For me, 2013 has been an incredibly unremarkable year. This was not a year for getting married, bringing a life into the world, earning graduate degrees, or starting a new career. I didn’t run a marathon, scale mountains, publish research, patent an invention, write a novel, learn to meditate, travel to distant lands, or even venture out of the country on vacation. In fact, my biggest accomplishments were lived vicariously, such as cheering my husband on as he earned a promotion and rejoicing in every milestone or wondrous (in our eyes) thing our 3-year-old did. A year ago (ok, even as recent as last week), I would have bemoaned my lack of accomplishment, especially since I’m nearing my 4th decade of life (you know, midlife-buy-myself-a-Maserati-crisis).
Like most moms, my year has consisted of putting hundreds of meals on the table; doing too many loads of laundry to count; sweeping and mopping the floors; tending to runny noses and scraped knees; wiping bottoms; staying up at night with a feverish child; managing tantrums (our child’s, my husband’s and my own); drying tears; singing the alphabet a bagillion times; coloring; wiping finger paint off of little hands (and the floor, and the table, and the cabinets, and clothing…); driving to swim class, ballet class, and preschool; reading the same books and singing the same songs over and over and over again until my adult thoughts are crowded out by lyrics to “The Wheels on the Bus…”; arranging play dates; trips to the park; nature walks; planting and (almost) killing an herb garden; multiple trips to the pediatrician; helping with homework; drinking over 600 cups of coffee; grocery shopping; clothing shopping; recitals; school activities; scraping food off of the floor; bath and bedtime routines; naps, naps, and more naps; managing finances; pumping gas; cleaning up toys; stepping on Legos; teaching- lots of teaching!- of morals, manners, anger management, self-soothing, academics, and life-skills; and numerous other activities that would be too tedious to list.
There is nothing considerably special about any one of these activities. These are the everyday expectations of mothers, be it stay-at-home, work-at-home, or work-outside-of the home. Not only are these activities not lauded, they are often taken for granted and underappreciated. And yet, their completion is most remarkable for many reasons. The accomplishment (and continued completion) of these activities is not motivated by accolades or a paycheck. They are exhausting to perform and societal expectations are great with regards to how, when, and how often these tasks must be done. Mothers are scrutinized by experts, spouses, in-laws, grandparents, teachers, doctors, politicians, religious authority, the media, bloggers, society, and other mothers. Mothers aren’t just expected to keep their offspring alive and provide for basic needs; indeed, we are expected to raise productive, kind, moral, responsible, mentally healthy, educated, happy individuals, often without the help of a village. More difficult still, many are expected to do these things well while dealing with additional pressures caused by factors such as a strained marriage, divorce, work, chronic illness, lack of resources (financial, emotional, etc.), inadequate childcare, and so forth. AND, while we are managing these feats, we are (ridiculously) asked to have a flat, firm stomach, look pretty, keep a smile on our face at all times, and do things like run marathons, travel the world, patent inventions…
In fact, when examined in this new light, my year was quite remarkable. This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on my own dreams and goals; rather, my goals and dreams have merely shifted for the moment. What I have done, what I have accomplished this year- these things are enough. I won’t feel guilty for what I haven’t done. I will celebrate what I have managed to do despite all the roadblocks that I, like all mothers, have faced. I ask that you, wonderful mother who is reading this, celebrate in all the things that you have accomplished this past year too. Let’s celebrate each other. Society may still underappreciate what we do, but we can cheer one another on, offering encouragement, support, a sympathetic ear- and an occasional Cheesecake Factory binge.
There is still time for all the other fabulous goals we have yet to achieve in the years to come. Hang onto those non-Mommy related goals, as those are important too. But if you haven’t checked them off of your to-do list yet, know that you have still contributed your share to the world. In fact, you have had a most remarkable year indeed.
Wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014!!!
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Today was my daughter’s first day back to preschool. Like, the day she was actually supposed to be there, unlike the prior Tuesday when I took her to school only to be informed by last year’s teacher that I had the wrong week. Yeah, that’s right, the wrong week. I should have known something was up since it was the first morning in recorded toddlerdom history that went down without a hitch. Miss Fancy Pants awoke bright and cheery that morning, giddy with excitement about her first day of school. She ate all of her breakfast, got dressed by herself, used the potty without insisting I tell her twenty stories first, and we were out the door in record time. I even managed to take a fancy pants picture of her on her to document the occasion. Ok, so I had forgotten to purchase the necessary classroom supplies; but no worries, I’d just drop them off at the end of the day. As you can imagine, we were both disappointed to discover my error. MFP cried when we got back into the car, and I mourned the To Do List that would remain undone. Fortunately, a spontaneous trip to Starbucks and Old Navy managed to brighten both our moods considerably.
But my tale of blondeness doesn’t end there. I totally blew off the open house this past Friday. Not on purpose, of course, but several of her weekly activities had gotten switched to different days this school year, throwing off the internal calendar I seem to function by, somewhat poorly. When I was working outside of the home, Microsoft Outlook, colleagues, and that little thing called a work ethic helped keep me on track. “Claudia, are you almost done with Little Johnny’s psychological evaluation for today’s meeting?” “Why yes,” I’d beam, as I proudly held up my eight page report that I had slaved and obsessed over for days, “I just put the finishing touches on it!” I may have been pushing the boundaries of punctuality, mostly because I usually held the record for most psych evals done in one school year and had a ridiculous amount of report writing to do, but I always made my deadlines.
Don’t get me wrong. 95% of the time, unless MFP throws a toddler tantrum right before leaving, I manage to remember and get her to all her activities on time (and on the correct day). My new babysitter (I totally love her!) comments on how organized I am and how well thought out MFP’s schedule is. People might even occasionally think that I’m too “by the book”, trying to ensure that every detail of her rearing is done “correctly”, whatever that means. Organic, scratch-made meals? You betcha. Well, um, most of the time, except on “once in awhile days” when I sheepishly sneak through a Wendy’s drive-thru, toss a hamburger into the back seat, and speed away before there are too many witnesses. Sleep schedule that allows for adequate rest? Uh huh. I mean, if she’s not sleeping for long stretches of time, then when else will I goof-off on Facebook, right? Win-win. A balance of intellectually and physically stimulating activities, with plenty of time left over for creative, independent play and relaxation? Yup, I try. And by “relaxation”, I mean turning on “The Cat in the Hat” for MFP as I relax with a glass of Chardonnay after dinner. But I am fallible, so I do mess up from time to time.
How did this morning go, her actual first day of school, you might be wondering? Let me tell you. I forgot that I had eaten all the prosciutto two nights ago and wasn’t able to pack MFP’s favorite sandwich like I had promised, sending her to school with an oddball lunch of kielbasa, guacamole, gluten-free crackers, and carrots. She didn’t eat her breakfast, freaked because there was “still a little bit of poop” in the toilet when she went to use it, and forgot to brush her teeth. Since we were rushing, I didn’t get to snap her “First Day of School” picture before we left, we got there late, and I forgot my camera phone in the car, only remembering when I went to take a picture of her in the classroom. Oh yeah, and MFP’s classroom supplies? Sitting unpurchased at Walmart (but I’m on my way now!). Why am I admitting all of this? Wouldn’t I prefer to present you with the image of the perfectly polished and poised mother that I sometimes fool others into thinking that I am?
Nope. Here’s the thing. We do other mothers a disservice when we pretend to be perfect. Yes, there are some rock star mothers that come really close, but most of us are just trying to keep our kids alive, fed, and reasonably happy. We’re balancing work (be it at home or outside of the home), marriage (or coparenting with an ex), friendships, household duties, and finances. We’re lucky if can squeeze in a workout, shave our legs, and get a haircut. We have a lot on our plates, and society expects that we can do it all perfectly. We can’t. And if we think we can, we’re just setting ourselves up for failure, disappointment, and an addiction to methamphetamine (at least according to Dr. Phil). I appreciate when my mom friends are willing to admit their flaws because A) I don’t feel like a total screw up B) their vulnerability endears them to me C) I don’t feel like a total screw up
I know some moms don’t want to come across as complainers. I can appreciate that. No one wants to hear someone bitch and moan ALL.DAY.LONG. There’s a difference between honesty and kvetching, one that I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing. I’m not suggesting being a Debbie Downer. “Hey Claudia, how have you been?” “My hair is falling out, I’m exhausted, my husband’s always working, my family’s so far away, and I think I just found a patch of skin cancer on my abdomen.” “Um, yeah, ok, see you around! Enjoy your latte!” That is not the kind of honesty I’m talking about, except for with your close friends and your primary care physician. I’m referring to sharing both the joyous moments of your life and the ones that aren’t so neat and tidy. You might not want to blog about it (how gauche!), but do remember that keeping it real is much preferred to being all Pinterest-y. Not that there’s anything wrong with being all Pinterest-y, as long as you share your chocolate ganache, salted caramel, fondant covered cupcakes with me. Just sayin’.