they too ask me questions about feeding their kids. While I've certainly read a lot about it I can only rely on my hypothetical bag of tricks, the ways I might sneak more vegetables into their meals, offer fruit as snacks, minimize their exposure to television commercials and give them flavored seltzer instead of soda. I might focus on fostering family meal time, teaching cooking skills and building a healthy relationship with food by listening to hunger cues rather than external stimuli. I might do all of that or I might be really really tired, stressed out and hanging on by my last nerve, in dire need of a vacation. I hope to one day find out. Right now, mom or not, I'm just grateful for the day off.