The job of a full time parent includes a lot of tasks, none of which is quite as important as the moral and ethical compass we must constantly provide for our little people. Ok, an overstatement you say, fine. Maybe feeding them is more important, but assuming that we are filling them with calories on a daily basis, the moral compass thing is super important. And it's constant. All. The. Time. All the time they are watching us and they are gauging our responses to different tricky encounters and situations. We're it. Did I mention it's all the time that they are watching? Except when they're sleeping, but be careful, because they're tricky little monsters and sometimes you think they are sleeping and you admit out loud that you think your neighbor is totally crazy town and also kind of a bitch and then it turns out that the sweet monsters (the kids, not the neighbors) are actually just lying in their beds being super quiet hoping you'll say something interesting that they can bring up at the next inopportune moment. Or not, maybe your kids go straight to sleep every night. Whatever.
Anyway, the moral compass thing: I just had a very trying visit with my in-laws and I spent an exorbitant amount of time doing a shitty job explaining that the way their well intentioned grandparents love them is not intended to make them feel bad. (Even though it kind of does sometimes) Explaining how, if a friend was treating them the way their grandparents sometimes do, they should get new friends, yet also, asking them to understand these 85 year olds who still think it's ok to yell a lot for no real reason and I'm asking my girls to tolerate it. My in-laws' communication is not evolving into a kinder more understanding dynamic as they age. In fact, since I have known them, it has devolved. My girls pick up on this. They don't like getting yelled at for sure, but they also don't like listening to someone else get yelled at. The whole thing is stressful and I'm wondering about the example I am setting. Because so far, my actions are telling them that sometimes you have to accept love that doesn't make you feel good and the truth is, I don't believe this. I don't want them to settle for a love that doesn't make them feel awesome. I need to do a better job because we get to define what kind of love we will take. It is not the giver of said love. It's the receiver. I get to decide and my sweet babies get to decide.
Today I hated them. I know that hate is a strong word. If I accidentally use that word to describe anything other than murder or mosquitos buzzing in my ear, Little E will remind me, "Mama, hate is a strong word." Yes, I know. But I think, for a moment, I actually might have hated them. The squabbling, the crying, the super irritating defeatism that rears it's ugly head during A's daily homework, the crying, the crying! That fucking crying is just so loud.
It's over, the crying that is, and they're in bed trying very hard not to fall asleep and I no longer hate them.
I once accidentally voiced a sentiment not even as strong as hate on Facebook and I was met with a barrage of mean comments all suggesting that maybe I shouldn't have chosen to be a mother and certainly I had no business being a stay at home mother since clearly I was bitter and angry.
I was too new at being a mama to know that those commenters were idiots. Instead, I believed them. I thought that if this job was kicking my butt, which it was, and that sometimes I didn't love my babies very much, which sometimes I didn't, or if, God forbid, I even hated them a teeny tiny bit for a second, or that sometimes I hated the job itself, that I must be bitter and angry at best, and probably also incompetent. Because I was awash in feelings of shame and embarrassment and self doubt, I didn't have the where with all to process the fact that after a patient vomits in a nurse's face and he mutters on his way out of the room, "This fucking job," no one calls him bitter and angry. No one suggests that he shouldn't be a nurse. People think, "Yep, that is one hard and messy job." When a Nike exec complains about all the after hours work he puts in, no one suggests that maybe he shouldn't have chosen that career. People commiserate. It's a difficult climate and they suggest that Nike should not be expecting its employees to put in so much extra time. And they suggest that they should all go out for a drink and trash Nike for the evening.
There is little of this type of forgiveness in the parenting world. If you have chosen to be a stay at home parent (or any kind of parent) you are supposed to smile and wax sentimental about how fast the time is going. I do that. I do, because, truly the time is flying. Just like all the elders of my community told me that it would. And much of it (some of it) is very sweet time, but let's not pretend that we don't sometimes hate it a little bit. And sometimes, some of us, hate the sweet babies a little bit too. Just a little bit. And just for a second. It's ok. There's nothing wrong with us. This job is really hard and the hours suck. So does the pay. And, don't even get me started on the benefits package.
And we love it too. And, holy shit, do we ever love these babies. This is a love far more fierce than I ever imagined. Sometimes I look at them and I think that I truly might just burst or overflow with how much muchness is now contained in my body. They are filling me up. And I love them. And the job of keeping them safe and happy and fulfilled and in clean clothes and sleeping on clean sheets and eating healthy yummy food and peeing in a clean bathroom is just a really fucking big job that never ever ends and that is exhausting. And, the truth is, parts of it, like the bathroom cleaning and clothes washing are not very fulfilling.
And then this (that wonderful little naked baby on the right) happens and again with the super fullness. We are lucky to have this ridiculously difficult job and when we are done hating it, we'll be grateful.
Cut yourself a break. It's ok.
A lot of my mental energy these days, the parenting of little girl days, is spent on trying to figure out how to help my girls feel strong and confident and beautiful and just right. We (mamas and women who are not mamas) are becoming increasingly aware of how crappy we feel about our bodies and not just our bodies, but also our abilities to do shit. Shit that is daring. Like speaking up about what we really want or saying no to the things we don't want or don't want to do or really don't have time for. And this is good. This noticing.
I would also like to figure out how to abort the paradigm that created this pervasive feeling of shame and incapability in women. I don't want my girls to have to overcome these feelings when they are in their 30s. I want them to never have them. I want them to be able to hold on to the beautiful confidence that they have right now. I want them to never lose this. Right now they know that their bodies are perfection. Their legs are strong; they can run and climb and jump. Their fingers are dextrous and they can make daisy chains. They know that they can do anything that pops into their ridiculous little heads. They know that they don't have to stand for the shit that makes them not feel awesome. They are strong willed and they are so . . . perfect.
I know that part of saving their notion of perfection is about modeling it. Also, when I say perfection, I mean being comfortable just the way they are. I don't mean that there is no need to improve, or no need to work on things. We can always improve; be stronger, kinder, more attentive to our loved ones, healthier. Let's work on those things, but let's be gentle with the people that we are right now. We are perfect. We are humans and part of that means imperfection. And it is lovely.
I will be vocal about what strength looks like, what beauty looks like. I will surround my girls with people that feel like I do. I will consciously avoid those that haven't figured this out yet. Those that will comment on the way my girl looks rather than the phenomenal way she just scaled that wall that she has no business climbing. There is a movement afoot. There are large companies and small companies and bloggers all voicing this, sending messages about "beauty". But what is much more pervasive and BIG, are the images in magazines, on billboards, on TV, in movies, in cartoons, fucking everywhere, telling us what beauty is. And, the truth is, I hate most of it. Even then campaigns with a "positive" message. Because that message is often still about beauty. I want the most important thing to not be beauty. I get that the way we look is the first thing we see. I get it, but I want that to carry a superficial value. I want it to not matter beyond the first impression.
Not Permitted For Tree Climbing
So, I'm a super big fan of picnics in Our Park. Yep, I capitalized that. I can see it from my porch, we have played in it since before we had kids and now we spend nearly every day after school there and also weekend days too. It's ours. The Mamas and our offspring, and if we're lucky, some of our significant others can spend 8 hours picnicking and frolicking and lazing there on a warm Friday afternoon-evening-nighttime.
There is a climbing tree in this park that draws kids at a faster and more consistent rate than even the ice-cream truck, which somewhat futilely circles the park's perimeter.
I will never tell you “You’re going to have to learn that life’s not fair!” This is not a lesson that you need to learn from your mother. I will strive to show you that the world is basically good, and on occasion, not fair, because this is truly what I believe. I will teach you that being kind and gentle is the most important thing; to other people, to animals and to the earth. The best way that I know to teach you this is to remember to be this way myself and to surround you with people who also behave this way. I will include you in our community of friends (who are really more like family). They are kind and gentle people who love you.
I will strive to make your home your safe haven where you can always be yourself. I will teach you that you are never, ever a “bad girl”, by calling you a “good girl” when you are docile and quiet, implying that when you are the opposite, loud and contradictory, that you are the opposite of good. You are never, ever “not good”, although I may not particularly like your behavior. I want to make sure that you believe this at the very core of your being.
I will always love you, no matter what path you choose in life, what friends you make, or what trouble you may get into along the way. I will strive to make sure that you never feel you have to keep any secrets from your parents because you feel ashamed. As your parents, we will face problems with warmth and guidance, not judgment and fear.
I will never hit you or pinch you or bite you. Putting these things down in words makes me see how ridiculous they really are. I made this promise the day you were born and I will not break it. I make this promise again and again when I am calm, so that I may remember it when I am angry. I may lose my temper and yell, but this is my mistake and I will strive to be rational next time.
I will never force you to eat things you do not want to eat. Nor force or coerce or suggest that you hug or kiss when you do not want to hug or kiss, even if it embarrasses me or hurts people’s feelings. Your body is your own and only you know when it is hungry and when it wants to give or receive affection.
I will try to resist the urge to shield you from pain when I know it will help you to grow. I will strive not to smother you, and to let go when I am sure it is best for you, even if it hurts me.
Since I wish for you not to interrupt people when they are talking, I will not interrupt you while you are talking, or ignore you when you are asking for me. I believe that children deserve this respect as much as adults.
As I care for you every day, I will remember that this is my job. I will give you my attention and my time. I will treat this as seriously as I treated my teaching jobs in the past. This is the most important work I will ever do and I will strive to remember that every day.
I will not expect you to act older than you are. When you are a toddler, as you are right now, I expect you to act like a toddler. When you are a teenager, I will expect you to act like a teenager.
I will strive not to confuse my desires and my to do list for what we “have” to do or where we “have” to go.
I will not remind you of how much money I have spent or how much time I have given. If I cannot give without doing so, I will not give. I will not play the martyr in order to gain while giving.
I'm Molly. I'm all in for parenting. I'm all in for good food. All in for big and small outdoor adventures. And really only partly in for homemaking. I want a Martha Stewart home and meal, but the truth is, we mamas just can't do it all. Not really. This shit is tricky!
This is a collection of musings and missives about parenting like you mean it. I mean really mean it. About how you can pull off a really mostly decent meal, keep your house kinda clean, do some of your laundry, and also even remember to usually feed your pets. But mostly about how being a mama is hard and we can totally rock it, but maybe that dream of perfection has got to give a little.