How does she do it?
How does the Perfect Mom manage to care for her children 24 hours a day, cook fresh and healthy meals from scratch, source her food locally, keep her house tidy and clean, launder her family’s clothing, arrange regular doctor and dentist appointments, read books to her children, spend special time with each individual child, ferry children to after-school activities, cope with conflict creatively, stay patient and calm amidst the great and constant storm of chaos, spend meaningful and romantic time with her partner, and even do paid work on occasion? Oh, and still make space to nurture herself.
I ask because this is the kind of mom I strive to be. And because we’re all familiar with that Perfect Mom ideal. We’re bombarded with images of her.
I also ask because it’s the kind of mom that I’m not.
I’m not against setting the bar high. I want to learn and achieve and strive to do better. But when I look at that list of Perfect Mom achievements, it becomes really clear that the ideal is not just impossible, but improbable, even mythical.
There is no way, for example, to do paid work while caring for children. I might be able to involve my children (with effort and time lost and extra mess afterward) in helping to cook a meal, but I can’t involve them in helping me write a story (my paid work). In fact, as anyone knows who’s ever chased a toddler around house, in order to do that work, I need my children to be elsewhere entirely, being looked after by someone else (though the television is also an occasionally effective babysitter). Which completely nixes the possibility of Perfect Mom-dom.
In fact, the answer to how does she do it? is: She doesn’t. Those of us who occasionally look like we’re achieving the impossible are working with smoke and mirrors. We’re magicians of special effects. We’re faking it.
And I wonder whether there’s something intrinsically wrong with that, have we created an image of motherhood that is both alluring and ultimately disappointing. And yet …
I strongly dislike wallowing, complaining, whining. I think negativity is corrosive and infects others, too. Part of my mothering goal is to be as positive as possible, to create an optimistic family culture, to live inside even the most difficult situations and cope with grace and humour. To forgive my own mistakes and be careful not to judge others, too.
Part of faking it is reminding myself of what is possible.
But maybe I should be reminding myself that there’s an imperfect human being behind the curtain. And sharing that conflicted, often harassed and frustrated self.
Are those ideals even my own, at heart? Really? How do I know?
One more question: Is there a Perfect Dad?
Note: This is cross-posted from my Moms Are Feminist’s Too blog, because it applies equally to what I’m doing here, and what I’d like to be doing there.
What a mess this house is. What a crumb-cluttered, toy-tossed, almost indescribable state of yuck. Here’s a stuffed duck I found inside a pot inside a drawer. Duck soup. We suffered complete pandemonium after tonight’s supper, for which there was no explanation. Both parents were too tired to rise from the table to staunch the inevitable tragedy-in-waiting. (Nothing too terrible happened). But, crikey, it was loud. You could have called it downright chaos. Anarchy.
After dish-washing, and lunch-packing, I corralled the older two children into helping me plan out new morning and evening responsibilities. Actually, there’s nothing new about any of these, it’s just new that we’re writing it up and posting it on the wall under the saleable titles of: Happy Day AM!, and Happy Day PM! (Chores, duties, and other words of that ilk did not feel quite so inspiring. Hopefully this is not a case of Orwellian double-speak). Thanks to both Janis and Marnie for their helpful suggestions on organizing and motivating feet-dragging children. We’ll see how this works, and for how long …
In other news, I’m discovering mixed emotions about my women’s studies zine/blog project (read the previous post if this is the first you’re hearing about it), though perhaps should not be taking its temperature minute-by-minute (curse you, internet, curse you!). Talk about a consciousness-raising project (sadly, it may only be raising my own …). But I spent part of last night surfing for blogs by feminist mothers, and found … so much anger and bitterness. Destruction rather than construction. I wonder whether this is the feminist that other women don’t want to define themselves as, and whether the word now means something other than what it once did. And maybe I’m a complete naif for never noticing that. I’ve always rather blithely defined myself as a feminist, without bothering to explain: oh, but not that kind of feminist. But I guess I’m not that kind of feminist, really. I’m not a natural activist, that’s for certain. I have an abhorrence toward violence of any kind, and rage causes me deep discomfort. I do recognize there are situations in which rage might be the only response. But I still don’t like it. I don’t like feeling angry myself or assigning blame. I’m wondering … can change happen … gracefully, gently, slowly? Can it be brought about by people asking: how can I make this better? What does better look like? How can I help?
Please go and read the responses to the questionnaire that are coming in. I’ve posted them here. They’re lovely and thought-provoking, and I thank everyone who’s taken time to reply. You’ve got me thinking, too.
Thought of the day: obligation and responsibility make us who we are, and by living up to these, we are molded and changed by the things we choose to do. This may explain why children respond so well to routines and (small) responsibilities. Kevin and I held an impromptu, late-night parenting meeting on the weekend–initiated by Kevin, which I appreciated–and we made a master list of all the things we’d like our children to do. Such as: practice piano, set the table, clear their plates after supper, use manners, better behavior in the car, help tidy the house, clean their rooms once a week, brush teeth, wash hands. Very simple, basic stuff. The table setting routine was easily put into play: a simple rotation, one child each evening in charge of helping mama. I remind them in advance that it’s their evening, and so far the response has been cheerful. Fooey is especially pleased to be my helper. We’ve also returned to holding hands and singing a prayer before we begin serving food, as a way of pulling all of us together. And this is a very basic parenting tip, but just reminding the kids of the plan, well in advance, and repeatedly, makes everyone more open to it. Nobody likes to be told, cold, while in the middle of building a gigantic Lego ship, get your boots on we’re leaving Right Now! Much better to call out a five-minute warning … even if it means you’ll be five minutes late.
No photos, because I’m upstairs.
Obligation also works for grownups, too, I think. I’m terrified by the concept of retirement. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so driven, why I layer my life with extra reponsibilities away and beyond what is already required of me, and wonder what exactly I’m hoping to achieve, or even what achievement means to me, and worry I’m hiding from something inside myself–hiding by working so hard and being so busy. Um, that sentence was way too long. But conceptually, it encapsulates the inner trackings of my brain, when I get a spare moment to think Too Damn Much. Which perhaps is why I appreciate being busy, being active, doing rather than thinking. I question less, when I’m doing.
Life isn’t all about action, of course. It needs to be about contemplation, too. And even about rest. And occasionally, leisure. I’m always trying to make use of everything, every scrap of experience. I want it to be useful, somehow … educational, or fulfilling, or meaningful, or something that brings pleasure. I hope this makes me more open to experiences; but maybe it just makes me more introspective. Like, alright already, just enjoy the moment, Obscure Canlit Mama, don’t try to make it into something else!
Part of growing up has been accepting, with humour, who I am. Even while trying to alter in many minute ways, and hopefully for the better, my public and private self.
Listen, as penance for this blah-g entry, my next is going to be brief, maybe even glib, and accompanied by cute photos of my offspring.
My photos are loaded onto a different computer. I may add some in later, but will not let lack of illustration get in the way of a small update. With a life packed perhaps slightly too full, there seems no time to blog. And I miss it. It’s like journaling, which was something I used to do every day, by hand (unfortunately–of perhaps fortunately, depending on one’s perspective–those journals are essentially illegible, written in code, due to my “handwriting” which is a cross between cursive and print–an unsuccessful, take-it-behind-the-barn-and-shoot-it cross. Except I can’t because it’s all I’ve got).
Darn. Tangents always seem to happen in Blogland.
Here are some of the things currently filling my days …
Books: I’m writing a review for a former colleague at the Post, who is now publishing a magazine called Lake Simcoe Living; we’re rounding up some books to recommend for holiday giving and reading, and as such, I got to thumb through catalogues (not literally, because everything’s online now), make a shortlist, consult with her, then call publishers for review copies, which was something I used to do almost daily, but haven’t for years. Of course, all the publicists I used to talk to have moved on. But publicists are friendly; it’s their job. I’ve got two beautiful books already sitting at my elbow, waiting to be read and reviewed (that’s on my to-do list for this morning)–one of them I’m especially excited about: it’s called Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm, by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann. The photos are gorgeous and make me want to fondle vegetables, and then cook them.
Mark your calendars: I will be reading at the launch of The New Quarterly’s fall issue on October 22. That’s a Thursday. Which is the same evening that I also happen to have my first midterm. Seriously. Did I mention that I’m taking a women studies class? The professor thinks I’ll be finished in plenty of time. I’m excited about this class because I’m focussing my major paper on midwifery and doula’ing, and have already spoken to her about it. Yes, I’m a keener. Why the heck else would I be taking a class, if not to squeeze all potential learning out of it?
October 22, Art Bar, which is in the Centre in the Square, in Kitchener. I’ll be reading around 8:45pm, but doors open much earlier. Details to follow.
Kevin’s in Toronto running a slate of training classes, and this morning was HAIRY. I was a chicken with its head chopped off. Picture a cartoon Carrie suspended mid-air with legs and arms stretching in four different directions. And her head popping off. But we made it. And I enjoyed a brisk jog too. Which reminds me that I meant to blog about exercise. Am I fitting it into my life? I felt in better shape this summer with all the family biking we were doing. But I do bike to and from campus once a week, at a racing pace (why am I late, no matter where I’m going?). Biking after dark sure gets the heart pumping. I am covered with flashing red lights, but still feel only an invisible obstacle away from mangling myself. I also run home from school a couple of mornings a week. And I walk to school every day to pick up the kids (briskly on the way there, as, yes, I’ve started leaving later and later, because, really, why be early, when you can enjoy the adrenalin rush of not being sure you’ll quite make it in time?).
Does a joking tone translate in Blogland?
Stop typing. Stop typing, now. Time to work!