I hate to shoot for the cliche, but I couldn’t help myself but first go for a “give peace a chance” approach. After a good 15 to 20 seconds of anti-war and greed ranting… I’d ask people to stop having children. Well, not everyone. You get the green light if you’re totally dedicated to making this world a better place for them, and then teaching those children to carry out that same mission. It’s not a lot to ask. It’s a big, bad world and we can’t just give everyone a green card to just, um, sit there. Be it holding someone’s hand in need or just saying hello to strangers walking down the street, baby steps lead to bigger footprints. I’d tell everyone that each of them matter in this world, and they each have a gift to give. I’d tell them things I need to remind myself like put down the Kardashian and pick up a book. Kiss your nearest and dearest often, say you love them at least daily and walk the walk–show them your affection and gratitude in your actions. I’d say look up from the Blackberry/iPhone/laptop/TV and talk to someone. Interact. Humanly. Take the earbuds out of your ears and don’t just hear someone. Listen. Think. Appreciate. React. Think with your head and respond with all your heart. Challenge your own ideas often. Be wrong (it’s okay!). Try something new. Laugh at yourself. Indulge. Forgive yourself. Move on. Respect yourself so you can give more to others. Look beyond the borders of your comfort zone. Stop living in a bubble and care about what’s going on around you. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Sunscreen, yes. Being mean, no. And yes, it is how you play the game. There’s truth in cliche. Hear these words, people. Go forth and…lather, rinse, repeat.
I once watched a TV show where the host was moderating a heated discussion between “stay-at-home moms” and “working moms.” I put these terms in quotes because I find them to be heavily weighted with too much baggage (but that’s fodder for another post). During the climactic moment of said talk show, as the shout decibel was reaching its peak regarding who worked harder, who had it easier, who loved their kids more, etc., the host waved her verbal white flag. Desperate to give the audience calm and clarity before the break, she spoke firmly and with certitude.
“You CAN have it all. Just not all at once.”
Her statement was met with exhausted nods from the panel and “well, okay” shrugs from the obedient audience. And that was that. The preacher, choir, elders and deacons were all in agreement. You can be a great mom. You can have a great career. Just not at the same time.
While the choir felt relief, an unsettling feeling washed over me. Doom.
No matter what brand of mama you are, feelings of guilt are the main driver for this kind of depression. Can I be a good mom if I’m not there 24/7 and focused on my career? If I don’t work outside the home, am I short-changing myself or worse, setting a bad example for my daughter that career aspirations have a shelf life? Seeking that elusive life balance, moms can quickly feel like failures when each area of her life feels chaotic and overwhelmed and she’s incessantly questioning her societal role.
Recent studies suggest that women who have a career outside the home have less stress and are less likely to face depression. That said though, aren’t you better off at home if that’s really where you want to be, and better off working if that’s where you really want to be? But since we all don’t have money coming out of our asses and the economy looks bleak, most of us have to work. And even if you don’t have to or don’t want a career outside the home, there’s a looming question that’s driving us all mad. What the heck is “IT ALL” and why are we obsessed with its pursuit?
On those stressful mornings that start at 5am, with screaming kids, sore muscles and piles of clutter, I admit to questioning if this is all life is cracked up to be. Must I really battle for an hour with a screaming 3 year old over my choice to break her graham cracker in two and give her two halves rather than the whole piece? Was this the kind of daily debating my life would be measured by now? Is this my brain on Silly Putty? What happened to two-hour creative brainstorms about how to monetize an ad package for a big client? Grass. Greener. Oh yeah.
But something occurred to me on a recent 5am hellish morning that I should be using a trick of the trade from my previous work life. That standby cardinal work rule that we use in dealing with higher-ups, clients, anybody-whose-shit-is-bigger-than-yours, etc. :
Manage expectations! Your own, Silly (Putty)!
Perhaps it’s time to live and let go. What if I just accepted the fact that some mornings are going to feel overwhelming no matter how much preparation I put into them. It’s freeing to know that even the most mundane of parenting tasks is not just an opportunity for a preschooler’s life lesson, but for my own acceptance (see graham cracker negotiation). Looking at the bigger picture of am I or am I not striking a healthy work/life balance, I just need to admit that this so-called balancing act can be really hard. If I’m pulling my hair out when my To Do list hasn’t had a check off in days, or if you’re trying to juggle carpool and morning meetings and impressively manage to be late for both, just BREATHE. We’re not perfect, we’re parents and that’s just fine. Maybe once we accept that sticky situations and rough days will happen, we can manage our own psyche first and then manage up (i.e. kids, co-workers, teachers, etc.). Isn’t the beauty of life that the journey is an unsolved adventure that we navigate and explore along the way? If we know all the answers by the time we’re 40, aren’t we asking for a one-way ticket to Dullsville?
Parenthood is not nor will it ever be a one-size-fits-all slice of life that can be wrapped up in a box with a big red bow on it, let alone something you get to open up at your convenience. Unless you’re a deadbeat, it’s there, daily, in your face, ready to be molded, shaped, dropped, destroyed, reinvented and blossomed into something so intoxicating you don’t know how you’d live without it. It’s the greatest gift you’ll ever open no matter what your business card reads (if you have one at all).
Our choices and challenges are our own. Living the dream and having “it all” is the whole-hearted embrace of that.
This was the choice phrase our mortgage broker Alex used to describe parenting two young ones as opposed to the calmer waters of just one butt to wipe. Sitting across from him, signing paperwork to make life a touch financially easier, all I could do was laugh and play along with his friendly Tom Foolery.
We were then three months away from giving birth to Sam, a little late for those true warning labels. KIDS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. GOODBYE FREE WILL. YOU’LL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. When faced with such sentiment before our first child, I tended to think, wow, sounds wonderfully challenging, but all this new parent talk sounds a bit cliche. Little did I know the depth of any of it. It’s not until that first 8 pounder is pulled from your loins does the profoundness of parenthood hit you. You’re so dumbfounded by the newness that you don’t realize you’ve taken a direct hit. What was before was then. THIS is now.
The second time around is no different in that regard, only you foolishly think, “we’ve got this” since you’ve done it all before. Sure, picking up the logistics of it is like riding a bike–the re-submersion into diapers, spit up, and just-barely-getting-sleep-to function all at play. It’s something much deeper and scarier that changes the game.
How do you share your heart?
For three years, this AMAZING girl Zoe–and I say that in the pure definition of the most overused word–has brought more light, grace, laughter, emotion, challenge and wonder into our lives that I never knew existed. She’s pure joy. Magical in every way. It’s fair to say that she became the center of our universe. Kids do that, right? Not to say that’s healthy or that attitude wouldn’t get some highly regarded parenting bible thrown at our heads. But she was certainly more than the bee’s knees, I’m just sayin’. So how could we possibly rock her world in such a way that she’d have to share our love? It seemed so cruel. What had we done?
Well, a good thing for her, of course, as siblings wonderfully enrich your life, but that is hard to see at first. It’s been painful to watch her navigate her new relationship and order in the house. Zoe’s wonderfully sweet with Sam, but suddenly, she’s acting out more–more tantrums, more whining, etc. “Maybe it’s just the age?” “Maybe she’s tired?” The internal questions abound, but you know the main source of her angst: Who the frack is this two-footer that seemingly wants to rule HER roost and suddenly she must share beyond a reasonable playdate. Poor thing. She’ll get there though. Baby steps, indeed.
The beauty of it all is that while we watch and encourage her new sisterly skill set, our family bond is changing. Our dynamic certainly transformed overnight but there’s a daily transformation going on as we all get our sea legs as a foursome. And what’s growing that bond is pure love. Little did we know it was that…easy.
Any family reality show or Supernanny rerun can tell you, parenthood is not all roses and rainbows. The roses have thorns and the rainbows come after big booming thunderstorms. The thunderstorm that is Having Two (or Three, Four, etc.) is something I’m not sure anyone is prepared for. It just is something you DO. One minute you’ve seemingly hit your parental groove and can escape for a pedicure while your husband blissfully watches an England/Spain Friendly while your precious cargo naps (yay!). Then suddenly you’re back in the trenches handling spit-up, screaming and a 3 year old with a fresh need for attention the likes a drunken celebutant couldn’t achieve (Look at Me! Look at Me!). Time is precious and free time is virtually non-existent. Oddly though, all that starts to work for you. It’s functional because you have that love to share and keep you sane–for both kids and for each other. It’s what keeps you keepin’ on, ponytailed and ready to face the next day’s meltdowns and 800th game of Candyland.
It’s painfully hard. It’s awesome. And it’s YOURS.
I understand Alex’s definition of parenthood now. “Two is a game changer” was no cliche, nor was it an over-simplication of parenthood. You just can’t put any of this stuff into words for people that are about to embark on a next chapter in life’s great journey. It’s their own to navigate and they’ll choose their own adventures along the way. What’s certain are moments of wanting to pull your hair out and the next minute, unimaginable bliss.
And to that…game on.
“What’s the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done?” Plinky asks.
Hmmm. I can think of a few. I like to think I lead with my head and heart in sync, but sometimes, the heart is a solo performer. That said, I think it’s nice to go back to the beginning…the first time I remember throwing zero caution to the wind, letting ‘er rip, and welcoming impulse into my life.
I auditioned for Annie, The Musical when I was about 10 years old at our small town’s community theater [Editor's Note: I am NOT a singer by training nor a dancer by training. Not remotely. I was a kid that loved Annie. Period.]. Many an Annie-obsessed kid turned up for the audition, and we were instructed to know the beginning and chorus of the song “Tomorrow” (duh). Given the long line of eager Annies ready to American Idolize themselves, we were firmly told to stop before the bridge of the song. At least, my weak musical knowledge thinks it’s the bridge? You know the, “When I’m stuck with a day, that’s gray, and lonely…” Well, we weren’t supposed to go that far in the song. Just get through the chorus and then out of the way for another tween suburbanite’s turn. “NEXT.”
I was a pretty shy kid back then when it came to exposing too much of my personality. But this was ANNIE. I would sing and dance daily to the Broadway recording in our living room when I didn’t think my family was watching. This Day My Earth Stood Still was my chance to show the world (the Forge Theater in Phoenixville, PA casting volunteers) that I could wear a curly red wig with the best of ‘em. It was Showtime.
I remember the pit in my stomach leading up to my turn. I remember beginning to sing and seeing a little old lady from my church in the seats nodding along with encouragement. Whether or not there was a tinge of pity in that nod, didn’t matter. I was in a zone. A comfortable, no fear zone. I sang with passion! I sang with gumption! No holds barred, baby. Who was this kid breaking out of me? What was this inner spunk of a child I was unlocking before the eyes of 20? In that moment of self discovery and love, I promptly decided to break the rule. KEEP GOING, I told myself, suddenly out of body and loving the little diva I saw before me. I figured the more they heard, the more they’d feel my passion! I kept on belting, and I mean belting, right on to “stick out my chin, and grin, and saaaaaaaaay…”
As I recall it, they let me go a few bars, and then firmly said, “thank you, thank you…that’s all, Jennifer.” And the moment was over. I floated out of the line with a beaming smile and an inner fire I had never experienced.
It didn’t matter if I got cast as Annie (I didn’t) or Molly the youngest orphan (nope). I had overcome a fear of showing my true colors (inner orphaned red head?) for something I believed in. I walked away knowing that sometimes going for it is one of the best instincts to listen to–whether it pans out successfully or not.
It just makes you feel really freaking swell.
Ya Take the Good, Ya Take the Bad…
Well…I like to think I'm a bit of a hybrid vehicle. I think I get my spunk and sensitivity from good ol' Mom, and my common sense and level head from my Dad. My sense of humor is part goofy (Mom), part clever (Dad). That said, I can be flighty in my "zoning out" moments (Mom) and randomly impatient over the most mundane things (Dad). I say randomly because I am generally very patient with the people in my life or when it comes to situations out of my own control (traffic, waiting in lines, etc). But if the clutter that is the kitchen, bathroom and living room starts to feel like the walls are caving in, I fold…and freak. Go figure.
The people in the photo are not my parents. My folks are way cooler.
There’s pressure here, alright. It’s competition. Right here in Mommy City.
I’m not talking about your remarkably delicious newborn vs. her equally charming 20 inch/8lbs of cuteness. Not whose babe first walked or talked nor sang Twinkle Twinkle in its entirely without a lisp.
I’m referring to Moms vs. Moms, and our borderline obsession with “presentation.”
In those early days of mommyhood, it’s pretty much who gives a rat’s patooty what you drape your body in, as long as those limbs are draped in something. If you’ve got the lady parts covered, you’re golden. You’re lucky to be keeping that munchkin of a being alive, let alone run a comb through your ragged hair. Makeup? Oy. Maybe after the 3 month appointment. Just keep it together, girl.
But then something starts to fade. As you begin to move from stage 1 diapers to 2, rice cereal to more solid food, and the realization that the kid is no longer going to sleep just anywhere, something fades into the sunset.
Suddenly, there’s that nagging feeling of expectation to be BACK! Shoot, you’re soooo not back. Your body? It’s going to take some serious Jillian Michaels on Comcast On Demand to get your ass remotely close to the days of yore. Why does your tummy suddenly look like a crinkly leather cushion? And how do you find the time, let alone the remote control under the baby gear, to give even 10 minutes to a workout?
You catch a breather at the doctor’s office, opening up an US Weekly. There, you see celebutante after celebutante who LOST THE BABY WEIGHT IN 4 WEEKS! looking red carpet ready over and over again. Seriously?
Soon, you find yourself in your first Gymboree class, cheering on your tyke, but trying hard not to stare at the seemingly perfections of motherhood in their designer jeans, makeup and…heels?
Robots, you think. Those aren’t real people. They can’t be. Those children’s mothers must have hired hot, robotic caretakers to pool them around in the minivan while they are at home getting the elusive nap (remember napping? Me neither.)
Then come the parties where the invitations alone can bring on an ulcer. Did your own wedding invitation look as classy as this one-year-old’s birthday soiree? Don’t even think about skimping on the favors, food, music, et al. The theme better kick ass too. Princesses, Under-the-Sea, NASCAR, it doesn’t matter, but you better bring it, and bring it hard. Otherwise…
What will the others say?
Who did this to us? And why are we stuck in this sick cycle of doing it to each other?
For now, I’m blaming Tori Spelling and her elaborate bashes for her offspring. Donna Martin should not have graduated if all she would do is bring us this kind of pressure. A tented tennis court with chandeliers, a gardening station where guests create potted plants, a cookie-decorating station, ladybug sprinklers and an ladybug insect zoo. Plus, The Jumpitz on hand to perform songs? I don’t know who The Jumpitz are, but WTH, Donna Martin? WTH?
Getting back to reality, I suppose we all have moments in life where our once healthy confidence takes a nose dive. A minor bump in the road suddenly becomes a brief forray into self-doubt. Unfortunately, these bumps usually lead to a need to compete and strive for an unidentified goal. For moms, society is now accepting our obsession with one-upmanship. Forget keeping up with the Joneses, the focus is mostly on Mama Jones. She’s too fat, too thin, too lazy, too overbearing, too emotional, too aloof, too uptight, too liberal. Too of everything, including my aforementioned hating-on assessment of too fashionable, too detail-oriented and too “perfect.”
Guilty as charged for judgement. Sorry, Spelling.
To combat this shameful problem, I’m suggesting an itty bitty assignment for moms and non-moms out there.
I am going to vow to start showing respect to all the moms. I don’t care if she’s wearing some tattered J-Lo velour jumpsuit that says JUICY on the rear and the JUICY is stretched 15 yards wide. If she is wrangling in those kids, getting them to school (mostly) on time, food on the table, then she is trying. She is WORKING IT, people. Respect.
I don’t care if she threw a party with BPA-filled plastic favors, no food and a lopsided homemade cake that tasted like grass. She is trying. Bow down to the mom!
That’s just it. We are all trying. If you’re not, then, well, we can pity you, fool. But for those of us who are doing the best we can for ourselves and our families, we deserve a universal pass. I’m not saying let yourself go. We should always try to improve upon ourselves–be it physical, spiritual or emotional. I value taking care of yourself so you have the greatest of energy and passion to take care of others in your life. It’s just a helluva lot easier to do it when we support each other.
So moms in the designer jeans and with the tricked-out party invites? Accept my sincerest apology for knocking you. You’re working it too. Just please be sure you’re doing it to feel good about yourself and for your family. Not for anyone else, and certainly not for me.
And when you see me in my stretched out sweats, occasional ratty hair and sneakers, don’t pity me. Give me an approving Mom nod, and hold the door open for the stroller and me.
I consider myself a nice person, damnit, a really nice person. I’ve gotten high marks on listening with compassion, keeping shoulders at the ready for crying, and making every attempt to think a sticky situation through to ensure there are minimal to zero emotional casualties. From time to time, however, I’ve noticed my inner dialogue’s volume pushes closer to max with thoughts that are wickedly Mean Girl. You know what I mean. Typical Girly BS. I don’t know what triggers this anti-Zen Jenn ickiness (Insecurity. Jealousy. Sleep Deprivation?). No matter the root, it’s shameful. Admittedly, some of this inner jerk has emerged from mind to mouth when around other normally warm, kind-hearted people who also are, apparently, off their good girl game. Fo’ shame.
The saddest part? I think we justify our nasty ‘tudes because the people we’re rolling-our-eyes-on-the-inside about are the ones we say are committing the social injustice. It’s the Evil Bitches that are the backstabbers, social-political climbers, condescending glancing Ladies Who Lunch (or Corner Officers), right? So, yeah, maybe they give to charity and they wear amazing shoes and have amazing clothes. But, um, it’s Unbelievable She Didn’t Send a Thank You Note, and Let’s Her Child Wear That Too! Oh, and she uses the word “amazing” way too much.
Oodles of judgement and snickering at those women are totally okay, right? Totally.
Yeah, not so fast, chica. There is no justification for tit(s) for tat. It’s enough that society feels it prudent to call women of a certain age Cougars–They’re preying on Ashton Kutcher! It’s blasphemous!–but now, we’re actually preying on each other. Seems like a road to extinction to me.
So…I am REALLY going to make a concerted effort not to feed into this Bitch 360 cycle. I know my inner “what’s HER problem?” is going to sizzle when I feel I’ve been slighted, but I’m going to remind this internal diva of one thing before she unleashes her madness.
That woman you’re about to mentally or verbally bitch-slap? She’s probably thinking the same thing about you right now.
Instead, let’s give a big ol’ hug to Ghandi and be the change we want to see in the world. A smile seems like a good start.