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!!!
Like “Raising Miss Fancy Pants” on Facebook to keep updated of new posts
Andrea with her younger daughter, Alicia
This quote succinctly describes Andrea, my childhood best friend. As children, we lived next door to one another, hung out at her pool each summer, had sleepovers, shopped, gossiped about boys, and went to grade-school together. We even attended the same college and roomed in the same dorm, only losing touch once she transferred to a different school. Our childhoods were mostly easy and carefree. That’s not to say that we didn’t have the normal hardships that many kids go through, but overall, our good memories outweighed the bad. When we envisioned our lives as adults, we pictured careers, marriage, kids, and the same contented, fun childhoods for our children that we had shared growing up.
Our lives went separate ways after college, but we eventually ran into one another again shortly before I was to move from our hometown in Connecticut to North Carolina for my husband’s job. One spring day, Andrea knocked on my office door at one of the three elementary schools in town where I was the assigned school psychologist. It turned out that she worked at that very same school as the media specialist assistant, but on different days than I was assigned. We were employed at the same school for almost three years without running into one another and had finally reconnected just as I was about to move! Despite that we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, talking to her felt like we had merely picked up where we had left off years earlier. Our conversation was easy and jovial, only turning more serious as Andrea described her younger daughter Alicia’s health challenges.
Alicia, who was then a preschooler, was exhibiting severe developmental delays and significant behavioral issues. Andrea explained that Alicia had originally received a diagnosis of Global Developmentally Delayed with Autistic features; however, almost two years later, Alicia’s diagnosis was changed to Autism due to her inability to make significant gains developmentally and because she was exhibiting characteristics typical of children with Autism, such as lack of eye contact and impaired verbal communication skills. I later asked Andrea when had she realized that Alicia’s development was different than that of a typically developing child? She responded,
I think the point when I knew there was something more going on than just a minor developmental delay was when Alicia was around 14-16 months old. Alicia had had various ailments/issues from birth, but in the big picture they were just “small” things that many infants could develop. There were moments when she would be completely inconsolable and would only calm down when held and rocked or in her swing. Due to severe reflux issues that began by the time she was two months old, Alicia would be more comfortable in a propped or upright position most of the time. She spent lots of time in her swing, which helped to also calm her down. The drawback of this was that she would usually lean her head to one side and began to develop her neck muscle that way. We had her evaluated as an infant and it was determined that she had torticollis. Torticollis is relatively common in newborns. Boys and girls are equally likely to develop the head tilt. It can be present at birth or take up to 3 months to develop.
Andrea further explained,
Babies with torticollis will act like most other babies except when it comes to activities that involve turning. A baby with torticollis might tilt his/her head in one direction (this can be difficult to see in very young infants); prefer looking at you over one shoulder instead of turning to follow you with his or her eyes; if breastfed, have difficulty breastfeeding on one side (or prefers one breast only); and, work hard to turn toward you and get frustrated when unable to turn his or her head completely
We had Alicia evaluated and began physical therapy by the time she was 6 months old. We took her to CCMC [Connecticut Children’s Medical Center] and she had physical therapy weekly for about 3 months. We also incorporated neck stretching exercises at home to heal Alicia. With stretching and exercises, the torticollis completely healed within, I believe, 4-6 months.
Alicia seemed to be meeting some of her developmental milestones on time, like eye contact and cooing, but this did not last long. By 10-12 months old she wasn’t doing much cooing or babbling. She barely attempted to crawl and did not initiate trying to stand on her own. I can’t remember the exact months when she did meet certain milestones; honestly, once we started realizing things weren’t happening when they were supposed to, we started focusing on getting through one day at a time.
I believe we brought Alicia to a developmental pediatrician when she was about 6-8 months old. We had her evaluated, which included filling out pages upon pages of questions regarding milestones, behaviors, and health concerns. Alicia was also observed by the developmental pediatrician while she attempted to hold a crayon or grasp a cup. The doctor checked her motor skills, eye contact, ability to sit unassisted, and various milestones she should have been meeting at different points [in her development]. She was thought to be just delayed at that early age. Her diagnosis back in 2004 was Global Developmentally Delayed with Autistic Features. In the beginning, the “autistic features” aided in trying to figure out a diagnosis for her and to help her obtain services like physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, etc.. She began receiving Birth to Three [early intervention] services at about 12-months-old and these continued until the day before she turned three and began pre-school in a special needs program in 2006.
In 2009, Alicia’s diagnosis would once again be changed, this time to Rett Syndrome. According to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/rett/detail_rett.htm), Rett Syndrome is a, “…neurodevelopmenal disorder that affects girls almost exclusively. It is characterized by normal early growth and development followed by a slowing of development, loss of purposeful use of the hands, distinctive hand movements, slowed brain and head growth, problems with walking, seizures, and intellectual disability.” It is believed that nearly all cases are caused by a mutation in the MECP2 gene found on the X chromosome. Andrea explained how they finally got the correct diagnosis.
We brought her to a pediatric neurologist due to full body tremors she began having at around 4-years-old. She had an MRI done to check for possible seizures but was thought to be having just postural tremors. The MRI did not show anything abnormal. The tremors continued and seemed to be getting worse but we kept an eye on things for about a year. We did end up switching specialists to a new developmental pediatrician and upon her observing Alicia, she ordered another MRI and an EEG. The EEG did show some abnormal brain activity but no regular seizure activity so it was thought to still just be postural tremors. The neurologist also observed Alicia doing some hand wringing and mentioned the thought of testing her for Rett Syndrome. We had also had genetic testing through a geneticist at UCONN [Medical Center], along with an evaluation in their audiology department. She was tested by the first neurologist at CCMC for Angelman’s Syndrome but it came back negative. She passed her audiology tests and was thought to be hearing fine, which we still believe is the case today. In 2009 we had more genetic testing done, this time for Rett Syndrome due to the hand wringing, screaming, tremors, and lack of verbal communication. Alicia was also having severe issues with constipation and various gastrointestinal difficulties. We almost did not get her Rett Syndrome diagnosis when our insurance company called to inform us they did not cover the genetic testing that we had done. We could either pay the cost, which was $5,000, or decide to cancel the test results before they were reported. We decided to cancel the results and would save up the money to have the testing done. Well, I got a call from her pediatric neurologist that she had been contacted by the doctor who runs the lab where the testing had been done. They wanted to let her know that even though the results were not going to be reported, that they came back positive for the Rett Syndrome diagnosis. So we do not know what actual deletion Alicia has causing Rett but at least we had a definite answer for her diagnosis. We finally had an answer and a diagnosis, although life altering, in October of 2009.
Having a child with special needs, especially as significant as Alicia’s needs are, can be extremely taxing to a parent’s physical and mental health and also puts a heavy strain on the family. While all parents have their struggles, caring for a child who has both medical and behavioral issues can be especially difficult and anxiety provoking. I asked Andrea what a “typical” day is like in her household.
Funny…just reflecting upon this question, the first thing that pops into my mind is how far from “typical” our days are. But a typical day in our house always revolves around a strict routine. I wake Alicia up by 7am to get her ready for school. Amazingly, she always wakes with a smile or giggle no matter what’s going on. She comes straight into our living room and sits in her recliner- yes, one that is completely hers [Andrea laughs]. She watches “Curious George” [cartoon] while I prepare lunches and am on Hailey, our middle-schooler, to get up, dressed, eat breakfast, and ready on time for her ride to school. Alicia is unable to feed, change or clothe herself, so the routine begins. It includes changing her out of her pjs and changing her diaper- she is not fully potty trained, especially at night- no way am I waking up this kid during the night to change her! We are fortunate that Alicia sleeps through the night but it is usually very difficult to get her back to sleep if she is woken up. I dress her for school, feed her, put on her jacket, if needed, and her harness, which she needs to ride the bus. We go outside by 8 am, the bus comes almost always at 8:02, and off to school she goes. Now I get a “break” and get to go to work…[Andrea chuckles]. Alicia gets home from school anywhere from 2:30-2:45 pm. I then put her in the car to go pick up Hailey from school and come home. Alicia then usually chills/unwinds/melts down for a bit (with Curious George again) while I clean up from the morning. I have been trying to get her to use her iPad more frequently at home, primarily right now for games, but hopefully also to aid in her ability to communicate. She is not used to using it at home though, and is definitely fighting me on it. Usually she relaxes to “Curious George” while I clean, cook, do laundry, help with Hailey’s homework, and anything else that needs to get done [to manage the household]. Alicia seems to be getting very picky about what parts of “Curious George” she likes to watch. It is sometimes maddening! I have had to fast-forward, reverse and change her DVDs anywhere from 20-50 times throughout the afternoon and bedtime. It is daunting even trying to keep her calm enough to get anything accomplished! We feed her dinner around 5:30 or 6 pm, which takes about 45 mins to an hour. She has been a slow eater lately, often taking breaks in between. I start getting her ready for bed around 6:45 pm. This includes bathing her, toileted, brushing her teeth, putting on her pajamas and giving her some downtime in her bed for at least 15-20 mins as she watches “Super Why” and “Clifford”. She is an extreme creature of habit and routine is key around here.
Sisters, Hailey and Alicia
This “typical” day does not include the numerous medical appointments that Alicia often has to attend. Because Alicia (now ten-years-old) cannot communicate verbally, it is often difficult to determine if behavioral issues are due to a medical concern (such as a UTI), environmental factors, or internal needs. As such, Andrea always ensures that there aren’t underlying medical reasons for Alicia’s behavioral issues and/or mood changes. Despite the hardships Andrea endures caring for a child with special needs, she maintains a positive attitude. Always quick to crack a joke and with a ready laugh, Andrea’s smile disguises the emotional and physical pain she experiences as a result of caregiver burnout. Andrea expresses gratitude for her supportive family and her tight-knit social network, which includes other parents of children with Rett Syndrome. I asked Andrea what she would like others to know about families that include a child/children with special needs. She replied,
I think one of the biggest and most important things that has stuck with me being a special needs parent….never jump to conclusions. We have all seen those kids that have no manners or “discipline” act out screaming, hitting or throwing all kinds of tantrums in stores. Well, I never thought I would end up in a position like that, having a child that does “act out”. But it’s not because I don’t discipline, ignore, or give in to my child that she acts like this. It’s due to the fact that most times, Alicia gets way overstimulated in a store due to the noise, amount of people, and all that sensory input. She acts up because she is unable to tell us that it’s too much for her and that she’s not feeling comfortable. My husband and I have had people say things to us about how our child is acting and that we should be able to control our child’s behavior and not let her hit me or scream at me the way that she does. About two years ago, I had a confrontation with a woman at a store. She started off by making a disgusted face and rolling her eyes when Alicia would scream out. I was over-stressed and just trying to pick up a couple of things ASAP because I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. She [the woman] then shook her head from side to side and I point blank asked her if she had something she would like to say to me. She told me that she couldn’t believe I let my child scream in public like that and let her hit me. She told me I needed to teach my child proper behavior. I looked at the woman and told her that my daughter was unable to speak due to having Rett Syndrome, a debilitating disorder that robs her of the ability to verbally communicate when she is upset or hurt. I told her that it took all the strength that I had just to “try” and take Alicia with me to the store because the screaming and commotion has happened plenty of times before. I then informed the woman that she might want to stop jumping to conclusions, simply assuming a person doesn’t have “control” over their child’s behavior, because in reality, that parent is likely doing everything they can to include their child in “normal” day-to-day activities that are difficult due to their child’s disability. I also added that if it bothered her that much she was more than welcome to leave the aisle we were in or even the store. She was taken aback a bit and did end up muttering a quick “I’m sorry”. I was extremely angry at that point and I came back with “Yes you are.” Not one of my finer moments but I just blew up.
One of the biggest and most vivid memories I have- an A-ha moment- was after Alicia was first diagnosed as autistic. I was watching an episode of “Oprah”. Oprah was interviewing parents who had children with Autism and she asked a mom what is the one thing she would want people to know when they see special needs parents struggling? The mother replied that it’s really very simple, especially not knowing a parent’s or child’s specific circumstances…she said it would mean everything to her if someone would just walk up to them and say “Is there anything I can do to help you?”. This is such a simple act of kindness but something that truly means the world to me! I even do it when I am out at the store and I see a parent having a difficult time.
Andrea admits that while she would have never chosen for her daughter to be born with Rett Syndrome, having a child with special needs has given her a different perspective on life. I asked her to further elaborate.
I think that one of the main things that I’ve learned is humility. So many of us constantly complain about anything and everything because that’s just seems to be the way the world communicates nowadays. Alicia, and so many other children with disabilities, don’t have that option. I often think to myself, “What would my world be like if I couldn’t speak and was unable to convey my feelings, sorrows, frustrations, or thoughts with another person?”. Alicia is stuck in this position each and every second of her life. Just as one would do with an infant, we have had to learn what Alicia’s cries, screams, and vocalizations mean…She must get frustrated at times on those days when it takes us longer to “figure it out”. She just can’t say she’s hungry, in pain, or not feeling like herself as typical children are able. There are obviously lots of other things I can list about what Alicia has taught me. Among these are patience- most days [Andrea laughs], gratefulness, faith, endurance and strength. She is also an absolute encouragement to so many because if she can wake up each and every day with a smile and giggle, then what’s stopping anybody else?
Andrea also explains that despite Alicia’s disability, her daughter has the same needs and desires as other children. Alicia loves her “blankie” (Andrea has an estimated 15 backups just in case) and her favorite foods are cold pizza, cucumbers, tomatoes, and anything crunchy, like potato chips and cookies. Alicia is fond of trips to the Big E (New England’s “Great State Fair”), Walmart, and Target. She has grown to love car rides, as long as the scenery is good and the car is moving! Like her mother when she was a child, Alicia loves spending summers at the pool and shopping with her friends.
We don’t always choose our lot in life, but it’s our response to life’s challenges that determine the strength of our character. Andrea is one of the strongest people I know. She demonstrates a sense of compassion and inner beauty that is likely the result of embracing the challenges of being a special needs parent. And while her capacity for love and caring is insurmountable, there are things that we can all do to help parents and children who struggle with the realities of having a disability. Have compassion for other parents and children, rather than drawing conclusions without knowing another’s life circumstances. Lend a hand if you can. Sometimes, a parent may just need a break. A kind word. Encouragement. Pampering. A Pumpkin Spice Latte. If you are close to a special needs parent, insist on helping. Sometimes, we all have difficulty accepting help. Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything?”, say, “I will come over tomorrow and watch Joey if you want to run out and get a minute to yourself.” Try to avoid negating their struggles with platitudes such as, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “It will be ok.” Do offer to listen without judgement or without trying to “fix” the situation. Raise awareness. Do speak up if you hear someone using the term “retarded”. See the child with special needs as a whole person, not just their disability. If your own children ask questions, explain that all children, even if they act or look differently, want to be loved, have fun, laugh, and make friends. Find the commonalities rather than the differences, although it’s ok to acknowledge and explain the disability. If you think you may be saying the “wrong” thing, it’s fine to ask the parent of a child with special needs what they would prefer. Lastly, understand that we all have good and bad days, both parents and children. Try to extend compassion to all those you meet, special needs or typical. Because after all, we all want the same things…to be loved, understood, cared for, and accepted for who we are. Thank you to Andrea and Alicia, two very special people, who have helped me to understand this.
Alicia with her friend
Before I had a child, I was blissfully unaware of the “camps” that existed surrounding child-rearing practices. Yeah, I knew some parents spanked their kids and others adamantly refused to, but I didn’t realize that there were so many issues that sparked debate within the mommy crowd. I began my education in “Parenting 101” when I joined a group of expectant mothers who were all due the same month I was due with MFP. Their support and knowledge served invaluable throughout my pregnancy and especially during MFP’s first year, as I struggled to figure out what parenting style would best suit MFP and our family. Early on I thought I had it all figured out. I would breastfeed until she was at least a year old, co-sleep (but with a side-sleeper since I was paranoid that I’d roll onto my slumbering infant and crush her!), never succumb to “cry it out” methods to get my child to sleep, only feed her homemade, organic baby food, use cloth diapers, never use the TV as a sitter, yada, yada, yada…Haha, boy, was I in for a big surprise! Despite herculean efforts, I wasn’t able to produce enough breast milk and had to supplement with formula; MFP was never a “good” sleeper as an infant, but seemed to do much better when she was moved to her own room away from my husband’s snoring; all non-cry-it-out (CIO) methods implemented failed to help my child sleep well during the night and I ended up resorting to Ferber’s “progressive waiting” method (a.k.a. CIO) when she was almost a year old and we were both incredibly sleep-deprived; while most of her food was organic, she hated the consistency of my homemade baby food and much preferred jarred; cloth diapers? Ha!; and while I held off on having her watch TV until she was 18-months-old, once she did start, I realized that getting a free half-hour here and there to complete a task uninterrupted while she was in a zombie-like state in front of the tube wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I mean, I watched a boat-load of TV as a child and I turned out literate and relatively normal, right? Um, don’t answer that.
Through the school of hard knocks, I came to understand that there is no one “right” way to parent and that what works for one child may not work for another, even within the same family. While it’s terrific to have some sort of framework in mind, being fluid in one’s approach is sometimes more productive than forcing one’s “ideal” upon a child or oneself, especially when the approach isn’t working. We should be kind to ourselves when circumstances nudge (or shove) us away from what we had envisioned as the ideal parenting approach, and accept that sometimes, we may have to adjust our expectations. We should also extend this kindness to other mothers who may make choices different than our own. Because in the end, what’s most important is that our children are loved, nurtured, and well-cared for, whatever approach we may use to achieve those goals. Our choices don’t make us “better” or “worse” than other moms. It’s helpful to keep this in mind when differences lead to arguments over parenting approaches or guilt over our own choices.
Several weeks ago, in a moment of thoughtful reflection, I wrote a poem about this topic. I’m not a poet (except for a stab at an occasional limerick or two), but I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Motherhood is not a competition
It’s not about who did attachment parenting
or let their baby sleep in a crib
or cry it out
or breast fed
or bottle fed
or made their own baby food
or bought jarred
or fed only organic
or let their kid watch TV
or banned TV
or stayed at home
or worked outside of the home
or home schooled
or public schooled
or private schooled
It’s not about whose kid is smarter
or more handsome
or more athletic
or more artistic
or reading first
And while it’s great to be proud of your kiddo, your hard work, and to share your joy with others
It’s not ok to
make other moms feel inferior
fail to put yourself in others’ shoes when judging their actions
belittle their parenting skills
pit working moms against stay-at-home moms and vice versa
blame a high-needs child’s temperament on a mom’s (lack of) parenting skills
try to outshine other moms with petty competitiveness
Motherhood is a gift
Please don’t take it for granted
Mothers need to support other mothers
Not with a facade that everything is perfect when they’re not
Not with a smile to another’s face while gossiping behind her back
But with genuine concern
and good nature
and gifts of chocolate (ok, that might just be me!)
Go out of your way not because it makes you look good
but because you care
Not to show off
but because you want to support the wellbeing of all children and mothers
Examine your actions
Sometimes the most confident are the least likely to assess their negative impact upon others
Sometimes the most worried and insecure are the ones who want to please the most
Sometimes the biggest showoffs or most critical are those compensating for their own insecurities
Sometimes the ones who think they know it all are the most blind to what they don’t know
Do your best to examine your motivations and grow
And sometimes despite our best efforts, we still fail…and that’s ok.
Because Motherhood is not a competition
and as long as we are trying
and recognize our own strengths and weaknesses
and continue to improve
and support each other
and our children
and other children
we all win
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’.
Me: Honey, did you share my blog at work like you said you would?
Macho Man (MM): Um, no.
Me: But I thought you really liked my first blog post. You told me it was great and that you were going to share it with your coworkers.
MM: I did. I loved it. I think you’re a great writer. But I had only read the first half when I said that. But then you had to go and talk about poop and you joked about having “dimples”. Do I really want my coworkers thinking my wife has a potty mouth and CELLULITE?
Me: ‘Nough said.
MM: But what exactly is your blog about anyway?
I’ve been thinking a lot about MM’s question. One of my goals is to entertain people. I come from an Italian family of storytellers. I remember as a kid sitting around the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas, my cheeks hurting from all the laughter as my cousins, grandmother, uncle, father, and godparents swapped tales. They had such a colorful way of relaying a story and always managed to find humor in the ordinary. I’d like to think a little of this story telling ability has rubbed off on me too. But just being able to tell a good story isn’t usually enough. If you’re lucky like me, really weird or tragic things will happen to you on a regular basis providing you with all the material you’ll ever need to keep writing for the rest of your life. “Claudia,” friends will insist, “You should write a book! The things that happen to you…you can’t make that stuff up!” Plus things only got quirkier when I married MM, who seems to have a permanent black cloud floating over his head.
But while making you laugh at my expense is all fine and good, I’m feeling a bit more ambitious. Ok, forgive me, I’m a geek and this is where I get all excited. Raising a child means that you get to wear different hats. Sounds cliche, but it’s true. My skills as a psychologist are useful because I can use all my Jedi mind tricks to get my child to conform to my will (cue evil laughter) and when that doesn’t work, I know how to find her a good therapist. Parents also play the role of doctor (Hello, I know you are all intimately familiar with Dr. Google, don’t deny it). Well bonus, I’m totally into alternative medicine, health, and nutrition so I play witch doctor too. Stick with me here, I have a point. Cook and housekeeper- yup, that would be me as well. Ok, except for twice a month I get a little help with the latter but in my defense, MM doesn’t do many chores since he’s a slave to his work. What does this mean for you, dear reader?
Oh geez, this is starting to sound like a cheesy infomercial. Ok, let me try this again. Not only do I plan on sharing my reflections on parenthood, but I’ll also be blogging about parenting tips, cooking, relevant health info (such as complementary medicine and nutrition), and lastly, how to find a good therapist if you royally screw up your kid using my advice. Just kidding on the last one. I only give really fabulous, effective advice.