I love this photo beyond reason. Firstly, I consider it my atonement for the shiny, airbrushed Instagrams I too often post. For sepia tones and pensive faces do not paint an accurate picture what parenting looks like. This is what parenting looks like: dorky, colorful, not terrible photogenic but, at its very best: earnest. I also love this photo because it was sold to us through an incredibly devious and effective blackmail scheme, wherein an aquarium employee takes your picture against a green screen as soon as you come in, making it appear a necessary process, though you are not made privy to the eventual use of this picture. And then, as you exit hours later, your photos are all printed and neatly tucked in a bag. Then you are told that unless you pay $25, they will throw out your pictures. Not verbatim, but 100% true story. So it was the puffy coats, rag doll posture of my son, and general unselfconsciousness of this photo that made me fall in love with it. But the twisted humor I found in being threatened with destroying the picture that compelled me to buy it. Well played, Tennessee Aquarium.
I’ve had some writing-fatigue lately. Back in November, I attempted to do a post each day for a month. I made it a week, which really I was thrilled with. I’ve been as busy as ever being back at work, and writing has taken a back burner. So have friends. And after that sleep. Alas. Though not all of my failure to write can be attributed to a lack of time. A big piece is that I feel I have been in the midst of a shift, a not-yet-fully-defined step in some direction. And as a result, I have stopped connecting so much with what I used to write about; namely, the stuff of mommy blogs. I don’t feel any less involved a parent. But I have let go a lot this year, or at least these last several months. And it’s felt good. I am happy to be out of the baby phase right now (though I’m not totally sure that I’m done with babies…). This is the first time in half a decade that I haven’t been pregnant, nursing, with an infant, or some potent combination of all of these. My kids are still massively labor intensive, but they feel less like extensions of me any more, and it’s a relief. Not that they ever were parts of me, of course. You know this but you feel otherwise that first year. With, at last, some distance between me and the kids, I feel more balanced and less hellbent on obsessing about them.
Another issue for me is that has hindered writing is that I’ve become more acutely aware of contributing to a narrative of crippling motherhood guilt and perfectionism. I strive to be honest. So, in the name of honesty, I am starting to see some of the folly of the pressure and blame I have put on myself. The idea that if I make every. perfect. decision. that this will somehow … make my children happy? It seems like that must be the delusion I labored under for sometime. All wooden toys will do it. No screen time will do it. The right school will do it. No school will do it. There’s no answer – at least not one I control. But there are countless of sources that seem to want to keep me feeling that way.
I’ve been on an unsubscribing of media-sources binge lately. Though the camaraderie and wisdom of other parents is precious to me, I’ve found I have to be a careful curator. From open letters guilt-tripping “the mom looking at her iPhone” to blogs lauding a parent for passing out goodies to passengers on an airplane for the inconvenience of having to be near someone who has paid just as much as you to be on the flight, but will be having a far more miserable and stressful time of it because s/he is doing the thankless work of continuing the human race. (Hey airplane people – bring headphones and if you can still hear that baby, repeat the following mantra: “I am not the center of the universe. A crying baby is not a plot against me.”) People are full of opinions on why parents are doing it wrong. We don’t adequately discipline, or enjoy every moment, or let them play outside enough, or let them take enough risks, or facilitate a secure enough attachment. And they’re all right. Because guess what?? WE ARE FLAWED, TIRED, LIMITED HUMAN BEINGS. We know that shouting “you’re doing it wrong! You’re doing it wrong!” doesn’t help our kids. So why do we shout it at ourselves and expect it to have a positive effect?
This isn’t news. This isn’t even anything I haven’t said before. I guess I’m putting it back out there because not a lot fires me up any more, but this – this self-imposed cruelty that moms are inflicting on ourselves, it does. In the past, I dealt with a lot of negative voices in my head. Oftentimes they would shout, telling me all sorts of awful things about what I looked like, what I was(not) capable of or worth, and swearing up and down that every person I saw was better, happier and more whole that me. I still have that voice. But I have another one. I like to think it’s my mother voice. And after several years of cultivating it with my own kids, through lots of trial and error (and error and error), it’s gotten stronger. My mama-voice no longer only advocates for my own kids but now it advocates for me, too. And for you. I’m pretty good. Mostly, I am okay, which I am fiercely proud of. Life can be pointless and monotonous, mean and cold, as well as breathtaking and profound. So what of it? I’m not in charge of this ride. I can only do my best to be kind to myself, which gives me a fighting chance at being kind to those around me.
So that’s what I want to do in 2015. Be nice. To you, to me, to my kids and husband. Dang it, even to my dogs. I won’t always succeed. But for now, by some grace, I have time to keep trying.
Happy New Year. I love you.
(Here’s another background, for good measure. The kids were *pretty* impressed by this whole green screen technology.)