There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Author of

“Birth Stories from the Yogafairy™: Real Tales of Birth from Yogafairy™ Mamas”


“You CAN Change your Marriage Overnight:

Ten Tips for Couples in the New Millennium”

Copyright 2011 by Elizabeth Bonet. All rights reserved.

This publication is designed to provide accurate information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that the author and publisher are not engaged in rendering medical or psychological service. This book is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood


Dedicated to Mia and Eva, my fairy girls.

You’ve changed my life, my person, my being in ways for which

I will forever be grateful.

Who I am today

wouldn’t exist without you.

"What magic we weave

when we choose to believe

in fairies and elves -

but mostly in ourselves!"

- author unknown


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood


Dedication ........................................................................................................................................... 2

Contents .............................................................................................................................................. 4

Chapter 1: Music to my Ears ......................................................................................................... 5

Chapter 2: Sing your Own Tunes ................................................................................................ 7

Chapter 3: Four Jellybeans and a Show................................................................................. 10

Chapter 5: Mia’s Baby Book ....................................................................................................... 14

Chapter 6: Heaven Scent ............................................................................................................ 17

Chapter 7: Dog Days .................................................................................................................... 21

Chapter 8: The Queen of Un-Clean ........................................................................................ 25

Chapter 9: There goes the Brainstem..................................................................................... 27

Chapter 10: The Sweep and Punch ......................................................................................... 30

Chapter 11: The Tunnel ............................................................................................................... 34

Chapter 12: Not Another Baby ................................................................................................. 37

Chapter 13: The Anti-Santa........................................................................................................ 40

Bonus Chapter 1: Park Days ...................................................................................................... 44

Bonus Chapter 2: Showertime .................................................................................................. 46

About the Author .......................................................................................................................... 47


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 1: Music to my Ears

Let’s take a moment and sing the Sesame Street song. “Suuuun-ny day, sweeping the clouds away.” Heard in more than 120 countries, the words may be in Russian, Arabic or Zulu but the tune is always the same and so is the meaning.

Free time for mom and dad.

Pre-parenthood, I never gave theme music a second listen. Barney was simply a huge phallic symbol appealing to children in the oedipal stage. Little did I know that he sings and dances. Little did I know that I would dance with him because little neurons in my brain would shoot off singing, “Free time! Free time is here.” A lot of kids dream of becoming rock stars. Fans will fall at their feet, throwing panties and kisses at them. Little do they know that someday their musical inclinations will be applied by writing music for children’s shows. “Hey Mom, someday I’m going to write a catchy little tune that millions of toddlers will sing every day and carry into their adulthood.” It’s not your average “When I’m a Grown-up” dream.

Sesame Street still plays at our house, but it’s the theme songs of Dora the Explorer and Dragon Tales that make me dance with joy. My hips start moving.

My feet tap. I do a little salsa with Dora and start singing. Both my daughter and I are smiling at the same time.

Being a psychologist, it has occurred to me that I’m classically conditioned. “Let’s all go to Dragon Land” is associated with 30 uninterrupted minutes to myself with no disasters from a running, climbing, crayon obsessed toddler in sight. I can check my email, get a start on a story, or even take a shower. Yes, Dragon Land is wonderful.

The music also lets me know exactly how much freedom I have left. The Dragon Tales “Get up and Dance” interludes that come on half way through the show get those kids moving, but also tell mom that only 15 precious minutes are left before her full attention is again required.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

I set my clock by the songs that Dora the Explorer sings. “Backpack, Backpack” means they’re just packing up to start the adventure. No one has gone anywhere yet. “Come on, Vamanos” signals that they’re on their way. While my daughter is off rescuing baby leopards in the jungle, I’m surfing the net for the best deal on sneakers. The “You Did It” song after the adventure is complete warns that mother-daughter interaction is just over the next hill.

But it’s not just about me. Excitement overtakes my daughter as well. She runs to the television, lets out a gasp, yells out the name of her favorite show, and plops herself down about an inch from the television.

Knowing that my toddler is happy to see her show makes me happy too. I look forward to a cheerful child telling me about all the animals she rescued or the dragon berries she picked when we reconnect for our own real life adventures at the end of the show.

Maybe the reason we can all hum the Sesame Street theme on cue is because the entire household was happy during Sesame Street, Mom and Dad included. So those of you out there writing a new generation of theme songs, perhaps lamenting that you never reached stardom, please take my panties. Let me throw them at your feet. They’re yours to keep.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #1

Rose Art washable markers are

NOT washable. I’ll repeat. They are

NOT washable! I have no idea why

they advertise them as such. Don’t

get sucked in by the low price. The

only ones I have found that are

truly wipe away washable are

Crayola brand.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 2: Sing your Own Tunes

A mom has to sing - sing through newborn crying spells, through fever and colds, through boo-boos. A mom has to sing a child from sleepiness into a peaceful night’s rest.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the lyrics to songs for the life of me. This really wasn’t a problem in my pre-parent days. Now I’m expected to remember 50

songs, in detail, with hand movements, at any given moment.

My musically gifted sister can’t believe that I even get the Itsy Bitsy Spider song confused. “It’s climbs up the spout a-gain, with a British accent,” she tells me. She had to sing the song to me several times before I finally got the ending.

Tunes I can handle. I can hum them correctly to my heart’s content. When I was pregnant, tunes from childhood came back to me in force. So did panic when I realized all I knew were the first couple of words, or a phrase here or there. “La, la, la . . . a place to call our own . . . doo, doo, doo.” I had a vague recollection that the people on the bus did more than just go up and down.

Would I ever be able to sing my child to sleep? How would we handle car trip sing-a-longs?

I tried looking up lyrics on the Internet, but pregnancy was not the best time to be doing this. After graduate school, my memorization skills took a nose dive. It seemed that my body was too busy growing hands and feet. Kiddie songs were low on the evolutionary list.

It didn’t improve after my daughter arrived. I would stumble through lyrics - part singing, part humming. I kept repeating the same couple of very short songs again and again.

Finally, out of desperation and boredom, I made up my own songs. This liberating move makes for ever evolving lyrics and unending entertainment while pacing the floor with a crying infant or pushing a child for what feels like forever on the swing set. You can change the words without guilt. You can sing the same 8

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

thing over and over and over, just varying one word or phrase until you find the perfect one. I started using the strategy on classic kiddie songs as well.

Besides going up and down, people on our bus did all kinds of things no one else on the proper bus ever did. Babies nursed instead of cried. Daddies passed gas and mommies tickled. We had animals that roared, hopped, and neighed on our bus.

Making up my own songs also made for something I never expected - my daughter started making up hers as well, tunes and all. The results keep me and my husband laughing. Her favorite is “Don’t be sad. Don’t be mad. Don’t be happy,” at which point she looks off into the distance, not quite sure which part doesn’t make sense.

Fortunately, my daughter did not inherit my gene for lyrics. She remembers all of them. She recently sang the whole Itsy Bitsy Spider during a 4 a.m. potty trip, gestures and all. And nailed the ending with the correct “a-gain.” I called my sister the next morning to tell her the news. “Thank god,” she said. “At least one person in your family will someday sing to their baby the right way.” I laughed. What she doesn’t realize, but my daughter and I know, is that any way is the right way to sing to a baby.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #2

Music can change your entire mood!

If you feel like you’re going crazy

inside the house, put some music on.

Dance around with your baby, dance

around with yourself! When the baby

is older, have an instrument box for

music time. Even little babies can

shake a shaker or maraca or bang

with sticks on the floor. Set the timer

for 10 minutes and have music time.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 3: Four Jellybeans and a Show

I weaned my daughter with television and sugar. I nursed her long enough for her to say, “jellybeans!” when offered the choice between nursing and her favorite candy of all time.

Doctors and books tell moms to wean by replacing nursing sessions with food.

None of the literature says what to do when your child closes her lips tight, turns her head to the side, and pushes the spoon away with her tiny hands. The books don’t address strategies for a child who adamantly says, “no food, na-na (code word for nursing).”

The World Health Organization recommends nursing for a minimum of two years.

About 17 percent of mothers in the United States nurse for one year. Less than 6

percent of mothers in the United States nurse for two years. There are no statistics past two years in the U.S., because for us it enters into freakdom, even if your child is nursing just once a day.

I could handle freakdom knowing this was really important to my child. I could also handle it knowing that the longer I nursed, the longer I protected my child from allergies, obesity, and asthma. I knew I was also reducing the risk of breast cancer for both myself and my daughter.

But as my daughter nursed less and less frequently, the benefits began to be less important to me than the drawbacks. Twenty-five pounds on top of you at 6 a.m.

hinders your breathing somewhat. A toddler asking to nurse very clearly at the playground is a delicate situation. I decided it was really time to wean, completely.

This decision was complicated by the fact that my husband is one of the rare husbands who wanted me to nurse forever. Most husbands want their wives to wean as soon as the baby starts smiling. My friends would go on and on about the pressure from their partners to get the kid in their own bed and on the bottle.

Not my husband. He’s a softy for whatever our daughter is really attached to. In this case, that meant “na-na.” Weaning on her eighth birthday sounded about right to him.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Weaning would have to happen gently and gradually. The quiet gathering of strategies from friends began. The closet nursers began to come out of the woodwork. One mom stored fast food vanilla shakes in the freezer for early morning substitution. Another mom used videos for distraction. A mom who had full support for weaning from her husband planned a weaning party, complete with a petting zoo and a clown if her daughter would go more than a week without nursing. When my husband heard about this, he told our daughter,

“weaning parties are very sad occasions.”

I decided to go the treat route - jellybeans. Those beautifully colored, tiny little candies could be doled out one by one to my daughter, making me feel less guilty for the early morning sugar load.

“Would you like a jellybean?” became my early morning mantra whispered into her ear. “Four jellybeans and a show,” my daughter would whisper back. I had no idea my daughter was so skilled at negotiating, but that sealed the deal. It didn’t take long. And it only took a month before my husband figured it out. His response? “Those are mine again?” Actually, they’re mine.


Benefits of breastfeeding:

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Seventh revised edition. Published by La Leche League International, 2004.

Freudenheim, J.L. et al. Exposure to breastmilk in infancy and the risk of breast cancer. Epidemiology 1994; 5(3):324-31.

Statistics on breastfeeding in the U.S. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 12

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

The World Health Organization's infant-feeding recommendation

As stated in the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding (paragraph 10):

Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed1 for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.2 Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #3

Bribes are an acceptable form of

parenting. Your child will not be

scarred for life by them and you

will keep your sanity. If the

concept bothers you, reframe it as

part of the activity. Have a kid who

won’t get into the car seat? Try, “I

have some fruit treats for the ride

home!” Well, yes, they have to get

into their car seat to start the ride

home, but that’s neither here nor

there, is it?


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 4: Mia’s Baby Book

It’s part happiness and part morbid exercise for me to write in my daughter’s baby book. My father died when I was 18, long before I could appreciate his knowledge of my early childhood. I can’t help but think of him every time I open the baby book and start to write. In case something happens and I don’t make it to Mia’s adulthood, I want my daughter to know, in detail, what she was like during her early childhood.

My mother kept a baby book. She diligently recorded dates of vaccinations, congratulation cards and birthday presents received. Although I pore over the book and love her for her effort, none of it truly tells me anything about myself. I look for my emerging personality and only find dates of emerging teeth.

I admit that, like my mother, I do write down the first things, such as the first word Mia said and the first step she took. I know that someday when my daughter has children, she may want to know those things. But I also want her to know how she developed as a person.

I recorded the first joke she ever made and things that a three-year-old finds hilarious. What makes her angry and how she handles it. How she will ride a pony for an hour and a half straight while the other children run around, and how she cries when we have to leave. How she will paint for hours at a time, eventually painting her toy ponies, her Barbie dolls, and finally herself. How she draws maps all day long. Perhaps when she’s changing careers at some point and searching for what she loved as a child, I hope that these facts will give her information long lost to most adults.

I have a driving force that compels me to also tell her my experience of motherhood. I described the sheer exhilaration that came over me when I found out I was pregnant, but I also recorded the panic. The mama love that overwhelmed me the first time I saw her is there, as well as how sleep deprivation makes for all kinds of crazy thoughts.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

I want Mia to know that mothering is not always easy. That sometimes it’s nearly impossible and downright exhausting. And that other mothers can be a life saver.

I also entered why her father and I are parenting the way we are and the philosophical reasons behind the choices we make. I think it will go a long way towards her self-understanding; longer than the usual “we did the best we could.”

One of the oddest things I noted in Mia’s baby book was the type of face powder, the soap and the deodorant I use. After my father died, his smell is something I could never quite recapture. I hope the smells of me will meet some basic need for my daughter someday.

The publishers of baby books today don’t have what I write in mind. You never see sections entitled “My favorite perfume in case I die.” I ignore most of the page titles and just put what I want. I know the chances of me remembering these little details 20 years from now are slim to none. So I hope that everything I write will tell her why she is who she is and just as importantly who her mother was as well.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #4

There are all kinds of ways to keep a baby book. Writing in an actual baby book is just one of them. You can video blog, picture

blog or even just have a jar on the counter.

Write little things you want to remember on scraps of paper and put them in the jar. If you’re going to attempt a baby book, try to pick a book with lots of space and think of it spanning age 0 to 5 rather than just the first year. Try to write at least once a year, on your child’s birthday.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 5: Heaven Scent

Mothers can identify their infants by their smell alone within hours of giving birth.

It’s an amazing ability that never goes away.

Not all mothers are aware of this fact since some of them unknowingly mask the scent of their babies. My writer friend of my mother’s generation used to bathe her sons at least once per day if not more often, such as when a particularly explosive poop arrived. She reported that her kids smelled like baby soap and powder.

But ask my mother-in-law to identify each of her four adult sons by smell and not only can she do it, she elaborates on where, exactly, they smell the strongest. She says it’s from washing their clothes for so many years, but chances are she knew it the minute she held them for the first time.

As a newborn, my daughter hated baths. My husband and I would do everything in our power to hasten the process for her to no avail. She would scream so hysterically that it occurred to me on more than one occasion that she could give herself an infant sized aneurism.

The thought of causing her such trauma in the first weeks of her life would send me into tears during bath time. My husband and I quickly decided to just abandon the project by putting it off as long as possible. Before anyone gets the wrong idea, explosive poop did factor in when deciding whether to give a daily washcloth wipe down or a full out into the bathtub, screaming, tiny fists waving, feet kicking, frantic infant bath.

Prolonging bath day did have its advantages. Mia’s smell was beyond heavenly.

She was born in August in Florida, and as any Floridian knows, even with air conditioning August means sweat. Mia’s sweat was sweet – a mix between my husband’s and my smells. I would have paid a million dollars to bottle it.

The summer baby sweat made for fantastic neck cheese – “cheese” that grows in the folds of a chubby baby. It’s disgusting and gross for some moms. Not me. It smelled just like my husband does after a run – strong but compelling. Cheesy 18

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

neck wafted off of Mia every time she moved, and I loved it. I would delay her bath even longer just for a few more whiffs.

The only time a bath was imminent was after a heavily perfumed, blue-haired elderly woman happened to get her hands on Mia. This would happen inadvertently and without warning while grocery shopping. My daughter would be hovered over and prodded. A cloud of expensive old-lady perfume would settle on her. I would dart home and give her the long awaited, apocalypsal bath so she would once again smell like herself.

Mia’s scent began to change half way between her second and third birthdays.

One day in the high heat of summer she came running at me on the playground, her body odor preceding her. Who was this small, stinky child, and where did my sweet smelling baby go?

I went home and reported to my husband that our daughter had inherited his very male stinky gene. It didn’t bode well for adolescence. By now, Mia was getting a bath almost daily, but this new odor sealed her fate. The days of skipping baths were finally over.

I now love the scent of freshly bathed small child. Fruity shampoos and foamy soaps now waft off of Mia. But I admit that on the way into the bathtub, I sometimes give her a nuzzle on the side of her neck. She laughs, tilting her head to one side and tucking her chin to her chest, tickled, and I take a good long whiff.


Hormones and Behavior. 2004 Sep;46(3):284-302.

Olfactory regulation of maternal behavior in mammals.

Levy F, Keller M, Poindron P.

Equipe Comportement, Station PRC, UMR 6175 INRA/CNRS/Universite de Tours/Haras Nationaux, 37380, Nouzilly, France.

Genetica. 1998-99;104(3):259-63 Olfaction and human kin recognition.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Porter RH.

Physiol Behav. 1983 Jan;30(1):151-4

Maternal recognition of neonates through olfactory cues.

Porter RH, Cernoch JM, McLaughlin FJ.

PMID: 6836038 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Acta Paediatr. 1998 Jan;87(1):6-10.

Olfaction and human neonatal behaviour: clinical implications.

Winberg J, Porter RH.

Department of Woman and Child Health, Karolinska Hospital, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.

PMID: 9510439 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #5

Wipeys - Carry with you at all times.

In the beginning, they go in the

diaper bag. Once your kids are out of

diapers, keep a pack in the car. They

clean hands before eating, clean stuff

they pick up somehow off the

ground and want to keep, and even

clean up spills in the car. They’re



There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 6: Dog Days

We’re currently going through the dog stage of childhood. Not in any official books on parenting, its identifying characteristic is the frequency with which your child barks or howls instead of using language.

Whenever I ask my three-year-old a question, “Woof” is the only answer I receive.

“Want to go to the park?”

“Woof (pant, pant).”

“Eggs for breakfast?”

“Woof, woof, woof.”

Barking and howling are not the only characteristics of this stage. If something makes my daughter unhappy, out comes the clenched teeth, tight-cheeked growl. Cats, normally loved and petted, get a growled warning if they act too frisky with our resident dog-child.

A secondary characteristic is sniffing and tracking. My daughter sniffed her way home the other day, insisting that the car windows be rolled down. Thankfully she was strapped in the car seat, so she couldn’t hang her head out the window to pant. Once we arrived at the house, no cat, bug, or lizard was safe from my dog-child’s nose pressed to the ground.

Biting is probably the biggest downside to this stage. If you had a previous biting phase, then the dog stage will feel like one big flashback.

It’s just not pleasant to have a tight-jawed dog-child tugging on my clothes while I’m attempting to cook, walk to the bathroom, or picking up the house before the Big Dog gets home from paid employment.

Begging is also a secondary characteristic. On those rare occasions when my daughter speaks English, pretty much every sentence ends with, “Can we get a 22

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

doggie?” On the way to the grocery store, she asks, “Are we getting a doggie there?” at least 20 times. Somehow my daughter has even gotten my husband, the softy, to look at me with hound dog eyes and say how great it would be to have a dog in the house.

My daughter somehow got it into her head that if we had a doghouse, then a dog would soon follow. She begged for days for a doghouse, pointing out the perfect spot to me in our backyard.

I finally consented to build a doghouse for her future pet but indoors only. We converted the large cardboard box that served as a boat for months, piling in pillows and blankets for her doggie comfort. My daughter wanted to add the strangulation hazard of rope. “Doggies need leashes,” she argued. Sorry – no dice. No leashes allowed in this house. I finally won the argument when I told her that our doggie will run free.

The doghouse has actually made my life easier. It’s a great spot for snacks, minimizing clean-up from spills. My daughter even takes pretend naps in the dog house, giving me a solid five minutes to check email. She alerts me that she’s awake with a friendly doggie “ruf!”

When playmates come over, my daughter recruits them to be fellow dogs by first showing them the make-shift doggie abode. Then they proceed to crawl around the house howling in unison.

Although I have my moments with the doggie stage, I admit that sometimes I truly enjoy it. I have a secret satisfaction with asking her questions in bark mode and actually getting an answer back. Doggie kisses are always a pleasure. And finally, there’s just nothing like the look on a stranger’s face when they ask my daughter, “How old are you?” and she answers them with three barks.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #6

If you’re pregnant or otherwise

desperate or just trying to feed your

toddler something they will eat, ice-

cream is considered part of the dairy

group. Dish it out for breakfast,

lunch, or dinner!


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 7: The Queen of Un-Clean

Everyone who has children running around in spotless clothes, please tell me how you keep their clothes so bright and shiny.

I’ve tried every stain remover recommended by The Queen of Clean as well as others suggested by my friend with three children under the age of five. She always swears this one will get grape juice out of a white t-shirt. If I whip the shirt off the minute the stain occurs, run it to the bathroom and douse it with stain remover, I’m O.K. But I wonder about these tactics on the future psychological health of my child.

My sister-in-law hands down scrupulously clean clothes from her daughter to mine. I did get out of her once that she saves the stained t-shirts for night time underclothes. But that doesn’t explain the plethora of stain-free t-shirts, shorts, and pants. Her kids play at the playground. Don’t they jump in rain puddles, splattering them and everyone in the vicinity with mud spots resistant to even atomic strength chemicals?

I find myself peering closely at other children’s clothes while trying not to intrude on their personal space. Maybe other moms don’t break out the ketchup and mustard for hot dogs. Maybe they are more scrupulous about accidentally leaving un-washable markers within toddler reach.

What about chocolate ice-cream? Do they deprive their children of the hallowed treat in order to keep their kids’ shirts for more than one use? I know t-shirts are not, by design, disposable, but we have had some t-shirts retired by chocolate.

Usually, this happens outside of our house.

As most moms do, I strip my toddler down to her undies or less before offering ice-cream. Popsicles also get the same nudist treatment. But occasionally we make it out to a public ice-cream parlor or a birthday party.

I can usually plan ahead and dress her in a black t-shirt, bought expressly for this purpose. If somehow, she makes it out of the house in a white (gasp) t-shirt, then 25

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

we’re doomed. Even armed with handfuls of paper towels and a container full of wipeys, somehow chocolate ice-cream makes it onto my daughter’s shirt.

It may be genetic since somehow my clothes always end up with spots as well.

Pre-parenting this rarely happened. I was able to hold the ice-cream cone well away from my body. But how do you back away from sticky little handprints and a smiling face . . . slowly?

Images of 1950’s television moms flash through my mind whenever I discuss this topic with my friends. I usually don’t bring it up at all, except in off-hand, whispered tones since I’m embarrassed to admit that the Big Secret never quite made its way to my laundry room.

My main defense against stains is nudie time. Painting – nudie time. Making cookies – nudie time. Peanut-butter straight from the jar – nudie time. It’s a wonder my child is ever dressed considering how much I strip her down for activities, snacks, and meals in an attempt to keep her clothes presentable.

Maybe that’s the solution – just let her run amok without clothes. No more worrying about getting the shirt off and into the sink. No more expensive stain removers that don’t work after four days in the laundry pile. No more rifling through her closet looking for that one shirt reserved for trips to Abuela’s house.

After all, we do live in sunny South Florida, and she would fit right in on South Beach.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #7

Reserve a dark blue or black shirt

or dress for birthday parties or

outings involving icing or ice-

cream. The stains won’t show and

you can be more relaxed and any



There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 8: There goes the Brainstem

Without a doubt, researchers publish studies on the detrimental effects of television just to torture parents. They put one out about every year or so, warning us about our children's soon to be destroyed brainstems. The American Academy of Pediatrics even recommends that children under the age of two don't watch television . . . at all. That recommendation usually makes most parents chuckle and wonder if the person writing these recommendations has children.

In my “pre-parent” days, before I had kids and woke up to reality, I adopted the no television mantra. Many a book was consumed about the ability of television to make my child a complacent, uncreative zombie. I cited research studies on a daily basis to my TV-addicted husband.

“Television changes brain waves into a Delta state,” I would tell him. “That means it’s like you’re sleeping.” I would barely get a nod from him zoned out in front of the latest documentary.

When our tiny babe arrived, we still had the television. I wouldn’t even turn it on for fear that the baby would hear the violence and the commercials trying to exert an early influence on her. People recommending Sesame Street to me were met with cold stares. Content wasn’t the problem. It was the actual act itself. This no-TV philosophy lasted about 18 months.

Eighteen months is a lifetime in parenthood. A well-lived lifetime full of days when you think you’re just about to lose it. If I had to make another set of pudding finger paint or blow another bubble, I would have popped myself.

Sesame Street was the drug of choice. Safe, secure, edu-ca-tion-al, right? At first I watched with my daughter, happy to not be the primary entertainment. Then I began thinking about the value of one show’s worth of time. Uninterrupted reading came to mind. Putting on make-up, getting out of my pajamas; all of these options were high on my list.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

At first, we held television time down to one hour or less per day. Then we added one or two shows. My only consolation was that there was no violence to model in the programs my daughter watched. I would also quickly run out and buy the accompanying books, hoping to somehow counteract the effects on my child's delicate brainstem.

The final piece of evidence I needed for my philosophical flip came after my daughter started watching the more interactive shows such as Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer. These shows attempt to actively involve the child by asking them questions and pausing, waiting for their answers.

My child is definitely not in a deep sleep state when she shouts out “Map” in order to help Dora find her way over and across the icky, sticky, sand. There’s nothing zombie-ish about her when she gets up and waves her arms to help the birds fly over the tall trees.

The biggest problem I have with television these days is that my daughter pulls me out of the bedroom, half-dressed, in order to hop, hop, hop over dangerous ants. As for the researchers, where are the studies about interactive TV? I suspect they keep them hidden from parents. After all, they have to have some way to make us feel guilty. Dire warnings about television will suffice until the next study about the evils of fast food is published.


”Until more research is done about the effects of TV on very young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children age 2 or younger. For older children, the Academy recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs.” 29

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #8

It’s perfectly acceptable to lock yourself in your room if the kids are driving you

crazy. In this day and age, people are

aghast at any kind of retro-discipline,

such as locking your kid in their room

for misbehavior or putting them in the

closet. So don’t do it. Apply it to yourself instead. Need a break? Freaking out?

Losing it? ‘Fraid you’ll hurt someone?

Lock yourself in your room. Or put on

the t.v. . . . it won’t kill the baby!

And put away that bad mama guilt – it’s

truly unnecessary. We’re all human and

staying calm 100% of the time is not just

un-reasonable, un-doable, and un-

necessary, it’s downright spooky!


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 9: The Sweep and Punch

When my daughter and her playmates first started their hitting phases as toddlers, I agreed that they should be taught never to hit each other. My father, a Methodist minister and a true pacifist, always said that violence was acceptable

“only in self-defense against threats to life.” Toddlers whacking each other doesn’t exactly qualify.

But as my daughter grew older, I found that sometimes when kids inevitably hurt and malign each other as only children can I quietly root for retaliation by the victim. When it comes, I am secretly pleased. I catch a similar expression of

“payback is sweet” on other moms’ faces from time to time before they’re quickly covered up with the standard “hitting is bad” mom face.

After a particular incident, my standard speech to “use your words, not your hands” changed forever. My daughter was playing with one of her friends who frequently attacks her. His modus operandi is to go for her eyes, eliciting true anger in me as I think of my child going through life blind. His mother and I were sitting close by when it happened this time.

Mia’s friend had asked for a toy and Mia had very clearly refused his request. Like always, he jabbed two fingers towards her face. But this time Mia did what I now affectionately call the sweep and punch. She swept his hand away, down from her face and then hit him on the arm. She was calm, determined. No tears came from her like they normally do when she gets her eyes poked out. Instead, it was her friend who wailed and wailed.

My jaw dropped. An unexpected chuckle escaped. I glanced at my friend and found a surprised but slight smile on her face as well. I found myself immediately by Mia’s side saying, “It’s fine to protect yourself,” before I doled out the standard speech about trying to use our words instead of our hands.

Mia had been watching the animated movie Mulan, about a Chinese warrior maiden, the day before this incident. Normally I abhor the fighting scenes that are in too many movies made for children. But as I watched my daughter defend herself, the fighting scenes of Mulan flashed through my mind, and for once I 31

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

actually appreciated them. She asked for the movie again that afternoon, and I happily put it on for her.

Most parents would probably have the opposite reaction, affirmed in their knowledge that children imitate aggressive behavior they see on television.

Instead, I sat with my daughter and analyzed Mulan’s moves thinking of how Mia could use them to her advantage.

My father, who never even let us watch Saturday morning cartoons, would be horrified. But now that I’m a mom of a pre-school age female child, I just can’t agree with his stance.

Like most moms, I want my daughter to have a life free of violence. The statistics tell me there’s a fair chance either way. Thoughts of all the horrible things that could happen to her intrude more than I would like, sometimes interrupting the sheer pleasure of how beautiful her tiny body is. Pushing the thoughts away only keeps them at bay temporarily, where they stay hidden somewhere right below my heart.

After the sweep and punch incident, I changed my original viewpoint for good.

My new stance goes against my father and what’s considered socially acceptable in parenting these days, but now I tell Mia, “If you can, back away and use your words. But if you can’t, then it’s o.k. to defend yourself” – a lesson I hope she takes into her adolescence and womanhood.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #9

When markers go dry, throw out the

marker part and save the caps. When

you lose a cap, which inevitably

happens, voila - you have an extra

cap! Warning . . . this will not work if

you're neurotic about the cap color

matching the marker color. But if

you're not, it makes your life just that

much easier!


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 10: The Tunnel

After my first baby was born, I felt like a Mac truck hit me more than anything I would describe as “wonderful.” My Wise Woman Mama Friend calls this phase

“The Tunnel.”

First, there is an immediate post-partum adjustment period. Night sweats, losing hair, arguments with your partner, crying every day. You feel like you’re going nuts; like you’re existing in some alternate universe that apparently everyone knew about, but no one dared tell you about.

The Tunnel is this all-consuming feeling that life as you knew it will never again be possible. All of a sudden a tiny being is completely dependent on you, and it dawns on you that your every waking and non-waking moment will be devoted to taking care of this being for the foreseeable future.

Want to read a book? Sorry – no dice. Gotta’ watch the babe. Go out to a movie?

Not unless you want to miss half of it. Dinner out? Let’s all just have a big laugh together.

You live in The Tunnel until your child is old enough to play on their own for more than 10 minutes without sticking anything in their mouth. You must follow them around making sure they don’t choke on any number of invisible, never before seen things – carpet fuzz, a stray piece of cat food, unidentifiable, microscopic schmutz. In your inexorable quest to be pregnant, never once did you imagine your days would consist of this.

The mind-numbing boredom is alleviated by moments of super-elation when your baby meets a major developmental milestone such as rolling over, pulling up on something or those much discussed first steps. You call everyone you know telling them that indeed, your child is actually alive and growing. The moments are like little slivers of light that make it through the cracks of The Tunnel.

My daughter was almost two the first time I was able to read more than a page in a book outside of our nursing sessions. We were playing with chalk outside. For the first time, she was actually drawing with it instead of eating it. Slowly, I picked 34

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

up my book. Trying to appear nonchalant, I started reading, keeping one eye on her and one on the book. When I made it past two pages, it hit me that the end of The Tunnel was in sight.

Later, I emailed my Wise Woman Mama Friend. “I read two whole pages in a book today!”

She was ecstatic for me. “It just gets better,” she said. “Give it a couple of months and you can read a whole chapter.”

A whole chapter. Chalk in all its colors looked lovely. If I could read more than two pages in a sitting, I could be part of civilization. I could think and contemplate ideas. I could feel like myself again.

Eventually it happened. My daughter was playing with rocks one day, lining them up, making piles, and transferring them from one place to another. When she pulled me over to admire her industriousness, I realized I had read past a chapter.

Only an immeasurable two years, and The Tunnel was behind me. I waved it good-bye, not wanting to return for the life of me. I’m sure that would change with pregnancy hormones raging through me. But for now, if I really want to remember those tiny babe early days of my daughter, I have pictures. And a little microscopic schmutz saved with them.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #10

Never ask your partner to "watch" the kids. A kinder way to ask for their

help is to say it's their time with the

kids. As in, "Sunday from 1-5 will be your special time with the kids. I'll be

out at the bookstore.” As you can see

that’s hard to say no to . . . exactly my



There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 11: Not Another Baby

I may be a mom, but I am not a baby person. It took me a long time to admit that to myself much less anyone else. The fact didn’t even occur to me until one of my friends with two kids suggested it. She wasn’t criticizing me. She was just sharing that she wasn’t a baby person and maybe I wasn’t either.

My friend described her mother as a true baby person. Her mother would become flushed when picking up a newborn, baby-talk to it, hold it forever –

even just sit and stare at the baby for hours at a time. I did do some of this with my firstborn. But there came a point, every day, when staring out the window was infinitely more interesting than staring at my baby. Fantasies of grocery shopping alone, one of my most hated tasks, tipped me off that maybe my friend was right.

I initially equated this with being a bad mother. Surely if I didn’t want to wrap my life around the baby, there must have been something wrong with me. I was convinced of this and secretly ashamed. I had yearnings to actually work again and check email without balancing an infant across my arm. I wanted to shower without having to sing to a wailing baby waiting in the bouncy seat.

It took another couple of months, if not years, to realize the depth of my friend’s statement. Once my daughter started using sign language at eight months and then talking soon after, I was ecstatic. Her first sentence, “Cat hungry,” said in hand signs sent me over the edge of happiness, way more than any first smile. I loved that Mia could make sentences, tell me her thoughts, and communicate what she saw in her world.

When my daughter was almost two, another close friend commented that I must love this stage, where my daughter could actually play and pretend. She was right. I was much more content than I was my daughter’s first year. By the age of three, when the little kid jokes started, the people drawings progressed to having arms and legs, and make believe stories came on the scene, I was even more convinced of my non-baby person status.

But the full extent of the realization didn’t hit me until I became pregnant with our second child. One day several women, all with newborns, asked if I was 37

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

excited about the upcoming baby. My jaw went slack; my eyes narrowed; my gaze went a little hazy trying to peer far into the distance. Finally, I said, “I think so . . . um, not really.”

I just kept running the sleepless nights and days around in my head. Thoughts of the constant nursing, constant changing of diapers, explosive poops, and newborn fussiness didn’t help. My hair might as well be shaved off for it’s presentability, and I needed to stock up on some strong deodorant for all the about to be missed showers.

The fears of being a bad mother also came rushing back. As infancy progressed to childhood, those feelings had disappeared. My child was happy and healthy and apparently unaffected by my early status as a non-baby person. Ultimately, I was just short of terrified, but not enough to stop me from getting pregnant.

This time though, I knew I would enjoy having another child in the house, once they made it from lumpdom to actually having a personality. And I had to hold tight to the fact that I was not a bad mother for not enjoying the early months.

But, alas, I have to finally admit, as my friend did to me, that I am not a baby person.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #11

My famous, not a lot of mess,

homemade play-dough recipe.

3c flour

1 c salt

1c water

1/4 c oil

2T vinegar (optional but it helps it last

longer. If you don't use vinegar, then add 2T water)

Add tempera powder for color after mixing the flour and salt. You can buy tempera powder at Michaels or Joanns. One container will last you about 5 years (no joke, unless you're a

playdough making maniac). You could also use food coloring but I would probably add that at the end. Store in a plastic bag after use.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Chapter 12: The Anti-Santa

Christmas is right around the corner and I’m already plotting how to get rid of the toys. Toys are totally anxiety producing for me. New Toy equals New Mess in my mind. Where’s it going to go? Do we already have one just like it? How long will my daughters play with it? How much fucking noise will it make and for how long?

I can just imagine the huge pile of toys awaiting my children on Christmas Eve at Abuela’s house. As they unwrap, I practically have a panic attack. “Ohhhh that’s a wonderful dancing whirly noise maker with NO on/off switch!” I can’t help but think. “There’s no way they market tested this piece of crap.” What I call “my toy anxiety” gets very intense sometimes. It’s not just the mess. I also start feeling guilty about all the children that don’t have any, especially when faced with a Christmas sized pile.

My parents lived in Africa for 10 years, so I grew up listening to stories about toy poverty. Village children would split a doll into pieces so that all of them could take a piece home. My parents made me give away a toy or two every Christmas.

It wasn’t in preparation for the onslaught. We were supposed to select a toy we loved for the poor children of the world so they, too, could experience the same love we had for the toy.

One year I cheated. I couldn’t bear to give away my favorite toys, so I selected a doll with spidery legs that always gave me the creeps. Later I cried about the doll feeling so rejected. The guilt still haunts me, so I swore never to inflict this particular brand of parenting onto my children.

But with toy poverty in mind, I start denying any requests for new toys about four months before Christmas. Four months is an eternity. “I’ll put that on your Christmas list” only goes so far. I try my best to avoid the toy aisles wherever we are, but usually end up having to put on my hard-ass mama face and careen through the check-out line before the 4-year-old tears start.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

In preparation for the Christmas stash, I also make sure the bottom of our armoire is all cleared out. Usually crammed with dolls, farms, and run-down battery toys, the armoire serves as a perfect toy limbo land. When the number of baby dolls goes over five and three of them have been in the closet for more than a couple of months, my anxiety meter goes off. A trip to the local charity gets put on the “To Do” list for the week.

The more obnoxious Christmas toys will somehow get lost. “Hmmmm, I don’t know where that one went to . . . maybe it’s at Abuela’s house.” Familiar with the intricacies of ebay, my 4-year-old makes me swear I didn’t sell it.

Some of the new toys will indeed remain at Abuela’s house. “This one is perfect for when they come over to play!” This seems to fool my mother-in-law temporarily. It buys me about a month before she shows up with it at our house.

One time she duped me. She sent the kid-sized battery operated car over in my brother-in-law’s van. When I refused it, he said that my mother-in-law said my daughter wanted it at her house. Nice try, but I sent him right back to his mom’s house with it.

The remaining toys will be tolerated at our house until they lose their sparkle and appeal. Then they’ll be promptly donated to the local charity. That task became a tricky business once my first daughter passed the age of two.

The last time she accompanied me on my glee-inducing trip, the leg of her baby doll was sticking up out of the donation sack. The moment she saw it, her lower lip went out and the tears started, sobs actually. She wailed, “My babyyyy! My babyyyy!” I relented, retrieving the baby doll. My daughter clutched it to her crying, “I like all my toys!”

“Shit! Can you say guilty?” I felt like the worst mother in the world. I pictured hordes of newspapers, antique toys and old moldy shoes in my daughter’s house someday. The coveted baby dolls filling the kitchen cupboards and anxiety in her eyes when I come to visit. All because her mother gave away her toys.

The guilt didn’t last long though. Another six months, a birthday and Christmas and we were once again overflowing with un-played-with toys. This time I waited 41

There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

until she was fast asleep. My husband totally disagreed with this strategy. He argued on behalf of our daughter, glaring at me while I packed up the bag.

The next day I ran an “errand” while my husband, shaking his head in disapproval, stayed with our daughter. She never missed the toys. Never once asked for one I had given away, happy in her childhood innocence.

I had found a way to de-toy my home without creating future neuroses in my child. As for me, I admit it. My neurosis was also pacified, at least until the next Christmas.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #12

Tutus and tiaras are for Mamas!

See how lovely your child feels in

them? They will have the same

effect on you. Put one or the other

(or both) on to clean the house,

cook dinner, or de-clutter and feel

the fairy effects take you over . . .

For an easy way to make a tutu for

the baby or you, check out:



There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Bonus Chapter 1: Park Days

So when do you start going to the park with your baby? As soon as you can convince a friend to meet you there. New moms, for some unknown reason, think the park is not for them. Their baby can’t move, after all. It’s not like you can just set it on the equipment and play yourself.

Newsflash: the park is for moms, not kids.

What? Seriously? For moms? Yes. For moms and all your mommy friends. The fresh air and mostly safe environment is a perfect place to catch up on everything that’s going on in your lives. Take a blanket, some snacks, water, and you’re set for hours. Diaper changes smell less in the fresh air and a crying baby is somehow soothed by breezes, green grass, and the sound of other kids, bigger kids, playing.

Once the baby can sit up, you can put them in the baby swings and stand and talk. This will be the beginning of your standing and talking park days. As the baby starts to crawl and then walk, you’ll follow it around the playground and your friend will follow you. Or vice versa. Somehow, you’ll encourage the babies to crawl up the same slide so you can hear what happened at the end of the fight your friend had with her husband or what the pediatrician said or how she got such a great deal on her designer diaper bag.

Don’t discount the importance of the park. It is vital to your sanity. It’s worth the effort because it gets you out of the house, around people, talking with your friends and the baby also gets some socialization. If you don’t have a park friend, set your intention to make one. Join a mom’s club or vow to meet a local online mommy friend in person . . . at the park.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Top Tip #13

Be clear from the beginning with

your children that the park is for

mommies to get some rest or catch

up with their friends. The fact that they get to play is just a bonus for them so they should take advantage

of it; i.e., “Get off of mommy! Go



There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

Bonus Chapter 2: Showertime

One of the best ways to help the baby blues is to actually leave your house after the baby is born. I know the thought is terrifying, but your child will survive the millions of diseases floating around out there waiting to attack it the minute you walk out the door of your cave. It will survive old ladies with blue hair reaching in to touch its hands (gasp!), children running past who cough at the very moment they breeze past your bundle of joy, and animals who happen to pee in the vicinity.

You may be thinking that there is no way you can leave the house in your state.

You haven’t showered for days, your roots have grown out, and you can no longer locate your makeup bag. First, let’s just get you showered.

Shower? How? When? What happens if the baby cries? Believe me, you can do it.

Drag the bouncy seat into the bathroom. Then pop the new babe in it and turn on the vibrate feature. One of three things may happen.

One, the baby may get all jiggled around and vomit. Solution: abort the shower and clean baby and bouncy seat. Crying would be appropriate here. Try again tomorrow without the vibrate feature.

Two, the baby will start crying. Solution: super fast mommy shower. Wash only the most important areas. Forget washing your hair. Just rinse. Jump out and comfort baby while you cry about the baby crying.

Three, the baby will love the sound of the shower and the vibrations and will sit happily until you’re done. Success!

Now . . . Get - out- of -the house. Pack up the diaper bag with every item in the nursery and go to the grocery store or a restaurant or the mall. Walk around. Be part of humanity. It will help you feel better.


There Goes the Brainstem: T ales from the Trenches of Early Motherhood

About the Author

Elizabeth Bonet, PhD, has been a professional writer since she wrote her first poem at the age of 5, probably while her mom was busy taking a shower.

Since then, she has written for The Miami Herald, journals, online magazines, and print magazines. She has also been quoted in various publications including the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, and the New York Times.

Dr. Bonet is best known for her Yogafairy™ Prenatal Yoga Classes in South Florida. They have repeatedly been featured in the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald as well as magazines with international distributions such as Vegetarian News.

Dr. Bonet’s PhD is in Clinical Psychology. She owns her own practice in Hollywood, Florida and specializes in prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety, adjustment to life changes, and women's issues throughout the life cycle.

She sees individuals, couples, and families. Her psychotherapy website is

Find her Prenatal Yoga Classes or join the Yogafairy™ Mama Community at



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