So, I have one kind of Martha Stewart-ish trick that I trot out as often as I can. It's a good trick and I will tell you about it in a minute. You should care because it's a good trick. (It's about berry stains) Anyway, why, this need that everyone know that I have a Martha Stewart worthy trick up my sleeve?
Here it is: I want to be like her. Not the jail part, but the beautifully organized color coordinated part. I am not this. I am not this because I have this other desire that is winning (also I don't have the money): I have children with whom I want to spend my time. (Even though they bug the shit out of me sometimes.) I want to read them stories and make them good meals and I want to swim in the river and climb small mountains and grow food in our garden and volunteer an insane amount of hours in their classrooms and in their school gardens. This is where I am choosing to put my time.
When A was very little I noticed that everyone, really everyone, even my hippie feminist mother started conversations with her by saying something like this, "You have such a pretty smile," or "I love your bouncy curls," or "Your dress is so pretty." On the surface these may seem like benign comments, even sweet. But, maybe because I'm high strung and a little sensitive, I found them to be condescending and insidious. If we open with "you're pretty" the message is clear: The most important thing is how you look. Even if we talk about something else next, the first and most important thing is that you are cute, pretty and well behaved.
I'm not an idiot, I get it that how we look is what people see and that it's an easy opener when you don't actually know someone. But little people don't always (or ever) get the intricacies of social interaction. They aren't thinking about how that woman on the bus just didn't know what else to say, but is wishing she had grandchildren and so she opened with the only thing she could think of. I promise the sweet babies are not having these thoughts.
They are thinking "I'm pretty, I'm pretty, I'm pretty. Pretty dress, pretty curls. Pretty." They like being complimented. So they keep trying to do the things that got them those compliments. Ick! Is this what we want our little ones striving for?! Not me.
Here are some things to say instead:
Also, these comments are not gender specific. You could say these things to boys or girls. Why oh why are we assigning gender roles to our small little people?! Just let them be. We begin sending the secret and coded message to girls at such a young age that it is good when they are pretty, quiet and clean. I asked my husband and a thoughtful friend of mine with a boy what people say to boys. Both of them said that people either said nothing (What?! WTF? Nothing?!) or they commented on the boys being tough. That is just as effed up as telling girls they are pretty. I'm sorry?! Nothing? We're not talking to little boys?! Or we're complimenting them on their toughness. Again, ick! And no fucking wonder we have some problems!
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.
On Saturday I went out with my college girlfriends. They're awesome and I wish I saw them more than 3 times a year. They are funny and smart and they've known me for 20 years, but they are not my family. Yes, we are all wearing the same owl shirt. See?! Funny, but not my family. So, obviously I was plagued with guilt. We had just gotten back from a week away, which could mean that since I'd just spent nearly every minute (really ev-er-y minute!) of the last 7 days with my family, that it was no big deal to be gone for a few hours. But instead, to me, it meant the following: I shouldn't have left today. There's loads of crap all over the house to be put away. The kids are going to be a collective pain in the ass as they settle back in. My husband will be saddled with all the work and he'll be mad at me for going and ditching him . . . and on and on. Because of all of that I promised to be back before dinner, thinking that would ease the pain of being left. However, (and this has happened before . . . more than one time) I didn't make it back in time for dinner. I had to sheepishly call at 5:00 and confess that I wasn't going to make it. More guilt! And, my husband was a little put out. Rightfully so. He wasn't planning on making dinner.
When I got home the kids were bathed and fed, the crap was still all over the house, and my husband was not irritated with me. He'd gotten over it. Lucky me! There are all sorts of morals to this story but the most important take away for me was this: life in my family goes on just fine without me. That doesn't mean they don't need me. They just don't need me ALL THE EFFING TIME! Also, I deserve to have a break. And, also this: my partner is competent and capable. I'll say it again, he is competent and capable and he loves our girls just as fiercely as I do. And that's awesome. It doesn't diminish what I do. Being a full time parent and caretaker of the house is an enormous amount of work, but our partners (or babysitters) can handle the kids for a few hours, while we take a break. In fact it diminishes them when we suggest that they can't do it without us. Of course they can! And the guilt? We gotta let that shit go. It's not good for any of us.
Before we had A we (Daniel and I) talked about the most important thing we could teach her. There are lots of things to teach. So effing many actually. You might think that boiling it down to one thing would be hard. Turns out, it's not. Be kind. That is the thing.
At dinner we all share a high light and a low light from our days. Yep, we're that family. Actually we're not, usually Little E shares some made up tedium that happened to her imaginary brother or sister and A hems and haws and says she has to think about it, and as soon as Daniel or I start to share, bam! she's ready and then she sulks because she has to wait. Oh. My. God. This sweet ritual is now super irritating and obnoxious. Sometimes, though, it goes smoothly and we learn a bit about what happens when we're not around.
During the dinner in question, high lights and low lights went smoothly. Little E shared that she'd gotten two extra stars from her teacher and A shared that she too had gotten an extra star from her teacher. Instead of applauding my girls, I said (probably in a defeated and exhausted voice), "I wish someone would give me an extra star." "Who?", A asked. Exactly. Who?!
The next morning upon entering the kitchen I found this note, complete with extra star. I should maybe tap out now before I mess her up because it seems like possibly, she's getting it.
I yelled. And it felt shitty. My sweet girl was scared. I was mad. Really mad and incredulous and irritated. And mad! "Just do your fucking homework," I yelled as I slammed a little pink eraser down on the table. It feels awful to lose your cool. If it's never happened to you, then stop reading and go to some other blog where the author is perfect. Oh, wait there exists no such person? Hah! Then keep reading, because it will happen to you one day. Probably.
I stormed back to my computer where I was futilely trying to print my completed tax forms (I can't file electronically this year because my (and my entire family's) identity was stolen and my taxes filed by some A-hole bad guy. But that's another post). I couldn't get it to print, then I did and I ran out of paper and I printed on the back of old Christmas paper. Then I ran out of ink and had to replace a cartridge. Oh. My. God!!! Why is life sometimes so difficult?!
No wonder I was pissed. Probably it didn't have much to do with A and her homework after all. Or it did and she's just so empathic that she felt my stress and took it on and turned into a little stress ball herself and therefore couldn't do her homework without a lot of tears and whining. Which I had no patience for because I was stressed. Damn it!!! Parenting is so effing difficult.
In case you missed it . . . It didn't have much to do with her and she is so sensitive that she took it upon herself to feel super stressed out on my behalf. Not that her behavior wasn't super irritating. It was! But, she's 7. She's doing exactly as sensitive little 7 year olds do.
I stepped outside and took a couple dozen deep breaths. I came back in and apologized. It felt good to say I was sorry. That yelling was my mistake. I hugged her and hugged her. She cried and said, "I'm just so stressed out. I don't know why." Oh sweet baby.
Also, sometimes one forgets to invite guests. And sometimes one forgets that there is no lunch bunch available at the preschool, so one's children must eat their lovingly packed lunch at home. In the presence of royalty so as to avoid tears.
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.
It turns out that starting a blog is tricky. I finally, after whole actual hours, chose the above picture (the one at the very top of the page, with the cute little naked legs and the Crocs). And then I giggled (for real out loud) as I remembered that moments after I snapped this picture my girl peed all over the Adirondack chair (the one that actually belongs to my neighbor). Not just a little bit. A lot. It pooled at their feet and dripped down through the boards of the porch. I did not panic. I did what any competent and and thoughtful mama would do. I got out the hose. I hosed the porch, I hosed the chair, I hosed the Crocs. Also, I hosed the girls. Then I spent a few moments lost in nostalgia for the sweet days of naked outdoor tea parties and naked time in the garden and . . . . oh, yeah, potty training and pee everywhere. Glad that's over. Kinda.
Hosing off pee is not the hard part. It's the fun part. The hard part is not losing your shit because oh, my God! I just asked her if she needed to pee and she said no. Really, just seconds ago she said no. This is not a phenomenon unique to my child. It is a character trait of all 2 year olds. The hard part is also making it back inside after a blissful day outside having a naked* tea party with friends. The hard part is figuring out what to feed your clan. But it's possible. We can all do it. Usually. But not always, and if you can't, order pizza. Or Thai, if you're fancy.
*Just the 2 year olds were naked.
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.