Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mamahood in Moderation

There’s a slew of articles popping up like weeds across the sordid interweb, all with the underlying message of giving ourselves, as mothers, and others, as fellow mothers, a break. Get off Pinterest! They say. Stop knitting! Hug your children! Leave the dishes in the sink!
These articles are primarily referring to stay-at-home moms, or SAHM’s, in  blogging acronym world. According to some writers, these women feel the need to validate themselves and their life choices by making cake pops in the shape of their children’s elementary school mascot in preparation for the PTA bake sale, by doing baby signs with their toddlers, by nursing, by only feeding their children organic, by using cloth diapers, growing your own garden, making your own baby food, sewing your own smocked outfits in accordance with the next holiday, sprinkling reindeer food on the lawn at Christmas, planting jelly beans in the yard to grow lollipops at Easter, to do crafts and sing songs and all the while keep a spotless house and feed your family gourmet meals you bought for pennies on the dollar, so savvy you are at manipulating grocery store savings!

You know what? I totally get it, and here’s why. Before I got engaged in 2007, I had an idea in my head what it meant to be a good girlfriend, and I did my best to adopt some of those practices, within reason and ability, to make my relationship a little sweeter. I am by nature a planner, and there is truly a 1950’s farmhouse wife within me who is just dying to get out, so it is easy for me to plan parties in honor of Mike Baby- the year I did a Roast for him for his birthday, complete with all his high school friends to tell hilarious tales from days of yore comes to mind. I love to cook, to try new recipes, to delight in a bowl of strawberries fresh from the farmer’s market- or better yet, fresh picked by own hands.  I am also, by nature cautiously adventurous, as is my now-hubby, and he and I had a blast traveling, discovering dive bars, camping, rafting, hiking… We stored up a lifetime of memories during our courtship, and he could see himself enjoying an actual lifetime of said memories, so he proposed. For the 8 months after our proposal, I was in wedding-planning frenzy, wanting a million different things, and completely consumed with the decision making of it all. Luckily there was really on The Knot to distract me- if Pinterest had been around back then, I’d still be pondering centerpieces and hairstyles, and would have yet to set foot down an aisle. Whew! Crisis averted.

Once the chime of wedding bells faded, I set about the happy task of becoming A Good Wife. What this meant to me was entirely different than what it had meant to be a Good Girlfriend. A Good Wife plans meals, makes sure we all have vitamins and that we get our annual physical, schedules the dogs’ shots, and essentially takes over all manners related to the household, much like the House Manager job titles floating around the blogosphere in reference to SAHM’s. Granted, I did all of this managerial type stuff in addition to my actual job in tourism marketing, which oftentimes means that the things my HUSBAND thought a Good Wife might want to do didn’t make it on the list- I was simply too tired from being a Good Wife to be a good wife! Finally, we had a talk about it and I realized I was measuring my worth as a wife on things that, to him, didn’t matter. Now, I could tell myself all day long that I knew what was best for my household and my husband, and I could convince myself that this role needed to be carried out in just this way. But, would I do that in my place of employment? Would I say to my boss, I’m sorry you wanted me to get XYZ projects done, it’s just that I decided it would be best for the company if I reorganized the supply closet first. See how great it is to have paper clips sorted by size! THIS is how my merit as an employee should be rated! Of course I wouldn’t say that. My boss chose me to do a job that I’m good at, and my husband chose me to be his wife because he loves ME. He does not love, or even notice, my ability to coordinate table linens. Not one little bit. So why should I expect him to determine whether I’m a Good Wife from these things? Those things mattered to ME, not him. And I’m not my own wife, I’m his, so…. Naturally his input on such matters should be of value.  

The thing is, when a SAHM settles in to her new role, it is COMPLETELY foreign to her. Just as settling into my new role as a wife was foreign to me- at least, that’s how it felt. So, for a role that 1. Has no job description, and 2. Has no official frame of reference from which to base success (nor a performance evaluation to rate said performance) she inevitably finds herself turning to other moms for that frame of reference. And sometimes that frame is a comforting $5 black frame from Wal Mart. More often than not though, and particularly thanks to modern advances in lifestyle photography and Adobe Photoshop, that frame is an intimidating wall display of perfectly un-posed captured moments of family joy, framed by The Organic Bloom.

Those bitches.

The truth is, though, that I have no idea what it’s like to be a stay at home mom, and I can fully appreciate that. I don’t know whether I’d succumb to the pressure weighing on me from the mountains of laundry growing, whether I’d slowly grow weary of the fingerprints and spills, whether the constant chorus of Mama! That rings out in our home would, over time, sound like nails on a chalkboard. My frame of reference is that of working mama- and in fact, there’s literally no frame at all really- the pictures I most want to display are from over a year ago, and still only on a disc, my never having time to decide where I want them, which to order, and in what sizes. Thus I paid a photographer $150 for pics that have only made it on to a Facebook album.

You will not see me writing any financial books any time soon.

I had 6 beautiful weeks of maternity leave, 2 of which have been lost to the cloud of sleeplessness, the other 4 of which were wonderful. I went to post-partum lunches at my hospital and met the incredible, talented caring loving funny women and their precious babies who make up my playgroup mama friends, I napped and nursed and watched more than my fair share of 16 and Pregnant. I blow dried my hair while Milliebug observed from her bouncy seat. I cried and cried my last few fleeting days at home with her, but then I dusted off my black pants and returned to work, and I was engulfed in the breath of fresh air that was the familiar. I KNEW how to do this job, and how to do it well. All levels of incompetency and uncertainty that filled my days of new motherhood washed away as I logged into my computer each morning. True, things would never be the same, particularly as the sound of my Medela serenaded me when Pandora stations once did. But I had the opportunity to return to the familiar playing field I knew best, and that made a huge difference for me in preserving my self worth and self-confidence.

I believe that there are good points and bad points to both staying at home and working, as is with everything in life. Stay-at-home moms don’t miss a minute of their children’s youth, they see every step, hear every word, kiss every boo-boo. Their clothes are inevitably more comfortable than their working mama counterparts, and I would love the chance to grocery shop with Millie on a Tuesday, after naptime and a snack when she’s fresh and cheerful, instead of the intimidating hour post-work day, wen we’re both irritable and can’t even find parking.  But again, I can only imagine the rough patches for a SAHM. Sleepless nights with sick children and no rest, because Daddy’s gotta get up and go to “work” in the morning. Spills and accidents and errands to run and phone calls to make, and gone are the days of peeing in peace.  And that’s just scraping the surface of how a SAHM’s day could go.

I often wonder how a SAHM imagines my day to be.  I write this from the comfort of my air-conditioned office, and peeking from underneath my desk is my left foot, adorned with salmon pink toes and a strappy black shoe.  On the other hand (er, foot) the matching strappy black shoe is covered in dried toddler puke, which I didn’t actually notice until I got to work and couldn’t understand why, when I crossed my legs, I could smell sour milk. Turns out when Baby Girl threw herself at my feet last night after I got home, the warm slobbery “kisses” I felt were actually subsequent yaks. I am too embarrassed by this to actually take said shoe off and rinse it in the office bathroom, for fear of being spotted by a coworker- and as I am the only one with a small child at home, this would serve to further alienate me from the office and evoke a chorus of “ew’s” in my absence.

I have a to-do list a mile long, and I try to cram every.single.errand I have into my lunch breaks ,because God forbid that I navigate the grocery store after picking Bug up from school- nothing says take-out like a hungry, cranky toddler, clambering out of the shopping cart, teetering on certain death, as I juggle her dropped paci, two cartons of milk, food for our dinner, and a bag of dog food that weighs more than she does, if that’s even possible- at the 90th percentile, I am toting around a solid 27 pound wiggle. Wiggle, as a noun. That’s right.

When I get home, Mike Baby and I play Beat the Clock to feed everyone, clean up, do something as a family like take  a walk or snuggle, then it’s bathtime, storytime, bedtime. Whew!

Think I’m done? Oh, no. No sooner has the door to the nursery shut than I am sprinting to the kitch to pack up tomorrow’s breakfast, lunch and snacks for the following day, washing sippy cups, wrapping sandwiches, etc. Then I have the most important choice of the day: do I take a few minutes and shower (NEVER blow-drying- don’t want to wake Princess Pouty Pants) or do I forgo hygiene, resigning myself to another ponytail in favor of a few minutes of reading and going to sleep early?

The morning comes, all too early, and it starts all over again- on good days, I’m woken up to the melody of Ring around the Rosie over the baby monitor- more often, it’s a resounding MAAAAAMMMAAAA!!! And we’re off. Baby changed and dressed, Mama dressed, ponytail secure, dogs outside, dogs inside, dogs in their cages… Millie, please don’t put your sippy cup in the doggie water! Now where are my keys? Where’s Millie’s bag? Is my phone charged? Did you remember to send me that email reminder about depositing that check in the bank during lunch after my doctor’s appointment, and don’t forget to text me the grocery list, I’ll swing by on my way back to the office. Millie loaded up into the car, my bag, her bag piled into the front seat. I navigate two school zones to get her to daycare, scoop her and all her belongings up, deposit belongings in her classroom, weather a tearful goodbye during which her teacher has to literally pry her tiny hands from my shoulder, and for once am grateful I have no time for makeup, as it would certainly have been ruined while I cried myself all the way to work.

And let’s just stop there before we get into the ACTUAL work, shall we?

But when I pick my girl up, she’s so happy to see me and we cling to one another like there will be no more tomorrows, no more separation, no more trauma. Just hugs and happiness, and maybe we’ll stop for frozen yogurt on the way home, spoil her dinner a bit and have some fun together.

On my sick days, I’m thankful to have a daycare to take her to, to not subject her to my sloppy parenting when I’m not at my best, and give her consistency and friendship and an immune system of steel. I feel guilty taking her, knowing I’m going to go home and crawl into bed, but I am so grateful for this option. And it’s much better for her… or so I tell myself.

We all have our definition of Supermom that we strive toward, every day. But there is no perfection. There is only us, covered in baby puke, day-old hair in ponytails, bags under our eyes and arms outstretched to hold our wonderful, vibrant children for as long as they will let us, and we are doing the VERY BEST that we can, every single day. In a perfect world, we’d all have a part time job to give us a little sense of accomplishment and connection outside our home, plenty of time to love our children and play with them, as much time as we want, housekeepers to take care of inconvenient laundry and dishes, and oodles of opportunities to care for ourselves. But this is our Day in the Life. And I say, everything in moderation. Mamahood in moderation. There is no ONE way to be a good parent- we’ve all got our own style and we’re all doing just fine.

So yes, get off Pinterest- and if you feel like it, go do something you’ve been pining (and pinning) away for. Or not.  Stop wondering if the grass is always greener, because certainly in some patches it will be, but there is always, always someone who secretly wants to ask you who does your landscaping. And chances are, more than greener grass she just needs your friendship, or at least your kindness. We are all in this mamahood boat together, and if we don’t start paddling in tune we’re going to sink each other- and ourselves!  (but if that happens, I’m sure one of us knows how to make cookies shaped like life-rafts, complete with perfect royal icing. Yum.)

1 comment:

  1. So true,Precious...I read all this & can see/hear you in each word...Luv.