In a previous blog post I mentioned that the primary maternal role I did not expect was that of Fail Mom, and that it deserved an entire entry. So here goes.
I sincerely hope I am not the only person in the world to have assumed success at parenting with no logical reason to do so. I can think of some reasons why we think motherhood can’t be too difficult.
1. We have forgotten any agony our mother expressed while she was raising us.
2. People have been having children and raising them to adulthood for how long now?
3. Anyone can have a baby.
4. I’m an intelligent person.
5. Everyone is doing it.
These are all understandable assumptions based on basic observations.
But, the key assumption we make is that we are logical, moral people. We can observe other people saying and doing things to their children that are clearly not the right thing to do. It’s just so obvious that one should ignore the tantrum, not buy the candy, correct misbehavior, teach necessary skills.
Ah…but we don’t realize how the complexity of life creates challenges we can’t imagine. We don’t understand that the love we have for our children will twist our reason. We can’t imagine the responsibility for another life in our hands. We think we have, but we haven’t.
So we end up being unfair, impatient, even mean sometimes. We are inconsistent. We let them have pineapple Fanta even though it has food coloring in it. We pick up the mess they made because we’d rather not have to ask one more time.
We push them into activities they don’t benefit from, just because we think it would be a good idea. We don’t actually listen when they are trying to tell us something important. We spend much more time staring at electronic screens than we do at their faces.
There’s a Baby Blues comic I love which has a place of honor on my fridge. Each frame shows the mom doing something for the kids that before parenthood, she knew she would never do. She tells her daughter she’ll help her figure out how to do the math later; for now here’s the answers. She tells the kids they should finish brushing their teeth in the car. She sends them into the den with cookies to watch TV, so she can finish making dinner. She burns the dinner. Her husband says, “Shake it off. You’re human.”
Her response: “I was a great mother–until I had kids!”
I’m young at heart. Now I know why “older people” want to be seen that way.
Of course, I never thought about what women older than me wanted when I was 25. Now I wish I had. I’ve probably missed some pretty great opportunities to have a lot of laughs and to gain a lot of wisdom.
I’m not saying that I personally have that much wisdom, but I do have something to offer. Friendship. Loyalty. A sense of humor. The time to hang out. Hands that know how to fold a mean pile of laundry. Ideas for how to teach your children. Ways to prepare some pretty delicious food.
I can offer my friendship to any other woman I meet.
I just doubt that many of the women I see on a regular basis realize I have something to offer. I’m not perceived as a potential friend because I’m older than they are.
It goes without saying that those people who haven’t let age even come into the equation are deeply appreciated. Jennifer, Mangala, Erica, Toby, Esther: these women never saw the grey.
I have a question.
Do youthful people the age of my children want to be greeted and acknowledged by adults instead of ignored? Or, do they really not want to be noticed?
I know for teens the stereotype is their attitudes about their parents could be summed up in one word: embarrassing. However, other adults who are not one’s parents don’t have that reputation to overcome.
The way I remember it, there were some great people I knew when I was a teen, some at church, some at school. Some were people Dad brought home from work for dinner. When those adults shook my hand and greeted me, I felt good. If they asked me about myself I didn’t mind talking. I appreciated being acknowledged.
The sweet older ladies at church always seemed interested in how I was doing. Several of them gave me cards or gifts when I graduated from high school. Some even when I got married three years later. That kind of attention and care is truly sweet.
I liked it.
So, now I’m the (relatively) older person. I like to meet people and talk to them and I really don’t care what age they are. And, I’ve noticed that adults in general seem to only talk to other adults. They don’t interact with the children who are also standing right there. Why is that? Am I missing something? Doesn’t every person deserve a greeting and an acknowledgement?
Not to mention what I’m missing if I only initiate a conversation with people who are in my immediate demographic. How dull.
I’d like to hear your opinion.
I recently read an article online in the Conservative Tribune about Maine’s new guidelines regulating the receipt of welfare benefits. Here’s the link:
I don’t object to setting things up so that those who are able can get job skills, volunteer, do things that will move themselves and their communities forward.
I do have a couple of concerns. Any writer has a slant and will tend to lean on it. What I mean is that at least some of the time there might be a reason a person cannot meet the new requirements. Perhaps, he might not have reliable transportation to the scene of job training or volunteering.
The other is the tone of the article.
I would think that among conservatives who write for and read the magazine there would be quite a few people of faith, as it’s not uncommon for people of faith to have conservative values.
So if you are a person of faith, is it really necessary to call another human being a leech?
Every potential mother has ideas about what it will be like to have children. We all have expectations.
OK, maybe delusions would be a better word.
There were areas I could imagine–just barely–but I could understand and foresee them. I could visualize myself reading children books, tucking them in, taking them camping and giving them Christmas presents.
Hmmm. That’s actually about it. I don’t think I ever really understood that I would be cleaning up their messes, feeding them 6 meals a day, and all the rest. Diapers were purely hypothetical until I actually had an infant and my husband and I had dropped off Grandma at the airport for her return flight. There I was in the restroom, baby on the changing table, to discover a giant explosion that could not be contained by any diaper. I didn’t have enough wipes. There was nobody else in the restroom. I think I called, “Help!” (Yes, really.)
Then I did what any new mother ends up doing. I waded right in with paper towels because that was what I could reach without moving the baby. I don’t know if those little pants were salvageable.
So you learn the basics pretty quickly.
But there are surprises that no one could have predicted.
Here are my top ten unexpected roles.
10. Amphibian search and rescue team. I found myself with a salamander in one hand, moving leaf litter with the other hand, so that the second salamander could be given its worm. I had to peel back layers of rotting leaves before I found the thing sandwiched happily into the decomposing strata.
9. Chauffeur. Needs no explanation.
8. Ship’s counselor. I knew that I would be comforting children when they scraped their knees, and sympathising when the boy didn’t notice them and went out with the best friend instead. I just had no idea the span of support that actual people need, and how hard it is to comfort and guide when you don’t have all the answers.
7. Home school teacher (with fifteen years of experience). Absolutely not! Not in my plans, no way, no how; I am looking forward to my child leaving home so that I can do other things and have some time to myself already. Hmmmm…..what’s that? You say my child will be bored in public school and needs more stimulation? You say, kindergarten is easy; anyone can teach kindergarten? Give it a chance? I turn around, and whoops!–I had to count up the years of experience to put in this list, because I’ve lost track, it has been so long.
6. Short order cook. Again, this probably needs no explanation.
5. Tooth removal patrol. By this I mean the fact that you as the parent are ultimately responsible for removing your child’s loose teeth, because if they don’t come out within 48 hours of the dental hygienist mentioning their eligibility to be removed, it will cause dental damage that can only be fixed by expensive orthodontia. Thus, you are supremely motivated to get the tooth out of your child’s head. However, it is your child’s head, not yours we are talking about here. So, you turn into the tooth removal patrol and take up a full-time job nagging the child and getting slime on your fingers, until the tooth is finally out weeks later and dental disaster is averted.
4. Family cheerleader. Some children need more encouragement than others. You, Mom, are it!
3. Sherlock Holmes. Specifically, Sherlock who specializes in finding lost tiny items. Tiny items are incredibly precious and thus must be taken to bed. When they cannot be found amongst the bedding, you are the Sherlock who will find them. At 2 in the morning, in the mostly dark. While simultaneously averting the potential emotional tragedy of this event for your child.
2. Amphibian Houdini rescue team. Ah yes, this is what happens when you allow your children to keep the tiger salamander they have found because your nature-type Fish and Wildlife friend says they are so easy to keep and care for! Not endangered so no problem there. When your child loves amphibians, and you don’t want her to get a tree frog, you can always just keep a salamander. Why not? What you don’t know is that your child will occasionally get the salamander out of its terrarium, because after all everyone needs exercise. Did I mention we actually got two salamanders instead of just one? oh well, they can keep each other company in there. Another thing I didn’t mention is that when you first adopt salamanders they do not prefer bright open places and are always looking for some dark corner where they believe they will feel more comfortable. So, when the active salamander takes a walk straight into the doll pants that have foolishly been left out in the “salamander play area,” it will be up to you, the amphibian Houdini rescue team, to get the salamander back out of the doll pants. She cannot walk while encased in doll pants. You must painstakingly, tenderly, cut the pants off the salamander (who is much too fat for the pants to be pulled off of) without damaging the plumpness of the salamander, while it writhes and wriggles in your hands.
And my number one role I did not anticipate playing…Fail Mom. Yes. This one is worth a whole other blog entry. This is the role you know you will never play, because…how hard can it be?
Yesterday, I finished reading a book new to me this year. I read it once with my daughter as part of school, but decided it needed another read.
I strongly suspect it will lead to another–and another–and another. That is, if my heart turns out to be anything like Eustace Clarence Scrubb’s dragon skin. You remember his transformation in C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He tried on his own to remove the skin, as Aslan told him to, but failed miserably.
On his own he had gained the knowledge that he had dragon skin, and knew how desperately he needed it peeled away. But his claws weren’t deep enough to do the job.
As I read this book, I have felt the skin being tugged. I’ve seen the scaly bumps. I’ve felt some scales beginning to fall from my eyes. All I have so far is the knowledge that it must go.
I’m talking about Till We Have Faces, also by Lewis. It’s strong medicine.
How did he know what I am like internally? Or is it just that we all have the same battle?
Here’s what he observed through his narrator, Orual, the unlovely older sister of Psyche. She begins her accusation of the gods by recording her life and her losses. In the first book, she tells what happened when the gods gave her and then took away a lovely, sweet younger sister whom she loved as much as any one can love another person.
She ends that part by saying that the gods never give an answer to our questions and complaints. But in the shorter second book, she begins to see herself as she really is and not as she had imagined herself to be all the years of her childhood, young womanhood, and rule as queen.
“For it had been somehow settled in my mind from the very beginning that I was the pitiable ill used-one.”(256)
“My love for [fill in a name from your life…was actually] a gnawing greed for one to whom I could give nothing, of whom I craved all.” (267) As I read Book II, and saw with Orual all the events she had been sure she understood perfectly before, I began to question my own life and situations I thought I had understood perfectly before. In the courtroom of the gods she reads her complaint, her book that she has been working on diligently, only to find that it is in reality a nasty, ugly scroll filled with scribblings that when placed before the eternal are revealed to be the lies and excuses they truly are.
Reading this book made me see things about myself I hadn’t seen before. So with strokes of the pen, years after his death, Lewis has managed to begin to tear my dragon skin.
But it will take a deep slash for Aslan to finish the work, I know.
Lewis, C. S. Till We Have Faces. Orlando: Harcourt, 1984.
You know what they say. The more you can keep your brain active and working as you age, the less likely that you will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
I have always thought that homeschooling parents have a leg up on this goal. Our brains are working every day by definition. I know that teaching division, Algebra I, history and more does a lot for me. It may not be a Sudoku or a crossword, but I think it meets the goal of doing a task that is mentally challenging.
While I have stuck with the same core curriculum through the years, the curriculum company has made some text changes as time has gone by. With each student, when I either purchase the new teacher’s manual or look at the current book list, I can see they have pulled out a few books (some I was glad to see go, such as The Dark Frigate; most I was sorry to see go) and added some new ones.
This year in the American history course we read World War II and How it Affects you Today: The Rest of the Story. Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by the same author was a helpful explanation of economics, inflation and all those esoteric topics, and I have now read that twice and will read again with my youngest student this school year, but I had not read anything by this author on war history.
Because it looked quite different from the standard historian’s view of the whys and wherefores of WWII, I told my daughter she could read the fiction selection by herself for this time period; I was definitely reading World War II out loud with her.
What an eye opener. Disagreeing with the standard explanations of why the US got into WWII, the author makes a case against the idea that the Germans and Japanese were such vicious fighting machines that England and our other allies would have been destroyed without our help.
Potentially changing the way you see the world and considering the possibility that what you’ve been led to believe is false will keep a mind active.
Another way I’ve been keeping Alzheimer’s at bay is learning to play chess.
At my age, it’s difficult to retain all the rules. And even when I do remember exactly what moves each of my pieces can make, that does not mean that I will notice what dangers I’m moving them into. I am planning ahead, checking out possible dangers for the square I have in mind, coming up with long-term strategies for taking my opponent’s queen and getting at his king: all that stuff. It’s just not working yet.
What really makes it embarrassing is that the person teaching me is ten years old. I lost my queen to him in our play yesterday in the course of ten minutes tops.
And no, I’m not letting him win. It’s just happening.
But I can be a good sport.
At least I’m fighting the loss of brain cells!