A dear friend who doesn’t have children recently asked me a very standard, very benign question:
I deliberated for a week. I typed and retyped responses in the dialogue box. I started writing things like, Motherhood is the best. It’s awesome. I’m astonished and humbled every day. I found my purpose, my true calling, the reason why I’m meant to be on earth.
I erased those sentences and started again.
Motherhood is a mixed bag. Some days I feel like I’m floating down a river, bobbing effortlessly like an otter on its back, my head tilted toward the sun, my body weightless and my mind on nothing more than playing. Next to me is a smaller otter, a tinier version of myself. We’re splashing and slip-sliding and doing whatever it is otters do. The small otter is following my lead. I dip underwater. He dips underwater. I flip onto my back. He flips onto his back. The air is warm and the water is cool. The small otter climbs on top of my chest, burrows under my chin and together we float as one, at peace with each other in our wild, meandering domain.
Then there are days when I feel like I’m swimming against the current in a heavy Mississippi flood. I can’t touch the bottom. My muscles ache from kicking and paddling. I’m swimming in slow motion past fallen tree limbs and wayward debris. A young boy is clinging to the branch of an old oak, crying like a kitten, desperate to be rescued. “Mama,” he cries “Save me.” I push my body upstream, past overturned cars and floating piles of untethered junk, the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. Beleaguered but not broken, I wade through waist-high weeds. I climb the tree, retrieve the child and clutch him to my chest. I lower us back into the water. I kiss his wet forehead and like Rose in Titanic I vow to never let go. He hugs me, happy to be in my arms. He tells me he loves me. Then he punches me in the face.
When my childless friends ask me about motherhood I have an urge to respond with these longwinded analogies as if it’s the only way to articulate how terribly difficult it is. GAG.
The truth is nothing is easy. What’s easy is being a kid and even that’s hard.
I willfully signed up to be a mother, ugly bits and all. As much as it may feel like parenting is a herculean feat, it’s not. For better or worse, big people have raised little people for centuries. Same complicated human experience, different generation. Same circle of life, different shit getting our panties in a twist.
As I plod along as a new parent I’m learning that a lot of the pressure we feel as parents has nothing to do with actual parenting. Ask any new mom who has spent hours shopping for organic, paraben-free, mineral-based sunscreen. Ask any new mom who closes the blinds on her front window in the evening for fear of being outed as a lazy cheat who uses SpongeBob as a babysitter while she throws together boxed mac and cheese and frozen nuggets for dinner. Ask any new mom who has looked at Pinterest ever before hosting a kid’s birthday party. Ask any new mom who’s been told BPA-free plastics are actually worse for you than BPA-laden plastics and the most conscientious moms use stainless steel, glass or bamboo products. Ask any parent who has ever read a book, article or essay about parenting EVER because if there’s one thing parents love to do, it’s flap their jaws about parenting.
My Oma likes to say that today’s generation overanalyzes everything. Although I tend to disagree with most generation jabs, I think she’s right on this one.
I recently Googled parenting articles. Here’s the hit list:
The Perils of Attachment Parenting (The Atlantic)
Why French Parents Are Superior (Wall Street Journal)
All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting (NY Magazine)
How I Learned To Be a More Mindful Parent (The Washington Post)
Data Deluge Feeds Paranoia Parenting (Science News)
I’m over the racket. I’m over our societal control issues. The amount of information available today has made us more informed AND more neurotic as parents and as A PEOPLE.
Engage your child, but don’t pay him too much attention. Be French, but don’t eat gluten. Ditch the gadgets, but here’s an app your kid will love.
Whenever the noise gets too loud I fall back on my favorite guiding principle: life liberty and the pursuit of
perfect take a freakin chill pill.
Are there days I’m convinced sugar and artificial dyes are making my hyperactive son more hyper and more active? Sure. Do I simply assume he’s THREE and A BOY and no amount of natural food will turn him into a zen buddhist? Of course. Do I read labels at the grocery store? Yes, but Henry also gets a free cookie from the bakery every time we shop so how pious am I? And why is this an issue again? Oh right. Because I’m supposed to micromanage everything because my environment is a cancer-ridden underworld inhabited by tech-obsessed zombies who eat GMO foods and watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Part of the reason why I took such a long break from blogging was because I felt like there was nothing I could add to the glut of mommy material on the internet. There isn’t a topic that hasn’t been snarked about, groused about, dissected, pontificated and preached. Also, like most working writers, I have plenty of personal material and no time to write about it.
And then there’s Henry.
From age two to three he became more high-energy and more demanding than any living creature I’ve ever encountered on this beautiful, wacky planet, which is the real reason why I’ve been M.I.A. Sometimes you slip into survival mode. And that’s OK.
At the end of the day I had nothing left to give this space, but a long look after a tall glass of beer.
I don’t need to tell you that motherhood is hard and I definitely don’t need to analyze it. The real barometer of my competence as a parent is asleep in the room next to me. We went to a park today, ate sandwiches under a tree, traipsed around a playground and played King Kong versus Godzilla on the artificial rocks – a game inspired by the 1960s monster movies my son loves, but is probably too young to watch.
Later that afternoon, over a plate of graham crackers and chocolate milk, he asked me, “When will I turn into a bigger boy?”
“NEVER, if I can help it.”
“When did you turn into a bigger girl?”
“When I had you,” I said.