Mom vs. Mom

August 3, 2011

It goes something like this:

I need to go to sleep so we can wake up early and get to the doctor.

— No, I don’t WANT to go to sleep… the kids are sleeping, the house is QUIET, I want to goof off.

You’ll regret it when you wake up cranky and eye-baggy. You’ll feel lousy. Grow up, lady. You’re a mother.

— O pickles, just let me have a night to watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report, eat provolone slices and drink crappy wine.

I’m just sayin… you won’t like it in a few hours…


this is the Me vs. Me debate that often happens when the night is late and quite. I did the dishes. I even swept the floor, made my lunch. I wrote a poem. It’s past my bedtime. But I don’t want to lose this precious time to myself. I can barely keep my eyes open, and still, I’m just like my kids, crying I’M NOT TIRED!!!

I will totally regret it in the morning, but I love these nights.

Will I ever REALLY grow up?


Be Yourself: Kid-Advice That’s Good for Moms, Too

July 7, 2011

Playing with my daughter

Something happened to me when I had a baby.

And I don’t just mean my body turned into a bloated pickle, though that happened, too.

Another transformation began, out of my desire to Do Well and Be Good for my child. I went from being “Amy” to “Mama” – I became “a mom.” A Mom. Not myself.

Mom: A role I was playing without any rehearsal, an archetype I was enacting without any experience.

My little girl tottering in my heels – me teetering in mom shoes.

Of course, you have a baby, you stop certain things, like swearing; and you start other things, like caring about nutritional values and safety ratings. Your goals shift from enjoying yourself and achieving personal aspirations to keeping this little needy little human from getting run over or choking on a safety pin. The years blur.

And then, several years into Motherhood, you realize you’re trying really hard to be This Person, this Mother, and you’re failing, desperately, and the reason you’re constantly stricken with bouts of inadequacy is because you’re striving to be something that you’re not.

Contemplating this recently, I asked myself: What would it be like if I gave up trying to be A Mother, and instead was just me, myself, Amy again? Amy, who is a mother, but who is – still! – Amy. Me.

I’m not sure if it was the kava-kava tea or not, but relief flooded my veins, just at the thought.

In my meditation practice, I’ve been learning to be true to myself, to find my authentic self. But I noticed when it came to mothering my kids, I felt this requirement to listen, not to my own needs, instincts, and preferences, but to some strange idea of Perfect Parentness.

Included in this was:

– trying to get the kids to behave properly at all times

– ignoring my own feelings

– behaving like a drill sergeant

The real Amy:

– sings incidental songs

– is playful and flexible, but definitely not perfect

– has feelings and needs

Of course, there are things that go against my original self that I still try to do – creating/adhering to routines, eating regular and robust meals, being on time to things.

But I think being honest about these challenges – to myself, and even somewhat to my kids, is more helpful than my attempt to just make them happen, forcing myself along with my kids.

Being a single mother is harder than anything I’ve ever done. It frays my nerves, it strains my heart, it kicks my ass on a regular and nonstop basis.

But I think remembering myself in it and through it, being myself and being present, I can draw on my strengths and be honest about my weaknesses and survive with an adequate amount of humor and grace. Trying to be A Mother is just pure exhaustion and totally unachievable. Trying to be myself is both a help and a hope. It’s a lot more fun. And being a mother is more fun, too.

Those French, or Put Your Children Last

January 12, 2010

So, apparently the French don’t put their children first.

Those French!

I heard about a magazine article written by an American woman raising her child in France and discovering that the parents there expect their children to learn to accommodate them – not the other way around. Which means:

  • – no sippy cups
  • – no childproofing
  • – walking strollers in high heels
  • – no toys all over the place
  • – going to bed on time so parents can have their adult time

And more.

Wow! What a good idea! Certainly, this doesn’t just sound like some random invention of those cranky Europeans; it reminds me of ‘how things were done in the old days’ on this side of the pond.It used to be like that here – but in the last thirty years or so, we’ve gotten into this mindset that we ‘do it for the children’ to the point where things are pretty out of balance.

The outcome?

1) Our kids grow up with an inflated, egotistical sense of entitlement. With a “soccer mom” around, who needs a servant or a slave? Kids learn that their whims, needs, get catered to; they get cell phones and rides on demand; the family schedule revolves around their schedules; the family vacations, the house location – all of it is about what’s “best” for them.

2) Women become identified as “mothers” only – which, here, is tantamount to second-class status / near servility. Harried, exhausted, stressed, and completely banished to the sphere of children (playgrounds, PTA meetings, soccer practice, playdates, dr visits) whether working or ‘stay-at-home,’ the mother/wife/woman is a domestic servant. Her life, her needs, her friendships, her sexuality, her career, her hobbies, are LAST on the list. Not only does this ruin her as a person, but it sets up her sons and daughters to believe that this is the predictable status/end of every woman.

Let’s re-prioritize and re-balance our homes and our lives. Without a solid identity, a solid marriage or romantic partnership, without friends and a life and being valued as a person first, a woman-mother can’t be the example to her children for how to live a happy, fulfilled existence.

So: Let the kids struggle a bit with the regular glass. Teach the kids not to interrupt you when you’re on the phone. Make your children adhere to a sensible bedtime. Instill in your children a sense that they are part of a community, a household, a world – not that they are the driving center of it.

And they will grow up to respect you, others, and eventually themselves – and the world! – and you, likewise, will respect – and not dislike – your grown, adult children. If this doesn’t work: Send them off to France.

Women’s Work Revisited

June 30, 2008

A friend of mine wrote:

“It’s so incredible what women do.  I find it metaphorically resonant that a pregnant woman looks like she’s just sitting on the couch, but she’s actually exhausting herself constructing a human being.  The laborious process of growing a human is analogous to how women’s work is seen”  (Ani Difranco from May/June Mothering mag).

Add to this idea:  A woman who looks like she is just taking the kids for a walk, just nursing the baby, just giving her child a snack – is exhausting herself creating and nurturing human beings.  How important!

And also, I don’t think of myself as a poor-me feminist, but I do agree that women’s work (in all spheres/settings: factories, fields, offices, homes) is a giant engine that is quietly turning the world, just like a pregnant mama is quietly churning a babe. Isn’t this interesting?  Why are women so humble about their achievements?

So often I find myself talking down my mother-work, speaking about my being with my children – feeding, instructing, playing with, etc. – either by

a) Not even mentioning these things in conversation, because it would seem akin to brushing my teeth – as in, “What did you do today?” “Oh, I brushed my teeth.”

b) Prefacing with “I was only” as if these things aren’t enough – though nursing a baby, for instance, is exhausting and time-consuming and requires attention – I may multitask – but that’s me being crazy – if I didn’t walk the dog/clean/type/read/read aloud while nursing, I wouldn’t be lazy

A Taoist Approach to Parenting

June 25, 2008

Things get hard when I fight them.

I just want to get past them. I don’t want them to exist. I hate them.

All of these approaches turn tasks into boulders, thick and heavy and impossible, as I try to shove them out of the way.

While this post sat here, I read this:

Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, says that stress can be defined as wanting the present moment to be different than it is. Dr. Dr. David Simon, co-director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Southern California, agrees. He says that stress is caused by anything getting in the way of our desires.

It’s especially hard, I find, when the Things in the Way are human beings – and when these human beings happen to be my beloved children.

Nothing gets me more frustrated than trying to get my two -year-old to do something she doesn’t want to do, like put her shoes on, pick up trash, eat, follow me up a hill – oh, it could be anything. We can’t tell if she is by nature a contrarian, or if it’s just her age (both her father and I tend to be stubbornly contrary, so if in her nature, would not be surprising) – but it is SO annoying. And it’s annoying because I face the tasks of Cleaning Up, Getting From Point A to B, Leaving the House, etc., – transition tasks – boring tasks – as themselves Pains in the Ass.

(Of course, I can hear that freaking Spoonful of Sugar whirring in the background, and it d o e s  n o t  h e l p.)

Fighting a toddler is like shoving your shoulder against a giant rock. It doesn’t work. It gets harder the more you push. I get angrier the harder it gets. I don’t want to have to work with her. I don’t want to have to –

– wait, who is sounding like a toddler now!!???

So, if taking a Taoist/Buddhist approach to these tasks that I am currently fighting so much, I think the antidote is the following:

1) Stop trying, pushing, forcing. If I think about it, toddler tends to willingly join in when I am going about my business. It may be that I need to let her join in – and let her opt out, and not stress about whether or not she is ‘doing her duty’ and if I’m ‘tough enough.’ It may also be that the alternatives to her cooperating will have to involve me waiting – doing something on my own, perhaps, but waiting.

As in, “You need to pick up your trash. I am going to go write on the computer. When you have picked up your trash, we can eat cookies and play games together.” If she dawdles, instead of yelling/steaming/boiling/pickling with frustration, I will happily be writing – and maybe she’ll do it. I mean, it may take time, but… fighting her does nothing.

2) Slow down, breathe. In order to do this, I need, for right now, to throw schedules and being on time out the window. Not always practical, but it will have to do for now. Build in extra time for everything. Go slowly. Take my time.

3) Give up the expectation and desire for total control. This may sound an awful parenting strategy, but I don’t mean it like I’m going to stop discipline or expectations. I mean that, I am not living alone. I live with a partner and an animal and children, and I can’t control them all the time. I can’t do things at my own pace. I can’t do things at will. Neither can they. It’s like driving in traffic. Everyone has to compromise and follow some agreed-upon rules so that we don’t crash into each other while doing our own thing.

Actually, the Tao te Ching makes an interesting parenting manual. I must revisit…

Bearing without possessing,
Nurturing without taming,
Shaping without forcing,
This is harmony.