Learning To Love My Son’s Southern Accent

Learning To Love My Son’s Southern Accent

A cute little boy in a field of green grass in the park

By Aubrey Hirsch

It didn’t even occur to me as a possibility until my family started teasing me about it. When I told them I’d accepted a job in central Georgia, and after the “congratulations” had dissipated, my mother pointed to my two-year-old and said, “I bet he’s going to get a little Southern twang.”

I smiled, politely, and shook my head. “I doubt it,” I said.

My Cleveland accent had persisted through a decade of relocations to Pittsburgh and Colorado Springs. I’ve come to accept that my high, nasal a’s and sharp-edged o’s aren’t going anywhere. I assumed the shapes of my son’s vowels were locked in as well, perhaps even inherited.

I continued to think that for the first two months we lived in Milledgeville, Georgia, until the morning my son woke up and, overnight, had taken on a melodic Southern drawl.

I recognized it immediately. “I don’t want breakfast,” he said. “I want a snack.” Only the word “snack” had two syllables. “Snay-ack.” When I set his milk down slightly out of reach, he said, “Can I have thay-at?” And then, when my husband disappeared to change our younger son, “Where’s Day-addy?”

I was, frankly, stunned. My instinct was to correct him, to say, “You mean ‘Daddy,'” emphasizing the inland north “a.” I didn’t want him to think he was doing something wrong, but still, the difference was so stark and so sudden, I felt I had to say something. I aimed for neutrality, remarking that he was starting to sound like his friends at school. He ignored me, diving into his breakfast.

On the drive back from daycare, I tried to examine why this was bothering me so much. Certainly it was jarring, to tuck him into bed one night and have him wake up the next morning speaking in a voice I didn’t recognize. It was like some foreign spirit had taken hold of him.

But it wasn’t just that. It wasn’t just the strangeness of the voice, but the particulars of the accent itself. After all, we’d had a Costa Rican babysitter for almost a year when he was small. If he’d come home with her accent, I would have found it adorable.

No, it wasn’t just the change, it was what this accent represented to me that I had trouble with. The speech affect in middle Georgia is not subtle or gentle. It’s deep, rattling. These stretched vowel sounds come from the speaker’s backbone, his gall bladder, his shoelaces.

And here’s where I must confront my own prejudice. Because when I heard my son say “snay-ack,” I heard him say it in the voice of the oppressor. He sounds like “those people,” I thought. Those people who care about success on the football field more than success in school. Who want to regulate my uterus more strictly than semi-automatic weapons. Those who would stifle marriage equality, raise confederate flags and forge purity rings in the stifling fires of gender expectations. People without a sense of justice, without imagination, without ambition.

The problem was that when I heard my son speak, he sounded like that.

It reminds me of when I first moved to Pittsburgh. Growing up in Cleveland, I had two things tattooed into my brain: hard-nosed optimism, and hatred of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were not just our rival football team; they were the bad guys. It was as simple as that.

I didn’t realize how deeply ingrained in me this had become until I was walking around Pittsburgh. Every time I saw someone in a black and yellow jersey, I had this completely instinctual reaction where I would look at him and think, That is a bad person.

Of course, this is a ridiculous way to think. It’s also ridiculous for me to think that people with Southern accents are uniform in their beliefs and priorities. If you had asked me outright, I never would have said that I bought into these stereotypes about the deep South. That is, until I heard that voice come out of my child and panicked.

But now that I know it’s in there, lurking somewhere beneath my skin, I can eradicate it, willfully. I can remind myself that good-hearted, open-minded people wear black and gold on Sundays and pronounce “snack” with two syllables.

And who better to help me remember this than my kind, curious, whip-smart two-year-old? Whose tender heart I recognize beating through every syllable, every new rhoticity and back upglide and chain shift. Who proves his inner beauty with every single word.

Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, The Rumpus and The New York Times. She currently writes a parenting advice column, “Ask Evie,” for the website Role Reboot.

Pregnancy Endnotes

Pregnancy Endnotes

By Aubrey Hirsch

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 2.34.24 PM

You don’t commit to the idea until after the first ultrasound, when you’re about seven weeks along. Though you’ve produced enough positive pregnancy tests to build a small log cabin, you can’t believe it’s real. Your husband squeezes your hand in the elevator at the OB/GYN. They might look, you say, and there might not be anything there at all. That happens sometimes. He nods. He’s very accommodating of your doubts, even though he doesn’t share them.

But there it is, on the screen, a little blob of white pixels. It looks like a gummi bear or a wad of chewed gum. It’s hard to focus with the ultrasound wand pressing against your cervix, but there’s no doubt that it’s there. The doctor adjusts the wand and the blob starts to flicker. The movement is so fast you can barely see it, especially with the tears already starting to fill your eyes. That’s the heartbeat, she says, looking at one of you, then the other. Oh, you say it as if you are surprised, but you already know.


The thing that stuns you, though it seems obvious in retrospect, is that you can’t ever take a break. For every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month for nine (almost ten) long months, you are pregnant. There’s no negotiating that. You jokingly ask your husband if he wouldn’t mind taking over for a few hours so you can eat sushi, shave your legs, take a long nap on your stomach. His answer is always the same, I would if I could. The way he says it, his hand on your hand, his eyes locked on yours, you believe him.


You’ve heard those first subtle movements compared to bubbles or butterflies, but what you feel is more like gentle thumping, like a miniature heart beating against your belly. You read that these movements aren’t voluntary at the beginning. They’re like a series of tiny seizures. You imagine the fetus inside you, skinny and transparent, its impossible proportions, stiff-armed and shaking. It doesn’t sound very pleasant. But the image actually helps a little. When you’re feeling nauseous or tired or sore, which is pretty much all the time these days, you pay attention to your second heart. You press your palm against it and say, I know it’s hard, baby. But you and me, we’re in this together. It feels like solidarity, like you no longer have to suffer alone.


Everyone keeps telling you it’s a miracle. They call it magical, what’s happening inside you. You know, though, that it’s science. Sperm meets egg. Egg meets uterus. Cells develop, differentiate, firm and fold. There’s the dividing, the lengthening, the genomic blueprint followed to the letter. Knowing all of this doesn’t make it any less special for you. There are still so many mysteries ahead. You actually feel grateful for the questions with easy answers.


You float through the first half of your pregnancy trying on two possible futures, two possible babies. You fantasy shop for both of them, building imaginary registries in your head. When you browse online, you click on both of the big, bolded links: girl; boy. You come up with a perfect name for each potential baby. Driving to your twenty-week ultrasound you feel nothing but elation.

But when the technician pushes wand into your side, points to the screen and says, “It’s a little boy!” you suddenly feel like crying. You want this boy, yes. You love this boy. But where is your girl? The little girl you’ve been dreaming about, whose room you’ve decorated in your mind, whose territory you’ve set aside in your heart?

On the drive home, you practice her name with your tongue as you fight back tears. You realize you’d been dreaming of two babies, and you’re only going to take one home with you. It’s silly to feel this way, you know, about a baby who never existed. Inside of you is your son, your survivor. Your love, now fired in sadness, grows fiercer.


As you progress, you discover that pregnancy is a kind of performance art that you have to do any time you want to leave your house. At a certain point, there’s no hiding it and the questions come like rain on a cold morning. Over and over again you will say: October. You will say: Boy. You will say: Yes and No and We haven’t decided yet. Sometimes you will lie. You might say: Girl. You might say: November. You might say: Alice or Benjamin or George. You might do this just to do it, for the thrill of saying something new. Or you might do it for the flimsy sliver of privacy it lets you keep between the matinee and the evening show, when you will again pull on your shoes and venture into the world and cease being your name, or any noun at all, and instead walk under the flashing marquee of your adjective: pregnant.


Everyone has opinions. To save your energy, you start agreeing with all of them. It becomes like a game, kind of fun actually. You’re going to breastfeed exclusively, right? Of course! You should use formula. That way the dad can help with the feedings. That’s the plan! Definitely get an epidural. Mine saved me! Definitely! Are you planning an all-natural birth? I hope so. Yes! Do you have a doula? Are you doing yoga? Are you being induced? Did you do the genetic screening? Are you drinking red wine? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Always, everything, yes.

It gets a little tricky when the people you’re talking to disagree with each other. In those moments it’s best to make a quiet exit. Trust me, they will be so interested in validating their own opinions that no one will even notice you’re gone.


The 3 a.m. feedings start weeks before the baby is actually born. Everyone keeps telling you to sleep now, while you have the chance. But the baby is up at three demanding cereal or almonds or fresh mozzarella. When he’s fed, he wants to play, kicking at your insides, rubbing up against your ribs. It’s hours before you’re asleep again and when you are, you dream of him.


You’re eager to talk about something other than pregnancy, so you are excited to meet someone with your same job at a Memorial Day barbeque. Turns out she’s pregnant, too. She asks you all the typical questions about your due date, your childcare plans, your health.

You don’t respond in kind. Instead you gently deflect. You ask about her work, her classes, a paper she’s writing. You think you are saving this woman from having to repeat the same answers over and over and over again. You imagine that she must be dying for a break from talking about pregnancy. Doesn’t she, like you, still have this whole other life? Doesn’t that deserve some attention every now and then?

A few days later, on her blog, she will write a lengthy and heartfelt post about wishing she had more pregnant friends. She will lament feeling like she has no one to talk to about her pregnancy, no one who understands what she is going through. And you will feel like the biggest asshole on the planet.


The stretch marks come overnight. While you’re sleeping, they appear across the top of your bottom, in a wide, red swath. It’s kind of sexy, you say to your husband, like you’re wearing a zebra-print thong, even when you’re naked. Some- times you believe that. Other times you are surprised how intensely you hate them. You think both of these feelings are okay. That they can co-exist, for a while at least. These are scars we’re talking about, after all. They will need time to heal.


The baby is big and you are small and that combination makes for close quarters. By the end of the eighth month, there’s nowhere for him to go without putting pressure on an organ, snagging a tendon, rubbing up against an already tender bit of muscle or bone. He wakes you up at night with his calisthenics. You sigh and moan, turn over onto your other side with much effort.

One night your husband, dazed, mostly asleep himself grabs you and gently sways you, rhythmically, from your hip. You are so surprised by it that you don’t even notice the baby calming down, going quiet. Finally you realize he is rocking the baby to sleep. After another minute or so, he has rocked you asleep as well. And the three of you sleep together.


Next time you think you’ll keep the due date a secret. As it approaches, everyone wants to know if you’re ready. Ready? READY?? Then the date comes. And goes. And then every- one wants to know where the baby is. Why no baby yet? When are you going to have that baby?

But no one’s more disappointed than you. This date was your anchor and now that it’s gone, you’re just sort of … floating. You ask your doctor when the baby will come. When he’s ready, he says. With no date to count down to, no finish line in sight, you feel like the pregnancy might go on forever. That you might never get to meet your son.


Of course the pregnancy does eventually end. In the hospital you change into the cotton gown, worn nearly transparent around its feeble ties, while your husband hurries home to get your bags. These are the last moments you will spend alone until you attempt your first shower some eight days later. And anyway, are you really alone, with the baby already readying himself inside you?

You roll the question around in your head until a nurse comes in, then another nurse, and then your husband. And then you aren’t alone anymore.

You can’t honestly say you enjoy those last few hours of your pregnancy, but there are a few joyful moments that you hold onto:

Catching a line of a song on your playlist that sounds like it’s telling you how strong you are.

The feeling of ice on your tongue when everything else in the room, in the world, seems to be heat.

The surprise you feel when your lungs keep filling with air long after you’re sure you have no breath left.

The way your husband looks at you like his heart is breaking, and healing, and being born.

And the moment the doctor arrives and tells you you’re about to become someone new.

Aubrey Hirsch is the author of WHY WE NEVER TALK ABOUT SUGAR. She currently writes a biweekly parenting column for The Butter. You can learn more about her at aubreyhirsch.com.

Art by Michael Lombardo

Why I Don’t Have Working Mom Guilt

Why I Don’t Have Working Mom Guilt


I started my son in full-time daycare a few months ago, when he was almost two. Before that, my partner and I traded off childcare responsibilities and got a ton of help from a nanny that came a few days a week to allow us to both work simultaneously. It felt good to be able to keep our son at home for so long, but on top of the fact that we really couldn’t afford our nanny, with two parents working full-time, no matter how flexible our schedules were, part-time childcare just wasn’t enough.

Enter Melissa: a sweet mother of a 3-year-old who runs a small, at-home daycare right in our neighborhood. She’s one of those born-to-be-a-mom people. While I sometimes struggle to deal with just my spirited two-year-old, she somehow makes juggling the needs of five kids look easy.

And the kids love her, including my son. I hung out for a while on his first couple of days. I stayed with him until he got into some toy or activity and then calmly kissed him good-bye. “Mama’s going to work!” I said, cheerfully. Still, he cried. Without missing a beat, Melissa picked him up and he quieted, lowering his head to her chest.

Watching another woman cuddle and comfort my son didn’t feel bad; it felt great. I knew he would be fine and that Melissa would take good care of him. After those first few days, he didn’t cry when I left anymore. Now, in the morning, when I pull on his pants and say, “Where are you going to go today?” he loudly replies, “Melissa’s!” He talks about dancing and play-doh and stickers. He comes home in the evenings with crafts he’s made, his clothes covered in paint and spaghetti sauce.

The thing is, he loves daycare. He’s always enjoyed being around other kids. And because there are older kids there as well, Melissa’s doing things with him I would never do with my two-year-old who, frankly, has the attention span of a two-year-old! He’s learning a lot, too. Not just about speech and shapes and colors, but about sharing and taking turns.

He’s learning that it’s okay to be away from Mom and Dad for a while. And that we’ll always come back for him.

I’m learning a lot, too. The big revelation for me came the first time he woke up on a Saturday morning and, as we were lazily playing in our pajamas, said, “I want to go to Melissa’s!” Movies and mom blogs had prepared me for this moment to be heartbreaking, but it wasn’t. It was totally fine.

After all, isn’t this movement away from us and toward independence the central goal of parenting? Isn’t this what sets parenting apart from gardening and cat ownership? That we want our children to leave us? That we don’t want to be number one in their lives forever?

I don’t feel guilty about sending my kid to daycare because he’s happy and his happiness is more important than my ego. I know that this separation is just one small step in his long journey away from reliance on his parents. But it is a step toward something great.

That first day when he wanted to go to Melissa’s, I replied by saying, “No, baby, it’s Saturday! You’re hanging out with Mama today.” And you know what? He was pretty darn happy about that, too.

Reasons I Hate “Reasons My Kid is Crying”

Reasons I Hate “Reasons My Kid is Crying”


When sharing our frustrating parenting moments goes too far.


Recently, on Facebook, a friend shared one those listicles, “23 BEST Pics from ‘Reasons my Kid is Crying.'” You’ve seen these before: a series of high-res images of sobbing babies and toddlers, their red eyes staring up into the camera lens. The photos are captioned with the reason the child is crying. Things like, “a fly landed near him,” and “it was his sister’s turn to use the hose,” and “the neighbor’s dog isn’t outside.” The idea is that we’re all supposed to laugh at these crying children for being upset about such small things.

Only, I don’t think it’s very funny.

I’m a parent, too, and, trust me, I understand that parents need to blow off steam. At least three times a day, my partner and I look at each other and roll our eyes because our toddler is whining for a cup of milk that is already IN HIS HAND. Parenting a small child can be frustrating and thankless. You love them so much and you try so hard and all you want to do is make them happy. And when your daughter’s whole world falls apart because “her hoodie wouldn’t zip any farther than this,” your only options seem to be: laugh, or lose your damn mind.

So I don’t have a problem with the impulse to laugh. I also don’t have a problem with the need to share the experience. Camaraderie is important—necessary even. We all need to reach out every once and a while and tell someone the things about our kids that are driving us crazy. Sharing the burden helps to ease it.

What I have a problem with is the broadness of this sharing. It’s no longer a phone call to your mom or best friend, or a text message to your wife at work. Now we upload our frustration to a tumblr with 500,000 followers. The photo is no longer just “ours.” Anyone can share it, and LOTS of people do.

The goal of this kind of sharing seems different, too. It doesn’t feel like it’s just about venting, or connecting. It feels almost competitive. Who can write the funniest caption? Who can get the most likes? The most shares? Who can get us to laugh the hardest at their screaming baby?

There’s also a permanency to this sharing that I find difficult to ignore. When you call your sister or best friend to share a frustrating moment you had with your preschooler, the words come out of you, hot and fast, and then…they’re sort of gone. There’s a beauty in the ephemeralness of that kind of old-fashioned sharing. When you put the photo of your crying child on the Internet, it’s there forever. It’s there to be bookmarked and screenshot and re-shared. It can be re-captioned and re-uploaded and searched for. It may be found at a much later time by your kid’s teacher, or your kid’s third-grade bully, or your kid.

We need to remember that these children, even though they feel like “ours,” do not belong to us. They are people. When I snap a selfie with my sisters on the rare occasion all three of us are together, I ask their permission before posting the photo to Facebook. That’s pretty much common courtesy in the social media era. Our kids are too young to meaningfully consent to having their photos shared. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever do it, but it does mean that we have to take some extra responsibility to keep their interests in mind when we do. If someone took a picture of you at your worst, your most frustrated, your most vulnerable and exposed, how would you feel seeing it trend on a viral listicle?

Part of the beauty of the parent-child relationship is that our kids feel secure when they’re alone with us, in their home, their space. They don’t need to hide their feelings or be on their best behavior. They can be who they are, even if that person is someone who completely loses it because “he has a sticker on his face.” When your child looks at you for help, or comfort, they think they’re just looking at you. They don’t know that the phone you’re holding in front of them is a window, and that you’re inviting thousands of people into their private experience of pain. They think they’re safe.

So I can tell you one reason your kid might be crying. He might be crying because instead of helping him, or hugging him, or stepping away for a few deep breaths while you let him figure it out on his own, you’re unlocking your phone and taking a picture and putting it on the Internet, where you’ve invited strangers to come and look and laugh at him forever.

The Accidental Exclusive Breastfeeder

The Accidental Exclusive Breastfeeder


“Accidentally” becoming an exclusive breastfeeder.

Let me start by saying, I’m no lactivist. I think breastfeeding is great, if that’s what you’re into. I think formula is great, too. I’m pro-feeding-your-baby in whatever way works best for you and your family.

When I was pregnant with my son, I kept an open mind to my feeding options. I figured I’d give breastfeeding a try, but I wasn’t sure it would work for me. I have a thyroid issue and while it’s usually manageable, it can get in the way of milk production for some women. I always assumed my partner and I would do some kind of combo feeding. Breast milk when I was there and awake; formula when we wanted a night out. Plus, I knew I’d be returning to work when my kiddo was about eleven weeks old. It was hard to imagine that I’d be motivated to keep up with all that pumping.

What I didn’t realize when my partner and I were making our plans was that the baby would be demanding a vote.

I had a pretty rough delivery and when the pediatrician saw me looking like death warmed over at our one-week appointment, he took my partner aside to recommend I get some rest—some real rest.

“Give the baby a couple of bottles,” he said. “Take two six-hour naps.” And then, to drive it home: “The baby’s fine. I’m worried about you.”

Six hours of sleep seemed like an impossible dream, but on the chance of grabbing even three consecutive hours, my partner dutifully tried to give our son a bottle. He wasn’t having it.

Our son wouldn’t drink the next bottle either. Or the next one. Or the next one. He wouldn’t drink from any of the eight kinds of bottles we tried. Or the cup, or the spoon, or the syringe, or the supplemental nursing system my partner taped to his finger. He wouldn’t drink expressed breast milk or any of the varieties of formula we tried to give him. He wouldn’t drink them cold or warm. He wouldn’t take them from my partner, or me, or a babysitter. He would not drink them in a box. He would not drink them with a fox. You see where I’m going with this.

He was a good eater, a chubby baby, but he would take it straight from the tap and no other way. There went my brilliant plans for combo feeding.

As the weeks went on and my start date at work approached, I started to get nervous. My schedule meant that three days a week, I’d be leaving the house at eight a.m. and wouldn’t be getting back until close to seven in the evening. I’d be gone for nearly eleven hours, which was the equivalent of four good meals for my ten-week-old baby. They seem so fragile when they’re so small.

I called the lactation consultants in near-panic. They assured me that he would be fine. He wouldn’t starve to death while I was at work. “When he’s really hungry,” they said, “he’ll take the bottle.”

Only, he didn’t. I would come home from work at the end of my twelve-hour days to an angry, screaming, and really hungry baby. And then he’d eat all night long. Needless to say, it was not an ideal situation for either of us.

I kept pumping at work to keep my supply up. We continued leaving bottles of expressed milk for him, a few ounces each. The babysitter warmed them, the baby refused them, and down the drain they went. It started to feel like such an amazing waste that I began donating some of the milk I pumped.

I found several women through Human Milk for Human Babies whose babies had bad reactions to formula, and who didn’t pump enough milk to meet their babies needs. Reading their pleas for donor milk made my heart heavy. Their babies hadn’t gone along with their plans either.

When I finally weaned my son, he was about fourteen months old. He still wasn’t drinking from bottles or cups or anything else, despite our continued offerings. But I’d already done way more breastfeeding than I bargained for and, after that and nine long months of pregnancy, I was ready to go back to sustaining only one body. The pediatrician assured me that my son would start taking a cup when the breast was gone and, this time, he was right.

I sometimes find my way into conversations about breastfeeding on the playground or at the library. When I’m asked, I tell the truth: that I exclusively breastfed my son. In some ways that sentence is the secret password into a club I never wanted to belong to. Sometimes the women in this club are supportive and open-minded. But sometimes, they can be pretty judgmental toward women who make other choices—or have other choices thrust upon them.

It’s at those moments when I feel I really don’t belong. I still don’t have a problem with formula. I think my son and I both would have been happier and healthier people if he’d been willing to drink it from time to time. It’s good to have ideas and preferences and plans, but it’s also important to remember that our babies don’t always go along with them.

The Baby: Word Problems

The Baby: Word Problems

Inspired by G.A. Ingersol’s “Test


You have 30 minutes to answer these word problems.


1.  The baby must eat every two hours during the day and every three hours at night. This is from start of feeding to start of feeding. If the baby takes forty-five minutes to eat and it takes an additional seven minutes to burp him and change his diaper, how many times does his mother shower in the first month of his life?


2.  The baby is not as sleepy as the literature suggests. One night he sleeps for two hours, then two more hours, than three twenty-five minute chunks. The next night he wakes up twice as many times, but the total amount of sleep is the same. The third night he sleeps for four glorious hours, but then refuses to go back to sleep at all. By night five, how many baby sleep books have the parents desperately consumed in their quest to get their child to match the peacefully sleep babies on their covers?


3.  The baby has a fever. That much is clear to the mother before she even picks up the thermometer. She can tell just from pressing her lips to his smoldering forehead. But the doctor wants to know how high. The first reading, taken under the armpit, says 101.4. She tries again to confirm and gets 100.0. The forehead thermometer gives three different readings: 102.1, 101.0, 98.8, but she’s very skeptical of that third one, since the baby was swatting at the thermometer with his chubby fist. Assuming she reports an average of all of these temperatures to the patient pediatrician who is waiting on the line, how confident will she feel administering the suggested dose of infant acetaminophen?


4.  The baby is pointing at an apple and saying “ke-chaw” over and over and over again in his insistent little voice. The father has asked him if he’s hungry, but he says no. He doesn’t seem to want to touch the apple, but he goes on saying “ke-chaw, ke-chaw, ke-chaw.” The apple is green, average in size, with a longish stem and some yellow dappling on the top third. The baby is probably:

a) over-tired

b) a genius

c) lying about being hungry

d) teething


5.  The baby’s cold abates, but now something else is bothering him. It could be teething or nightmares or a sudden fear of the dark. In any case, he is waking in the night and it takes, on average, forty minutes to get him to go back to sleep. Assume the parents divide the nighttime wakings evenly. If the father works long days as a high-school chemistry teacher and the mother works evenings and weekends in a restaurant, and the baby wakes an average of three times per night, how much will the parents spend on couples’ counseling in the subsequent year?


6.  The potty training books are firmly in two camps. No, three camps. No seven camps. Perhaps each is in its own camp. The first one says to begin at eighteen months. The second at twenty-two months. The third says to start on the baby’s second birthday. Another says to wait until the baby is ready. Another says to wait until the parents are ready. One says to bribe the child with M&Ms and special underpants. Another says to keep the child naked all day. Another says to gate the child in a room with a tile floor. There are others, too. So many ideas. If two of them are written by pediatricians, and two by child psychologists, and one isn’t even really a book, but more of a blog, whose advice should the mother and father heed?

a) the author with the most letters after his name

b) the one that suggests doing what the parents wanted to do anyway

c) the one with the happiest-looking baby on the cover

d) whatever inklings and inclinations come from their own guts


7.  The little flowerpot is covered in neon-colored pom-poms. There are twenty-six in all. Seven of them are green, four are yellow, six are blue, two are pink. An unspecified number are orange and purple. Assuming the baby spent an hour and a half making sure each of the pom-poms was stuck on just right, and given that it’s not even Mother’s Day or her birthday or anything, how long will it take the mother to tear up before pulling him into her warm embrace and whispering thank you, sweet boy into his hair, which smells like sugar and sunshine and just a tiny, tiny bit like Elmer’s glue?

Wanting Female Superheroes For Our Sons

Wanting Female Superheroes For Our Sons



Sony recently confirmed that they’re going ahead with a female-led superhero movie, the first since Elektra flopped back in 2005. It will hit the big screen in 2017, fully 12 years after the last one. When asked about Marvel’s plans, studio president Kevin Feige simply couldn’t say when, if ever, Marvel will respond by producing its own superhero film with a woman in the leading role.

Obviously this is bad news for our daughters, who would surely gain from seeing a woman save the world for a change, but I want to make the often-overlooked point that this is also bad news for our sons.

My son is just getting to the age where he’s starting to sort things into categories in his mind: these things are blue, these are animals, these are for eating, these make loud sounds. I am hyper aware of the messages he’s being sent about girls and boys. In his Sesame Street book, the girls go to dance class and the boys rollerblade. His singing pink teapot has a woman’s voice; his blue motorcycle, a man’s. I have to keep myself from defaulting to “he” when referring to his stuffed puppy with the brown stripes.

For now he’s fairly insulated from popular culture, but that time is nearing its end. Soon he’ll be interested in TV shows and action figures. He’ll want t-shirts and lunchboxes with licensed characters screen-printed onto them. He’ll want to watch the same movies over and over and over again.

And what will those movies teach him? That the job of a man is to be physically strong, fight aggressively, save the world? Will he notice that when there are women in these movies, it’s usually their job to look pretty, get into trouble and then reward the hero with a passionate kiss? I certainly don’t believe these things, and I don’t want him to either.

I’m afraid he’ll bring these false expectations with him into the real world, where so many of the heroes I know are women. I sometimes worry that he won’t look to them for help or advice. He might not know that heroes don’t always look the way they do in the movies. I don’t want him to push the girls and women in his life aside and miss out on their brilliance, their gifts, their friendship.

Of course, I’m going to try to be a superhero for my son, to show him that women can be brave, strong and clever. I’ll also try to make sure he sees girls playing basketball and boys baking cookies. But it would help if I could take him to the movies, where the characters on the screen are ten feet tall, and watch him watch her, a female superhero, as she rescues our planet from certain doom.

I want him to know that women, too, can be heroes. They can be amazing. They can be honest and powerful and good. They can save themselves. And, someday, they might be saving him, too.


Photo Credit: thinkstockphotos.ca

Learning to Talk to Myself the Way I Talk to My Kid

Learning to Talk to Myself the Way I Talk to My Kid



I was never fond of the sound of my own voice, but the moment his ears hit the air, my son loved it. I would sing to him in the middle of the night. I would read him books to see him smile. And when I ran out of songs and books, I would narrate what I was doing, how I was feeling. I would rattle off the names of objects, shapes, colors. I recited the pledge of allegiance and counted to a hundred. I talked so much my jaw got sore.

In fact, I talked so much, something dangerous happened: my internal monologue went external. I started jabbering out loud even when my son wasn’t around. Perhaps because I was speaking out loud, I found I was finally listening to what I was saying to myself. And I was not impressed.

Why are you so lazy? You need to suck in your belly. You shouldn’t have said that. That bra looks weird on you. Why haven’t you finished that yet? Do you need to eat this much dessert? You look tired. You are boring. That’s not funny. That was stupid. And on and on and on. I consider myself a pretty secure, confident individual, but the string of insults I was letting loose on myself, I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy.

In contrast, my interactions with my son were filled with affection and encouragement, acknowledgement and praise. The disparity was so severe that I decided to try a little experiment. I decided to make a conscious effort for an entire week to talk to myself the way I talk to my kid. No insults. No put-downs. No relentless questioning of decisions. Just kindness, understanding, and appreciation. No hate. Only love.

At first, it seemed almost impossible. The negative thoughts were like a rainstorm I just couldn’t control. When I got dressed in the morning, when I got distracted at work, when I ate, when I walked, when I drove, there they were. But, slowly and steadily, I started replacing them with positivity.

When I got ready for work, I looked in the mirror and said, Your skin is lovely. Instead of berating myself for being winded after climbing a flight of stairs, I admired the machinery of my body and how, fast or slow, it always gets me where I need to go. I called myself “curious” instead of “distracted.” I enjoyed my relaxation time, instead of chastising myself for being lazy. When I looked in the mirror, I focused on my eyes and not the bags underneath them.

The more I practiced, the easier it became. Whenever a negative self-thought knocked at my brain, I asked myself if I would say it to my son and, if not, I made a conscious choice not to let it in. When I speak to my son, my words are always carefully considered, even when I’m tired or stressed. I reserve harsh tones for danger. This seems to be to be a pretty good system. So how did I get so off-track when it comes to myself?

When I really stopped to listen, I was shocked and disgusted by the amount of negativity I was firing at myself, without even noticing it, all day long. I think about my one and a half-year-old son—my perfect boy, my dream come true—who is so amazing that I miss him when he sleeps. If anyone ever spoke to him the way I speak to myself, I would want to crush that person. And if I somehow learned that he was speaking to himself this way? Well, that would crush me.

I’m someone’s child, too. I know my own mother probably sent me into the world with the same mix of excitement and fear I feel (“This baby’s precious! Please be careful with him!”). Taking it a little easier on myself is one small gift I can give to her, mother to mother. Maybe with enough practice I can permanently shift my thinking and, with a little luck, pass my kinder, gentler, point of view on to the next generation.

I think part of the reason my son loves the sound of my voice so much is that it is always carrying kindness and love. I know that as he gets older, he’ll be hearing my voice less and less and his own more and more. I’m hoping that I can teach him to love the sound of his own voice, too.


Not Pregnant

Not Pregnant



When I got married, I was shocked at how quickly people started asking me when I was going to have a baby. And when I did have a baby a few years later, I expected a fairly lengthy reprieve from all the pregnancy speculation. But I soon discovered that the window between giving birth to a baby and when people expect you to start on another is vanishingly short.

Almost worse than the embarrassingly direct, “When are you having another baby?” are the little nods and nudges. “Is that water you’re drinking [WINK WINK]?” If I had a dollar for every time someone has accused me of being pregnant in the year since my son was born, I could buy a lot of negative pregnancy tests—and not just the cheap ones, the really nice digital kind.

The thing is, though, I’ve still got nearly a decade of fertility ahead of me and I’m already sick of telling people when I’m not pregnant. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. So, for you budding fertility detectives out there, here’s a handy list of things that non-pregnant women of child-bearing age also do:

1. Throw up. I blame the media for this one. While it’s true that every time a woman on television or in the movies vomits it’s because she’s pregnant, in real life, this is not quite the reliable pregnancy indicator it’s cracked up to be. Just like men, children and post-menopausal women, non-pregnant women of child-bearing age sometimes get the stomach flu. This is especially true for those of us who already have a kid or two. When I take my son to the library for story time, I have to weigh the amount of fun we’ll have against the possibility that he’ll bring home some infectious disease that I thought had been eradicated in developed nations. In any case, the appropriate response to your friend saying, “I was up all night puking my guts out,” is “That sucks,” not “ZOMG! Are you pregnant????”

2. Drink water. Let’s say you’re out to dinner with a group of girlfriends. The drink menu makes the rounds and your waiter comes to take orders. Instead of a grapefruiterita or a cosmotonic, your pal says she’ll just have water. Before you jump to the conclusion that she’s gestating, consider these possible alternatives. Perhaps she’s driving home later and doesn’t want to risk being mildly tipsy. Maybe she hit the hooch a little too hard the previous weekend and is still in recovery. It’s possible that she wants a fruity drink later, but doesn’t think orange juice will mix well with the beef bourguignon she ordered. Or maybe she just feels like having a glass of water. In any case, this is probably not good evidence that your pal is pregnant. Sorry.

3. Pass on the sushi. Although this may seem like airtight evidence that your friend is knocked up, it’s probably best to keep that speculation to yourself for now. Some people just don’t like the taste, texture, or even the idea of raw fish. I was once the subject of a pregnancy investigation because I passed up a tray of warm tuna tartar that had been sitting around for more than an hour. Spoiler: I wasn’t pregnant, I just didn’t want to end up with Anisakiasis. Trust me, you don’t either.

4. Choose decaf. I know that steam coming off her decaf latte makes it seem like a smoking gun, but non-pregnant women of child-bearing age do sometimes choose decaf for reasons that don’t involve her uterus. She may be worried about getting to sleep later, or already be wired up from the three cups she had before you met. In any case, treating her decaf latte like it’s an ultrasound photo on Facebook is likely to leave you swallowing your words.

5. Gain weight. Science has proven that you don’t have to be pregnant in order to put on a few pounds. In fact, the burrito I had for lunch weighs more than a fetus at 22 weeks. Just because your friend’s jeans are fitting a little tighter than the last time you saw her doesn’t mean there’s a bundle of joy on the way. And here’s a pro tip from one lady to another: most people don’t like to have their little weight fluctuations pointed out to them. If you can stand the suspense, keep your pregnancy conjecture to yourself.

Of course, this doesn’t even touch on the reality that we can’t always know what’s going on in the lives of our friends. Maybe the woman in question actually is pregnant, but worries about spreading the news too soon. She might even have a very valid reason to worry that her pregnancy might not be viable. Or she could be experiencing infertility or have suffered a recent miscarriage. For many women, constant reminders that they aren’t pregnant aren’t just annoying—they can be downright cruel.

These family-building years are fun and exciting and I know that the inferences and guesses most often come from a good place. But that doesn’t mean they are a good idea. The next time your friend passes on the beer and has a soda instead, try to ignore it. Just enjoy your time together and feel confident that if she ever does have news of a pregnancy to share with you, when she’s ready to talk about it, she will!

Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. Her work has appeared widely in print and online You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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Motherhood, Defined

Motherhood, Defined


aubreyhirsch_motherhood definemoth·er·hood  (muth’er-hood’)


1.  the state of being a mother; maternity.


2.  the qualities or spirit of a mother.


3.  mothers collectively.


4.  more laughter; more tears. Everything is deeper, brighter.


5.  having someone who knows you in new ways, inside and out.


6.  the fallout from this eight pound, four ounce bomb that leveled your old life.


7.  the way your heart tracks the number of miles between you and your child.


8.  paying close attention to where things fall when you drop them. You never thought you’d spend so much time          tracking down those little plastic barbs that hold tags to clothing.


9.  keeping him safe.


10.  playing with toys again. You’d forgotten how fun play-dough can be.


11.  making sure you always have milk in the house.


12.  making sure you always have enough energy to smile.


13.  dishes. So many dishes. And laundry; the dirty socks multiply and spawn. Where do they come from?


14.  being warmth, food, home.


15.  reading the same books over and over again; singing the same songs over and over again; picking up the same toys over and over again.


16.  you never thought you’d baby-talk him. It embarrassed you when other mothers did it. Why not just talk to your kid like a normal person, you thought. But now you know why. He likes those lilting tones, the wideness of your eyes. And you’d do anything for one second of that smile.


17.  diaper after diaper after diaper.


18.  knowing you’ll be the first person to disappoint your child. But you’ll also be the first person to make him smile, make him laugh, give him love and comfort.


19.  finding other people’s babies cute for the first time.


20.  learning to cook, or at least, assemble.


21.  a new first every day.


22.  after your parents, your sisters, your friends, a rotating cast of boyfriends, and your pets, you thought you knew all the different ways there were to love. But then, here is something completely new. You get to learn how to love all over again.


23.  taking care. Your baby is small and squishy. Everything you do leaves an impression.


24.  understanding a secret language, so that when your baby says “baa” you know he wants a spoon.


25.  some days you count the minutes until you can put him down for the night. Then, as soon as he’s down, sleeping peacefully in his crib, it’s all you can do to keep yourself from waking him. You miss him so much.


26.  instinctively knowing just how high your child can reach.


27.  getting more colds, more stomach flus, more hugs, more kisses.


28.  finding your limits: the least amount of sleep that will get you through a month; the ceiling of your happiness.


29.  new courage; new fear.


30.  growing a second heart and letting it out into the world.


So Special …To Me

So Special …To Me

photo1Before my son was born, he was gifted a book called “On the Night You Were Born.” It’s one of those recordable books that lets you tape yourself reading the narration and then plays it back for your enraptured child as he or she turns the pages. It starts with this sentence, “On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.'”

In the story, the news of the child’s birth travels around the world and all of the flowers, animals and heavenly bodies remark in awe at the awesomeness of this incredible new baby (the listener). The book is replete with words like “magical,” “wonderful,” “special,” and, of course, “you, you, you.”

My partner and I read it together, exchanged horrified looks, and put it up on a high, high shelf in the hallway closet where it has stayed, collecting dust, until I retrieved it to write this article. We did not record our soft voices carefully pronouncing each word. We have not read it to our son, pressing a finger to his chest to punctuate each “you.” We don’t plan to, either.

Look, the hard truth is, my kid is probably not all that special. I mean, sure, in a “his DNA sequence is unique” way, I guess he is. No one else has his particular mix of guanine and cytosine, but I don’t think that’s what this book is getting at. This book seeks to extol my child as amazing and brilliant and remarkable simply for existing. But I was there the night he was born, and, in reality, the moon did not halt its orbit around the Earth. The polar bears at the North Pole did not dance all night. The ladybugs did not gasp in awe at the sound of his beautiful name. None of those things happened.

And more to the point, I don’t want him to think that they did. It seems a huge disservice to send a kid into the cold, unblinking world thinking that everything and everyone is all about him. That feels like an awful lot of pressure to put on so small a body. And such weighty disappointment when he realizes that, in fact, most of the people (not to mention polar bears) he’ll encounter may not care much about him at all.

Instead, my message to him is a humbler one. I want him to know he’s magical, wonderful and special … to me. I want him to know how much I love him. How much his father loves him. How much his grandparents and aunts love him. I want him to know that this love is a gift. It’s his no matter what and that he’ll have it forever, just for being him. I want him to know that this is a special kind of love.

When he’s older, I want to help him understand that there are other kinds of love that he must earn. That his friends will love him if he gives love in return. That his teachers will invest their energy in him if he shows himself to be willing to match their effort. That his lovers will expect devotion, tenderness, loyalty. That in jobs and hobbies and relationships, he will reap what he sows. That he will have to give to get. That there’s hard work to be done, if he wants to be noticed.

These are truths I don’t want to keep hidden from him. I want him to embrace them, and be prepared for them. So I’ll keep this book hidden instead. And when I fill his ears with love and praise in darkness and daylight, in the car, in the kitchen, in the wind and rain and sun and snow, it’s always the same message: I love you more than you will ever know. I love you just for being you. You are so very special … to me.

Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

In This Mom’s Car

In This Mom’s Car

carstuffIce scraper (1): Or two, depending on how you count. It’s in two pieces now, snapped in half during the most recent bout of foul weather. Now there’s the brush half and the scraper half and the one I can find is never the one I need.

Car seat (1): Not the most expensive model, but not the cheapest either. It’s nice, but not fancy, especially not now with its Pollock-esque décor of multicolored spit-up, hardened droplets of milk, and saliva-softened cheese crackers ground into the plush. But it’s safe; that’s the most important thing. It protects my child in a five-point hug while I move us from here to there and home again.

Stuffed elephant (1): It’s pink so he knows that it’s okay to love things that are soft and pink. Not everything has to be hard or firm or brown or blue. And when he doubts that, when he says it’s for girls, I’ll show him the pictures of his father holding him was a newborn. He loved you when you were soft and pink, I’ll say. Look. See for yourself.

Stroller (1): He prefers to walk, just not in the direction I’m trying to go. So sometimes it’s necessary to push him instead. When he’s tucked inside it, quiet and calm, I like to think it’s because he recognizes the speed of my walk, the rhythm of my gait from when he was tucked inside of me.

Diapers (2): Because running out of diapers is worse than running out of gas. I’d rather be stranded without food, without water, without phone or heat or hope of rescue. Because leaving the house without diapers is a mistake you only make once. Now there are two diapers, rolled as snugly as possible, crammed into my glove compartment next to my registration and under a pile of wadded napkins.

Window shades (4): Not on the windows, as you might expect. We’ve tried three different kinds, but can’t seem to get them to stay put. No, these are collapsed on the floor, puddles of tinted cling film and cheap suction cups. They’re no small source of guilt for me, the mom who isn’t protecting her baby’s precious skin.

Granola bars (5): Emergency breakfast for those mornings when he wants to be held so close it’s impossible to get a spoon to my mouth. Those days, I eat on the road on the way to library or the grocery store or music class. It’s a good trade, though, full arms for an empty stomach.

Socks (2): Two, but not a matching pair. In truth, we gave up “matching” a long time ago when it came to socks. Now we just pull two from the drawer and he wears them together, happily. The old women in line at the grocery store think it’s cute, and I smile and nod as if it is a fashion choice and not the result of total sock-matching exhaustion. But these two are such wildly different sizes, the same child could not wear both of them. I hold one in each hand, balanced on an outstretched palm: baby, toddler. How could my son have ever been so small? I think of my husband’s socks, which sometimes appear without explanation in my clean laundry. How could my son possibly ever get so big?

Cheerios (9): And those are just the ones I can see. There are others, no doubt, lurking between the seats, under the floor mats, caught in the sticky interior of the cup holder. The thing is, I can’t remember ever giving him Cheerios in the car. What is it about toddlers that allow them to spontaneously generate mess? My son, the alchemist, can already transform radio waves, sunlight, and clean air into cereal. Who knows what magic is next for him?

Illustrations by Christine Juneau


Getting Bigger

Getting Bigger

 By Aubrey Hirsch

iStock_000011940368SmallWhen I was pregnant with my son, a long-distance friend asked me to text her a picture of my growing belly. I was just starting to “show” and was elated to have some physical evidence of the pregnancy other than the non-stop, morning-to-night, toe-curling, sob-inducing sickness that plagued me for so much of it. A few minutes after I sent her the picture, she texted back, “Wow. You are getting so big!” And I replied with a hearty “Thank you!”

Another minute went by and then she replied, “It’s weird that you say ‘thank you’ to that.”

I carried her words around with me for the rest of the day. Was it weird? What was weird about it? What was strange about wanting to celebrate a body that was getting bigger to accommodate another body? Did my friend honestly think I’d be deluded enough to imagine I’d grow an entire other person inside my torso and not expand at all?

But it wasn’t just her. All around me, people were talking about my completely healthy (and completely inevitable) weight gain as if it were terminal cancer. When it came up in conversation, the topic was met with head tilts and sympathetic tongue clucks. I heard dozens of responses like “You’re so small; you’ll still look cute,” and “Don’t worry. You’ll be able to lose it all.” Even my endocrinologist chimed in, totally unprompted, with “I really don’t think this extra weight is going to hang around on you very long.”

I suppose maybe my excitement about getting bigger was weird. I’d always been a scrawny kid: all elbows and ribs and sharp collarbones. I was a short-haired late bloomer, often mistaken for a boy well into my early teens. In fact, if there was a part of pregnancy I was looking forward to the most, it was gaining some shape on my historically shapeless form. I’d even been hoping some of my new curves might hang around after the pregnancy and recovery were over.

I generally kept this last bit to myself. I was already overwhelmed with conversations about my weight, and, to be honest, the negative tone of these exchanges was killing my buzz. I wanted to brag about my new shape! Not apologize for it. I wanted people to be excited with me, not dismiss my excitement by assuring me I’d be small again in no time.

I wanted to enjoy this time of quick and monumental change. Think about it. How often does one get the chance to try on a completely different body? Walk around in it, dress it up, show it off? This was my chance to audition a new form and, even if no one else was happy about it, I did wish other people didn’t seem so sad.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if they were right or not. What matters is that all of our bodies are different after we have our babies, even if they don’t look that way from the outside. And the most important difference between my old and new form is easy for me to see: This body built my son, cell by cell, in cacophonous darkness.

He’s the only reminder I need that this body, regardless of its size and shape, deserves to be celebrated.

Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. She has also written essays on pregnancy and motherhood for TheRumpus.net. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

Why I Refuse to Enlist in the Mommy Wars

Why I Refuse to Enlist in the Mommy Wars

By Aubrey Hirsch

HirschMotherhood has brought about a number of changes in me. But perhaps the most unexpected change is that it has made me the most non-judgmental person on the planet.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Having a baby is hard. And I mean hard. Without hesitation, I can say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It is also my favorite thing. In these last fifteen months, I have been irreversibly altered. Becoming a mother has made me stronger and more sensitive. It’s made me powerful and new. And it has made me more open-minded and accepting than I have ever been.

I didn’t go into motherhood naively. I knew that people had opinions—strong opinions—on the right and wrong ways to birth and raise a baby. I had my own strong feelings, my own uncompromising ideas on how I would raise my son. But those had all faded into distant echoes by midway into the second week of his life, when just grabbing a quick shower required a day and a half of advance planning.

There may have been a time when I would have glanced sidelong at a woman making a choice I didn’t understand. But now that I know how tough it is to be a mother, I simply can’t wrap my head around judging anyone for her decisions. This job is so hard, so hard, that I have nothing but admiration for anyone who’s taking it on.

To me, criticizing another mother for letting her kid cry or not letting her kid cry, for breastfeeding too briefly or too long or not at all, for putting her kid in time out, letting him eat this, dressing her in that, or birthing in a way that would have made me uncomfortable—to do any of these things would be like critiquing someone for her hair moving out of place while she was being eaten by wolves.

That is not what I want to do. I want to say, “Hey, Mama! You looked like a badass bitch taking on those wolves!” And “Aren’t these wolves crazy?!” And “Tell me how you’re surviving these wolf attacks.” And then I want to hug her, and tell her she’s doing amazing, and that I’m proud of her.

Because I am. I’m proud of all of us.

I know the love that’s emerged between me and my own little wolf pup. It’s ferocious and wild. It will not be tamed or suppressed or caged. I know all the other mothers are feeling it too. So it is proof beyond anything else I could observe that we are all doing everything we can to make sure our children grow up happy, healthy and loved.

So I won’t be enlisting in the Mommy Wars. I’m tearing up my draft card and burning it in protest. And if someone on the playground or the doctor’s office or the mall tries to recruit me, I will tell them I’m a pacifist. A conscientious objector. I’ll tell them that we’re all just doing our best—and look at these children. Aren’t they beautiful? Aren’t they the most exquisite things you’ve ever seen? I mean, come on Moms, we all must be doing something right.

Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. She has also written essays on pregnancy and motherhood for TheRumpus.net. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

Why I Don’t Think My Son is Growing Up Too Fast

Why I Don’t Think My Son is Growing Up Too Fast

By Aubrey Hirsch

photo (4)My son is growing up at a rate of exactly one second per second. And I think that’s the perfect speed. I don’t want him to be a baby forever. I want him to become the person he carves himself into, at the rate he chooses to grow.

It’s true that I love watching his satisfaction when he balances one block on top of another. But I can’t wait to see him study hard and learn something even I don’t understand. I want him to stretch himself, to work and try. And fail, sometimes. I want him to know the deep pleasure that accompanies triumph after disappointment.

His sweet toddler babbling is like music to me now, but I can’t wait for him to tell me what he’s thinking, what he wants, who he is and not just who I think he is. We often talk about wanting to keep our kids small, to protect them from the less appealing parts of life. But I want my son to have everything life has in store for him.

I want him to experience splendor and grief, summer sun and injury. I want him to lie to his best friend and feel the white-hot rush of embarrassment in his cheeks. I want him to have friendship, get picked on, make a pretty girl laugh, feel so alone he can barely breathe.

I want him to laugh until his ribs ache and cry until his throat is raw. I want him to run fast and skin his knees. I want him to give up on something important. I want him to make wrong decisions. I want him to know that pain and sadness lurk around every corner, under every good thing, and that life is unfair and unforgiving. But that there is beauty there, too. And hope. And comfort.

He should have warm air on his face, but also burning fevers. I want him to feel like no one understands him. I want him to have splinters and sore muscles and heartache. He should have pain. And love. And sorrow. And happiness so pure that it hurts him, because he knows—even as he has it—how soon it will be gone.

I want all these things because I love him and because this is what mothers do: We make our kids eat their vegetables and attend their oboe lessons and apologize to their friends when they screw up. We do this because we know better than our kids that temporary discomfort can open doors to wonderful things. And that sometimes great pain makes room in our hearts for joy to fill.

Even if I did hope to keep him small, if I thought having this child, at this age, made me the happiest a person could ever be, then I’m not so selfish that I would keep him from having his own perfect moment with his own perfect child. So I don’t mind watching him get bigger and watching the seconds tick away. I know those clock hands are moving toward amazing things for him, even the ones that seem terrible at the time.

Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. She has also written essays on pregnancy and motherhood for TheRumpus.net. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.