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
I resisted joining Facebook for years. “Facebook is for kids,” I’d protest, “And besides, I don’t want to put so much personal information out there on the Internet” (My FB friends will find that latter sentiment highly ironic now). But my sister moved to Germany and insisted that the best way to keep in touch with her family, which includes my adorable niece and nephew, would be to join FB. This way she would also get to see MFP grow up, if not in person, then at least virtually. At the time, I was also part of a mom’s forum on another website and they were going to dissolve that group (since it required a paid membership) and switch over to FB. Not wanting to lose my mommy support network and motivated by the promise of prodigious amounts of family photos from Germany, I finally came over to the dark side, otherwise known as Facebook.
I was instantly immersed in a social network made up of some of my dearest and closest friends and family. Having moved several states away from my family of origin when I married Macho Man (MM), FB filled a void I had been feeling since putting my career on hold to raise our daughter. Prior to MFP’s birth, my work had provided me with much of the social interaction and intellectual stimulation that I needed to stay happy and sane. Now as a stay-at-home-mom, my days consisted of feedings, diaper changes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and crying, mostly MFP, and on occasion, me. Facebook was my watercooler talk and I became like Pavlov’s dog, salivating at every notification and private message ding. It wasn’t enough just to lurk either. I had to show support of my FB’s friends’ endeavors by “liking” and commenting whenever I saw something pleasing, offering advice when questions were posted, and of course, admiring all those wonderful photos of cats, dogs, babies, and children.
Fast forward two years later. I was, as my dear twenty-something male cousin once called me, a “Facebook whore”. Not in a scandalous, I’m posting duckface selfies of myself in a low-cut shirt at the bar sort of way, but in a “Look at every picture I’ve ever taken of my daughter!” and “I’m making grass-fed beef stew today with organic carrots we planted in our garden!” kind of exibitionism. Some of my acquaintances quietly unfriended me. Others probably took me out of their news feed. I knew I had become “that mom”, but I couldn’t help myself. I mean, I’m just so lucky to have MFP, I need to document EVERY.WAKING.MOMENT of her life! But FB hadn’t just become my online baby book- it was also a place to share recipes, promote social causes, tease friends, crack jokes, keep in touch with family and friends around the globe, reconnect with old friends, stay on top of the news, meet like minded people (shout out to my FF Moms and Perfect Health Diet peeps)…
But MM was complaining- and loudly. If all the laundry wasn’t folded or dinner hastily made, in his mind, it was the fault of FB. And even though my time on FB usually consisted of idle minutes stolen here and there, like while waiting in line at Costco, and didn’t interfere in my “duties” as a SAHM, to MM, it was the root of all evil. But his complaints weren’t enough to make me stop. He was being unreasonable, of course (ahem…), just looking for something to moan about at the end of a long, stressful workday.
Until one day, after a Bitstrip frenzy, I realized that I had been reduced to a FB cartoon, no longer sharing anything of real meaning, but just looking for a laugh. I was one click away from posting this beauty.
Potty humor. I had stooped to jokes about lactose intolerance. Mortifying. Yes, I realize I’m sharing it on my blog. But it illustrates my point.
[For the record, I still love Bitstrip and consider it a nice supplement to my FB status updates. It’s fun, it’s cute, and I can give myself an instant boob job.]
But enough was enough. I needed to purge. I would take a one week FB break to examine the impact on my daily life. I didn’t tell MM about it. I wanted him to see if it made even a bit of a difference to our homelife. Would there be a gourmet dinner waiting for him every night? Would the laundry baskets be perpetually empty and dishes always put away? Would I find the time to teach MFP Latin? Would I suddenly obtain the energy, motivation and childcare to become a gym rat?
Not quite. Here is a neat, tidy summary of my week. Minutia of daily chore routine and most of MFP’s weekly scheduled activities excluded to prevent reader boredom and stalker activity.
Day before my purge: Sense of apprehension that I’d become socially isolated. Quickly inform friends of plan, pass out cell phone number, and plan usual play dates and activities.
Day 1 of FB fast: Sense of freedom. No longer tied to my smartphone, I enjoy a sunny fall day at the park with MFP. We did not get there any earlier than we normally do, but I wasn’t “that mom” checking my cell while kid is precariously hanging from the monkey bars or accepting candy from strangers. Hike around the lake. Come home and start texting friend from Las Vegas. She tells me about Snapchat. We start sending silly photos back and forth. Note to self: Next time, take break from all technology. Leftovers for dinner. Put kid to bed, finish chore, work on sleep consultation, start Jane Austen novel. Fall asleep an hour earlier than normal.
Day 2: Starting to feel withdrawal. Are friends who know of my fast posting ridiculous things on my wall to test me? “Hey, let’s post a picture of her wearing her Coke bottle glasses in 7th grade and see if she bites!” Start to find myself wandering in circles by the laptop. Occasionally visit Pinterest. Make organic, crock pot beef stew for dinner. More Jane Austen at night. Fall asleep early. Laundry left unfolded.
Day 3: Withdrawal symptoms continue. Remember that the only Latin I ever learned was Pig Latin. MFP is out of luck. Send out a few emails to friends. Pilates in morning. Delighted when an good friend, with whom I normally chat on FB, calls me and we have a wonderful conversation, only interrupted four times by MFP whining about wanting more tiny gluten bombs (a.k.a. Annie’s Bunny Grahams) and a cartoon. Grass-fed beef hot dogs and frozen veggies for dinner. Chores completed. Email clients. More Jane Austen before bed.
Day 4: Spend two hours working on research for future book while MFP is at pre-k. When MM blames the prior night’s hot dog dinner on FB, I triumphantly exclaim, “So not true, dear husband! I have been off FB since late Sunday night!” He tells me that the shabby dinner I served, despite not spending time on FB, is nothing of which to brag. I inform him if he continues with his diatribe, I will serve him hot dogs every night. He ceases to discuss meal preparation. Salmon, potatoes, and roasted organic vegetables for dinner. Spend late evening (after MFP is in bed) with MM discussing business. Jane Austen. Dishes left in sink.
Day 5: Vegas friend sends a Snapchat photo of her FB wall to taunt me and asks if she’s broken my fast? MFP and I attend a play date at a dear friend’s house and for once I have news for her that she hasn’t already seen on FB. Roasted cabbage, pastured chicken, potatoes, and salad for dinner. Client emails and read more Jane before bed.
Day 6: Getting used to not having FB but eager for my fast to be over. Lovely afternoon spent with family and being “productive”. Take-out for dinner. Quality time with MM in evening after MFP is in bed. Chores done.
Day 7: Woo hoo! Almost time to get back to my FB friends! Outing with MFP in morning, followed by “me time”, during which I took a long walk. Some sort of protein (from the Farmer’s market), veggie, and starch for dinner but for the life of me, can’t remember what since I forgot to write it down. More Jane Austen before bed.
What did I learn from my Facebook fast?
1. For me, FB fills those otherwise dull moments during the day. Unless I proactively think of ways to fill those moments with something more enlightening (such as mediation or admiring a crisp fall day), I’ll just find other “stuff” to fill those moments, like text messaging, Pinterest, or eating gelato.
2. My productivity did not go up because I already have a busy, highly scheduled day and don’t want to spend my free moments doing more housework.
3. If I want to work out more, I’ll need to build more activity into my routine. I manage to get to Pilates weekly, but power walks depend upon whether I can wrestle MFP into a stroller.
4. If MFP is going to learn Latin, I’ll need a Latin teacher. 😉
5. FB helps me stay connected to out-of-state friends and family that I would otherwise not be able to “see” or “talk” to on a regular basis.
6. It might be nice for me to start being more selective about my status updates instead of plastering my FB wall daily.
7. Barely anyone noticed I was gone, but some had wondered why I hadn’t “liked” or commented on their family photos, signed their petitions against Monsanto, or shared any good hypochondriac worthy articles lately.
So what did I do this week, my week back on FB? I posted two pictures and a video of MFP, a Snoopy cartoon, a recall of E.Coli tainted produce, a home remedy for migraines, and a list of “8 things that you may or may not have known about me” (see below) that I was informed I had to do because I had “liked” someone else’s list.
My eight things (just in case you were curious)…
1. At age 28 I got my navel pierced and only took it out at age 35 when I was 5 or 6 months pregnant with MFP.
2. My real first name is Josephine. My mom wanted it to be Claudia but my dad filled out the birth certificate and put “Claudia” as my middle name. My 8th grade English teacher tortured me by singing, “Josie and the Pussycats” to me.
3. I love pizza with anchovies and capers. In Italy, this combo is known as Pizza Napoletana.
4. I had a crush on Alton Brown from the Food Network for many years, until he got so skinny that he started to look a little sickly. MM thinks that is gross.
5. I want to be a published author by the time I’m 40.
6. In my will, I have specified that my body should be cremated and my remains scattered over the Island of Capri. I also want a smidgen tossed in my home state and a bit at the Vatican.
7. I’m afraid of eternity. It seems like a long time.
8. If I could live anywhere, I’d live at the beach.
Um, I’m still working on that whole “being selective” thing.
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