Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

Because my anxiety needed a nudge or two

I remember the first time Leta ever saw an episode of Sesame Street, I think she was maybe thirteen or fourteen months old. She had woken up really early one morning, and in an effort to let Jon get some sleep before heading into his office job I took her out to the living room and turned the television to one of the kid channels. And all it took was one peep out of Elmo and Leta had found religion. Thankfully it wasn’t one that required she wear pantyhose for three hours every Sunday morning.

I AM STILL BITTER ABOUT THAT, YES.

I’m not at all ashamed to admit that Sesame Street taught Leta the alphabet. In fact, I didn’t know she knew her letters until one night just a few months after that initial exposure to Sesame Street she pointed to the sponge letters in the bathtub and identified each and every one correctly. It was a total freak show! I frantically called Jon into the bathroom and was all, DUDE, WHAT IS WRONG WITH HER? And he’s all, what? Is she breathing? And I’m all, BREATHING? I DON’T KNOW, BUT SHE KNOWS WHAT A Q LOOKS LIKE!

And then the next two years of our lives were Sesame Street all the time, every day, in the morning, in the night, until suddenly she graduated to the more annoying shows where the characters ask you questions and expect you to respond to the television. WHATEVER. AS IF. Leta actually caught on pretty quickly to that trickery, she knew they couldn’t hear her answers, so when Dora was all, WHERE ARE WE GOING? Leta would go, YOU KNOW WE’RE GOING TO THE TREEHOUSE, WHY ARE YOU EVEN ASKING THAT STUPID QUESTION?

God, I love that kid.

Anyway, it’s been a few years since Sesame Street was the background music in our house, and we actually miss it quite a bit. There were certain skits we’d quote to each other all the time, most of them involving Telly Monster and his incurable neuroses. And there was this one bit where a puppet was dressed up to look like Dr. Phil, except his name was Dr. Feel. And they had the actual, real-life Dr. Phil arguing with the puppet over who was the real Dr. Phil. Like:

“No, I’m Dr. Feel!”

“No, I’m Dr. Phil!”

“No, I’m Dr. Feel!”

And it goes on and on and never resolves itself. Totally hilarious.

I guess you had to be there.

We quoted that one to each other all the time, and I played Dr. Feel because of my Southern accent. So imagine me and Jon and Leta sitting around the table eating lunch, and Jon is all, No, I’m Dr. Phil! And I’m all, Naaahhh-oooooohhh! AAAHMM DR. FEEEEEEL! And Leta is all PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

Is there a point to this story, yes I am getting there, hold yer britches.

I can’t believe I’m even attempting this, but Monday afternoon I’m flying out to Los Angeles to be on a Dr. Phil show that is taping very early Tuesday morning. And since Marlo is eating nothing but breast milk straight from the boob, she is coming with me. And since there is no way I could handle that kind of chaos by myself, Jon booked a ticket for himself. All so that I can participate in The Conversation of all Conversations, a dialogue or two about the guilt mothers feel when they go back to work, and should they stay at home, and who is right and who is wrong, and why can we not just get along? You know that conversation, it’s the one that never ends and probably never will. Because there is no right answer. OH BUT WE DO HAVE OUR OPINIONS, NOW DON’T WE.

As the producers were prepping me for the show I said, you know, some of us have this idea of what staying at home with our kids is going to be like, and then when we actually do it, when we actually Stay At Home With The Kids, it’s nothing at all like we imagined it to be. And coping with that reality can be devastating. So there’s that side of things.

Since I have this platform and your ears for a bit, is there something you think I should bring up in this conversation? Is there an angle you think needs more attention? Don’t we all sometimes feel guilty no matter what choice we make? Do you think I should at one point kick my leg in the air and go, AAAHMM DR. FEEEEEEL!

Also, if you’re in the Los Angeles area and want free tickets to be in the studio audience when I appear on the show that is taping Tuesday, August 18, you can email michael.stern@cbsparamount.com. And then stick around and meet Marlo. She can blow bubbles!

  • VickieJ

    Ugh! If you’re going to be on the detestable Dr. Phil show, please be sure you kick HIM when doing your Dr. Feel schtick! No, seriously. Kick him.

  • Sarah

    If I were to be able to talk about this on national television, I’d complain about the fact that educated women who could have successful careers are treated like they are crazy if they choose to stay home with their kids.

  • Pooh

    Something I’ve always wondered about…what’s it like being a self-employed mom, even if you stay at home with the kids?

    And I’m totally the first today 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I think that some mom’s think they are being “better mom’s” by staying at home with their children even though the time they are spending may not be “quaility time”. I work a lot and have a 3 year old and I try very hard to make all of the time I spend with him quality time. I feel guilt sometimes but I love my job, so we make it work.

  • Pooh

    AArgh! One minute! Great! I’ll be first another time.

  • Candice

    You should bring up how hard it is to take a shower and get dressed when your toddler is wide awake (one that doesn’t like TV I might add.) I can’t imagine there is a more difficult endeavor in an office setting.

  • I would FLY OUT to LA to see you reenact the Dr. Feel skit!

    And that’s all I wanted to say. I’m not a mom, so I don’t have much of an opinion on the rest of that. Although, I’d love to be a stay at home wife, for no other reason than I’m lazy.

  • Susan

    I’m so glad you’re posting more often! I miss you when you’re gone. 🙂 And I think it would be super awesome if you could recreate the Dr. Feel skit with Dr. Phil.

  • I think you should examine the guilt—or, rather, the seeming absence thereof—brought on by tending to your child’s needs at the total expense of your husband’s … the guy who used to get all your attention … and who didn’t have to call you out on his blog in order to get you to make him an apple pie once in a blue moon … and whose sex life with you doesn’t really return to normal until your youngest child is about four years old … which, thankfully, mine now is …

    Oh, wait, I don’t think I’m writing about you anymore.

    Good luck on the show.

    (DISCLAIMER: I’m kidding, ladies … mostly.)

  • I continue to watch Sesame Street till this very day because of the ballroom dancing. That was beautiful and so entertaining when I was younger and still is.

  • Anonymous

    Just be sure to let us know when it will air! I have converted several people, some of them not even in UT, to being Heather readers.

  • I echo Sarah, commenter #2.

  • As always, you are right on — anything you choose or/do, you regret it and/or feel guilty. Parenting is so joyous, and … guilt filled. you’ll ROCK!

  • There’s an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (in season 2) where Larry David has been sitting on the bed watching Maury Povich instead of getting ready to go out with his wife. She razzes him when she gets home and finds him there eating donettes, and when he gets up off the bed, she says something to him that prompts a typical Maury guest reaction, that you should do:

    Slam your hands against your chest, throw them out toward the audience, then say

    You think you know me? You don’t know me.
    Fuck ME? FUCK YOU!

    or something like that.

  • Erica Hennings

    You have GOT to bring up somehing to embarass your father and then show his photo!
    Much love from Memphis,
    E

  • Katie

    Is it possible at ALL for any show like that to focus on why women DO this to each other and perhaps (I know this sounds CRAZY!!!) we could explore how the hell to put a freaking stop to it.

    Oh wait–that’s not good TV. Forget it.

  • Katie

    Also, maybe you could breastfeed ON TV. Maybe that would make MY idea (#16) a better sell for good TV.

  • M

    I am a college educated woman with a graduate degree and I agree that some people think you can only stay home with your kids if you don’t get bored easily. I stayed home with my four kids for 10 years. Was it thrilling? Most of the time, no. Did I enjoy it? Most of the time, yes. Was it the best decision for our family? Absolutely. My kids have turned out to be lovely people. I spent time with them and gave them attention that every child needs from a parent.

    For us, it was a choice that involved priorities. We made less money when I was not working, but our kids were #1.

    I am an elementary school teacher. I can tell you that I can WITHOUT A DOUBT which kids in my class had parents who stayed home with them at least for the first five years. IT IS THAT OBVIOUS.

    I would do it again in a second. Even though my own, rotten mother once said to me, “Smart people just can’t ever stand to stay home with their kids. It drives them crazy.” Bitch.

  • Anonymous

    How about how annoying it is to hear all of these, “stay at home mom’s should get 10 different salaries because they work 10 different jobs?” Because what about those of us that work all day because we have to, and then have to perform those 10 other jobs in our “free time”? The reality is we all work hard, we all make choices. Being a stay at home mother doesn’t pay a salary because seemingly, if you can do that, do you NEED a second salary? I don’t know a single stay at home mom that frets over the fact that she’s not contributing financially, where as many (but not all) working mothers i know are doing so out of necessity. For so many families working just isn’t about choices. End of story.

  • Shit, I just admitted I still watch Sesame Street and I’m 23 on a well read blog.

  • Jeanette

    Off the top of my head, I just feel that no matter what we decide, Moms are the harshest critics of other Moms…you’d think we’d know what each other was going through and cut some slack, but other moms are the worst critics! (as I’m sure you’ve learned through this site.)

    When I was first going back to work I was flipping through some channels on TV and caught the tail end of this show where a bunch of women sat around at a coffee shop with their kids on some couches and talked about topics we can all relate to as moms. I will NEVER forget this one woman breaking down in tears and leaving the show crying thinking about all of the kids who were being raised in daycare. Said that their parents shouldn’t have had them if they didn’t have the time or finances to raise them themselves… Though I knew it was ludicrous, there is a part of me as a working mom that always remembers that and feels guilty.

    Mom guilt. It can be crippling. I hate getting sitters or going out on the weekend b/c I feel like I have my son in daycare all week so why would I then give up precious weekend time?! But work hardly qualifies as “me-time”…so then I just never get any…

  • Anonymous

    I think it would be awesome if on the Dr. Phil show you could connect the commonality of mother guilt with the cultural phenomenon of mother blaming. It is not just an internal shaming that happens, it is culturally supported…you only need to read the judgemental comments on news stories to see this. I think that moms’ personal experiences of guilt are connected to a much larger tendency as a society to put too much weight on mothers’ shoulders, and part of getting out of that trap personally, is dialoguing about it at a cultural level. Thanks for asking for input, I think that is cool.

  • TishaMarie

    I don’t just think you should do the Dr. Feeel thing, I think you HAVE to. It is a tribute to your southern heritage!!! OK, maybe I am a little biased, but I want to hear it instead of just reading it and imagining what it sounds like.

    On a more serious note, I made a transition to work at home, and I still take my child to daycare. I am not be-friended by either side of the debate.

  • Amber Smith

    I think the guilt just belongs with being a parent. Wanting to do it all, have the clean house, be good at work and not lose your shit occasionally. There is so much to be done at home and before you know it it’s bedtime and your poor kid doesn’t want to go to bed because you haven’t had anytime for her. Then you feel like a horrible parent because you need to put her down anyways because you don’t want her to be a monster in the morning when you have to get them up for day care. Sorry just venting I had one of those very guilt ridden nights.

  • Anonymous

    I stayed home for 6 months after my son was born and dreaded returning to work. Turned out my PPD got much better after I returned to the world and the routine and being around people. I now know that staying home (sometimes in PJs unitl afternoon) is not healthy for me…and maybe for some of us working is just what we need to get better.

  • Jamie

    I live in OC (one hour from LA) and wanna finally meet Dooce! (and Marlo too!) I missed you at all the book signings. Ticket request is in. =)

  • Michelle

    PLEASE come back and tell us how truly freaky Robin looks like in person. Even with airbrushing you can tell how much plastic surgery she’s had.

    Other than that, I’m totally with #14.

  • That’s so cool – I don’t watch Dr. Phil but I’m going to have to tape your episode. It’s a good question too, and one that I’ve been thinking a lot about since I’m pregnant with my first child. I have no idea what the answer is unfortunately, since I haven’t tried being home yet. So I’m curious to hear the discussion. Good luck!

  • Anonymous

    On “Staying Home”. I stayed home for 4 years after my daughter was born and in that time my son was born. I went back to work when my son was 2. I NEEDED to go back to work not because I had some wonderful career or super high paying job, but because I was not cut out for Staying at Home with the Kids. Having done both I will say the grass IS always greener when you are all the way over on one side or another and the middle ground is strewn with landmines of speculation and doubt. I just try to be grateful for having experienced all three.

  • You will Rock the Dr. Feel show! I think you should mention that as women we should support each others decision and not be so judgemental of each other. Some women HAVE to go back to work. Some don’t…some WANT to go back..some don’t. Sometimes there isn’t a choice. I’m lucky that I won the husband lottery and I get to stay home with my girl…but that may not be the way another woman would feel.
    Let us know when it’s supposed to air!

  • jen

    You should totally say I am Dr. Feel in your charming southern accent.

    I think mother’s guilt gets you regardless. There’s always SOMETHING to feel guilty about.

    Let us know when it airs of course!

  • Anonymous

    This is the first time I have commented. I just want say you are awesome and you have such a beautiful family. ROCK ON # 26!!!! Good luck on Dr. Phil.

  • Oh I want to meet Marlo! (And you!) Why can’t I be in Los Angelos???

  • Jessica

    I have a degree, used it for 6 years then decided to stay at home and homeschool my daughter. I haven’t been happier. But some people seem to think I have wasted my degree. For that reason I agree with Katie #2’s comment. My mother keeps asking me when I’ll go “back to work” as though what I’m doing at home isn’t important. I am happy right where I’m at. I’m glad I have my degree, that I finished something very important. Now I feel it’s time to concentrate on bringing up my daughter the way that is best for my family and that is what is important to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever work professionally again.

  • Darci

    I stayed at home for 7 years and then worked on and off until becoming a teacher and now have summers off. I think my thoughts would be quality vs. quantity. More time with your child is of no worth without actually being with your child. I was not a great SAHM, always looking for something to do but I am happy I did it, my girls are amazing but would they be as amazing if I had returned to full-time work – who knows, who cares. Would I have done it differently…perhaps but life is good so I am sticking with that reality.

    So wish I could see you while you are in L.A. (missed you at Book Soup) but helping a child pack to move to Rochester, NY for college is a bit consuming at that moment. Definitely working the quality time these days

  • Janene

    Yes, we all feel guilty no matter what choice we make. I am a mother of 6 (oldest now grown and on her own with 1 grandchild). I have been a mom who worked outside the home and used daycare, I have been and stay-at-home mom who did not work (except for watching others’ kids when we needed extra cash), and I now work from home full-time which I have done for the last 4 years. My kids still at home are 9 to 17.

    I get that people need 2 incomes to stay afloat, which is why I am working. The first thing I thought of when you asked what should be addressed is who is supervising children who are too old for daycare but mom and dad are working outside the home? I am not sure people think long-term when they need or get used to 2 incomes. Having older kids, I have seen too many kids with no one watching out for them when they are at the age they need it the most (preteens and up). Yes our babies need 24/7 care for obvious reasons, but that does not stop when kids get to school age.

    Okay, I got that off my chest. I know there is no easy answer but it is something parents need to think about and plan ahead for.

  • Anonymous

    I think you should bring up why these discussions are always focused on stay at home mothers…Stay at home fathers are becoming more and more common. I think it’s a great way to spread the parenting guilt. I’m so tired of it just being targeted at moms :).

    Additionally, I think that regardless of whether a parent stays home, a huge issue is that they keep their employment skill level up (doing volunteering or doing a bit of free lance work) despite caring for kids full time. If something happens to the spouse, then it can be really bad. I’ve seen it in my family many times.

  • Patti

    I am currently a SAHM. We have 6 kids (blended) 3 older that attend school and 3 babies (22 months, 18 months, and 10 months). I used to teach high school special ed (for 11 years). For the last 2 years I have stayed home. I thought this would be the most wonderful experience that I would ever (Dr.) feel. It’s not, it sucks! I had to drop my oldest (who just turned 10) at daycare at 5 weeks old. It was the hardest day of my life. When the opportunity to stay home with the next one (22 month old) I was estactic! I thought I would get to experience all the things I missed with my first child. Then the other two babies came along and it was impossible for me to go back to work. So now I am stuck home until the babies are in school. Staying home was all well and good for the first few months. Now I can’t stand it! I am surrounded by screaming children, poopy diapers and the neverending mantra of “I need you”. I know lots of women would be overjoyed to be able to stay home and this causes me guilt. It’s like it’s a no win situation. I’m feel guilty if I work and I feel like crap when I stay home. I seriously think I have lost my mind. I think that the unhappiness of the situation is causing me to be that mother that no one wants to be. So I guess the point is, that…I don’t know…maybe I have no point, maybe I just needed to vent. Thanks.

  • Kate

    My 3 cents:
    1) Can’t we moms all just TRY to drop the guilt? C’mon ladeies — a little bit, please? I know you can do it. I know that for most (if not all) people a certain amount of mommy guilt is inevitable. But it’s a pretty useless emotion – it doesn’t really do anything, so why spend your life beating yourself up about your decisions?
    2) As a mom who works outside the home, I get tired of women (both those who work outside the home, and those who do not) defending their life decisions with respect to their children and childcare by saying, “well, I didn’t have any other choice!” That may be the case. We are not all similarly situated, especially financially. But I REALLY hate the implication. Because I happen to be one of the lucky few out there who actually does have a choice. My family could get by without my salary, but I have chosen to keep working for a number of reasons. And, I really don’t feel guilty about it either. (Shocker! I know!) So, it irks me when people who aren’t comfortable with their own choice (or lack thereof) make it sound like the only reason one could “defend” working outside the home is if it is an absolute financial necessity. I don’t think most people mean to imply that — they’re just not thinking about what they’re implying by saying, “well, I didn’t have a choice, so that’s why it’s ‘ok’ that I work outside the home.”
    3) Some people get so worked up about this stuff, but it’s silly. I don’t have trouble connecting with stay at home moms even though I’m not one, because I think there is so much that we have in common just because we’re all moms. Yeah, there are differences in our daily lives, but there is much that unites us, if you ask me. And why do people have to get defensive, too? I mean, if someone said, geez, I could never handle being an accountant (or astronaut, or doctor, or teacher, or insert whatever profession), no one would question it. They’d accept the “to each his own” answer and accept the fact that we all have different strengths and weaknesses and personal preferences for how to live our lives. Yet when someone says, “I could never work outside the home” or “I could never be a SAHM” this is somehow usually perceived as a complete and total SLAM on the lifestyle that person is choosing not to pursue. Weird.

    Okay, end of longest comment ever. I do recall that I was not asked to be on Dr. Phil/Feel, you were, so I will shut up now!

  • Fruitfly

    Amen to #22 (hear the choir singing), AND to #25. I happen to need more structure than staying at home provides, so even if staying home were a financial option for our family, it would not be an option for my mental health.

  • Kara

    I think the hardest part of becoming a parent was not the working part (we both have to work-no other option), but the toll caring for a baby had on our relationship.
    I was always angry that he was not doing more with/for the baby, but in reality would not let him. In my opinion he did things wrong or really just not the same way I did. It took a while for me to let go of that control and recognize that although we may have different ways of say rinsing the shampoo out of my son’s hair, the end result was the same-CLEAN HAIR. I know I am not the only controlling new mom out there, but I sometimes felt like it.

  • Rebecca

    How about mentioning what actual scientific studies show when comparing kids who had at least one parent at home vs. kids who went to daycare? Here are some articles reporting on that research:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070326095141.htm
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/01/national/01child.html

    My summary: Nannies are more dangerous to infants than child care centers, quality of parenting is more important than the amount of time spent in daycare.

    Also, I think it would be great if you could try to re-frame the debate by saying stay-at-home-parent as opposed to stay-at-home-mom. Shouldn’t Dad also get the opportunity to make a choice about how much time he spends parenting vs. how much time he spends earning money?

  • Lynda

    It is not a “choice” for all unfortunately. And the few men who choose to stay at home are also thought of as different and not always in a good way. Or what about a couple who work different shifts so the child doesn’t have to go to daycare but the relationship suffers, is this better? I think to agree that each family should be supported in their decision no matter what it is would be wonderful and affirming.

  • I was kind of hoping to talk about Sesame Street. I was 2 years old when Sesame St premiered, so I was part of the original Sesame St generation. Like Leta, I learned to read watching Sesame St and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m glad to know kids today are still watching.

  • Tricia

    I think part of the guilt arises from the feeling that we’re competing with other moms, and our kids are competing with their peers (which is true).

    I stay home with my now 3-y.o., and she is SO SMART she could give the State of the Union address, but I’m completely stressed b/c I’m not planning to put her in preschool at all. Just Kindergarten, thanks. I feel guilty for letting her watch too much Noggin, for missing a day reading with her, for not taking her to the park often enough, for feeding her too much pb&j and not enough broccoli, for making her play by herself *gasp!* What DON’T I feel guilty about? Not much.

    There is no solution… I think you’re either prone to feeling guilty or you aren’t.

    Can’t wait to see the show!

  • Amy

    You and Dr. Phil…. wow that is going to be fun to watch. What I love about you and what I hope you will express is that it’s all about choice and that at this point in history parents (not just women, but parents) have more choice and more responsibility than ever.

    Whatever choice a parent makes (to stay home, to work, to create crazy schedules to be able to do both) can work… it’s up to the people making the choice and those that support them. There is no right or wrong way. Some people have less choice than others due to circumstance. Whatever the situation, one cannot sit in judgement from their ‘camp’ and determine all who make a different choice as bad, or less, or as not as concerned about their child’s well being.

    I just saw a reference to a super mom on Obama’s staff and it said she goes to sleep at 5am and wakes at 4am because she refuses to compromise… and oh yeah, in her free time she makes her own yogurt and cheese in the white house break room. Good for her. I just hope she doesn’t feel she HAS to do those things because someone says that’s the way it should be. Or that she is less of a mother if she doesn’t personally teach her child to read before they turn 4.

    I struggle daily with the guilt of being someone’s spouse, mother, child, sister, co-worker, friend, boss and feeling that on any given day I’m not doing at least one of those well. But each day is a new start and I’m doing my best.

  • Anonymous

    Heather, just bring up how important it is for each of us to make the decision that is best for US and OUR FAMILIES.

    And that we shouldn’t bitch, degrade, or insult other women for doing the same fucking thing.

    whether it’s breastfeeding, returning to work, or any other child-related topic, some day I hope we’ll all realize that it’s nobody’s fucking decision except the family making the decisions.

    I admire you so much for standing up and taking so much shit from the general public.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Heather — I love how your southern accent — not to mention sense of humor — comes out in this post! Reminds me of home …

    Well, I think no matter what choice we make, we need to educate some of the men on how whether to work or not to work affects the dynamics in our family, and it’s about everyone pulling together, not just the mom taking on extra work. MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE! (And I speak from experience …)

    I also believe THE hardest job in the world is having the sole responsibility of raising kids as a single mom. We can’t do enough to help these women in whatever way we can, both on an individual and a societal basis. Claudia

  • Wow! That’s awesome! Have fun!!

    I’m NOWHERE NEAR the LA area, but if I was, I’d totally be there to meet you and your adorable baby girl. I can blow bubbles too.

  • Hi there, I’m a full-time working mom. I don’t want to be a stay at home mom. I want people to know that just because women choose to work (or have to work) does not make them love their children any less than a woman who stays at home.

    Mothering is a very personal thing. It is also based upon each person’s needs and values. A SAHM and a mom who works outside of the home and has a career have one thing in common: they both love their kids equally. Please, make sure people realize that. Also, please don’t tell me that someone else is raising my kid.