Thursday, February 24, 2011

On being a good mom:

I am one of the good moms. You may not think much of this statement, but the fact that I can say it at all is a sign of tremendous self-awareness on my part. I make this statement as the weight of my role takes its toll on my shoulders, quite literally, as I’m constantly sore from carrying around my 6-month old in her front carrier. I make this statement knowing there are a million other moms out there, changing a diaper, wiping a nose, folding laundry, perhaps, who are wonderful, talented, loving women suffering from the internal, eternal conflict- balancing their mommy perfectionism with their need to wash their hair. These women question the truth of this statement, not as it applies to me, but as it applies to themselves- and they make never say those words with even an ounce of confidence: That they, too, are one of the good moms.

Good, by the way, is the most arbitrary of adjectives, a word with no meaning behind it without some basis of comparison. What makes a “good” mom is entirely in the eyes of the beholder, and as such we mamas strive for the ultimate appearance of success, as it’s that appearance on which we are judged. Do our shoes match? Is the baby adequately dressed, having taken into account not only the weather but current trends in baby couture and their gender, as we have only their clothing to mark them “girl” or “boy” and scorned be the mama who adorns her precious darlin’ baby in ambiguous attire.

We set out food at playdates, a tremendous feat, and even ask ourselves, and each other, what other moms have been serving when THEY host playdate- as much as we shouldn’t, and in many cases, don’t judge one another on our spreads, the ability to set out appropriately appetizing snacks is one more item on our proverbial to-do list, and one more task on which we base our success.

Many corporate jobs allot one year for a new employee to become proficient in their new role, and that is with a myriad of resources available to them at their fingertips- policies and procedures, how-to manuals, meetings with a supervisor to set role-specific duties. There’s a job description to adhere to, and goals with which to measure success. However, in my new job, that of a mama to one perfect, miraculous baby girl, I have no job description, no manual, no way to measure my success… and no time-allotted learning curve. My duties vary from day to day and from age to age; I fail as many times, if not more so, than I succeed. Some days my daughter sleeps 7 hours, sometimes she’s up every 45 minutes. Sometimes I manage to blow-dry my hair before work, sometimes I end up in a ponytail for 3 days straight. Sometimes I give my baby formula- which for me is a crushing failure every time, a sign of my inability to maintain an abundant milk supply for her to nurse- while for other moms it’s a necessity, and in no way indicative of her mothering ability, no more than my daughter being 80% breastfed gives me bragging rights. (although, I do swell with pride at the sight of her chunky lil hamhocks. How can I not?)

It shouldn’t matter if the laundry is done, if the dishwasher’s been run, or the rug’s been vacuumed. It’s impossible for me to cook like I used to now that I’m caring for her, and the responsibility of her nutrition falls in large part on me. But still I feel the anxiety creeping in every time I am faced with a basket full of clothes to fold, or when I realize I forgot to order diapers and we’re down to the last three.

I feel bad that I’ve neglected my dogs, who look at me longingly while I nurse the baby. I vehemently regret the fact that, on Valentines’ day, my husband took me dancing and I started to fall asleep mid-twirl. I wish that I had a chance to iron my work pants every now and then, and that I could be more focused at work.

And yet, I know I’m a good mom. I am a good mom because when I was faced with the choice between free, but unstable childcare and completely overhauling my family’s finances in order to place her in a reputable, but expensive childcare center, we opted for the daycare… and have never looked back, despite the stress and uncertainty it’s caused us. I’m a good mom because I’ve given breastfeeding my very best of efforts, pumping at night and during the workday to provide Millie with enough breastmilk to sustain her at daycare, and I’ve kept this up even on days when pumping goes poorly and I’m devastated…. And I have, quite literally, sat in my office and cried over spilled milk.

I have spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on breastfeeding aids- two breast pumps, storage bags, nipple creams, nipple shields, nursing bras, car and battery adapters, and herbal supplements that I misused; my fenugreek habit was up to 18 a day at one point, as I waited for the desired effect to kick in- a faint smell of maple syrup that was to indicate its effectiveness. I’ve pumped on bathroom floors in between breaks at trade shows; in the parking lot at McDonalds’; on the interstate; on the way to the movies. I’ve struggled with my decision to go to the gym in case I miss a feeding; I struggle with my decision to go to the gym because I’m away from her 9 hours a day already and my workouts feel like too much of a luxury, even as I preach the gospel of healthy habits to anyone who will listen; especially how my healthy (or not so healthy) habits translate to her future habits as well.

I endured abuse from my family when I chose daycare. I endured skepticism when I chose breastfeeding. I endured, and continue to endure, judgment at work when I choose to take Millie to the doctor when she’s ill, when I choose to use my lunch break to take part in playgroups. As much as I made these choices with the belief that they are the very best for me and my baby, they are different from the choices other moms make; different from, not inferior to. These choices make me no better or worse than other moms…. Although we all share the same guilt that each decision prompts, no matter our intentions.

We good moms, we mourn the loss of our bodies and our sanity, the loss (or impending loss) of our nursing relationships with our babies, we mourn the loss of each fleeting moment as we watch our infants grow and learn and change… just as we celebrate their triumphs, anticipate their milestones, and struggle to document each memory so that we can share them with our children as they get older. The good moms, we blow raspberries on our baby’s tummies during diaper changes, even as we secretly look forward to the day when they’ll pee-pee in the potty. We know we should go to sleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow at night, not knowing whether we’ll be woken up or not; and yet, we can’t stop marveling at our sleeping children on the video monitors we’ve installed. We lean on one another, and admire one another, and we always wonder how the other moms are doing so well, even when we know in our hearts we’re all in the same rocking boat.

I hope for Millie, not monetary wealth or success, but that she will grow to appreciate all the love that surrounds her every day, that she will find happiness and meaning in her life, that she will wake each day hopeful and full of vibrance…. Even as I hope to bring out those things in myself. I try so hard every day, even when I am exhausted, even when I want to crawl under the covers and not come out until she’s 18, even when I feel like anyone else is more qualified to care for her than I am.

I know I’m a good mom because I wanted Millie more than anything in the world. Because I ate right, exercised, and read to my belly while I was pregnant. I read reviews of nursery furniture, bedding, toys, clothes, and diapers before making what I thought was the best selection for her. I had the very best of intentions when it came to diapering, feeding, making my own baby food. I chose to keep my job, because I wanted to raise my daughter to know that she won’t have to choose between a family and a career…. And I wanted to earn enough money for my family to be comfortable and enjoy a few treats here and there like family days, meals out, vacations, and Dr. Seuss books.

I’m a good mom because my heart aches with love for her, and because knowing I’m her first teacher, her primary role model, is bringing out wonderful qualities in me like patience and kindness and empathy. Because being her mom has made me want to be my very best self, not just for her but for both of us. Yes, I will mess up. The occasional swear word will pass my lips before I say "earmuffs," I'll probably give her chicken nuggets, let her stay up past bedtime, and watch cartoons on days when she should be outside soaking up sunshine... with sunscreen on, of course! But overall... I'm definitely a good mom. :)

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