Mothers: We Get the Job Done

I remember making a quip a long time ago about sending a mother in to negotiate peace in the Middle East.

I was mostly joking.

Mostly.

There are times when I watch, in aghast amusement as football tournaments blunder along, as team travel plans are made at the last possible minute, ensuring confusion and delay, when I stand and bear witness as what should be an easy organizational exercise turns into the Olympics of incompetence.

Sometimes I’m with a group of women, mostly mothers, and we just kind of nod and chuckle. Inevitably someone will say, you know what this (fill in the blank) needs, don’t you? And someone else will say “A woman!” And we’ll laugh and laugh and laugh. Until they come over and ask one of us to help sort out the mess. Then it’s no fun anymore. None at all.

But seriously….why wouldn’t you want a mother in charge? I mean, mothers have got this shit down. I mean down. I suspect women in general do, but it’s hard for me to separate pre-mother me and post-mother me. It’s been a long time since I haven’t been expected to pull, with total recall at a moment’s notice, a schedule of who has which sport on what day and which socks they need. Plus where said socks were last spotted.

And it’s always there, that little list of who/what/where/when/how. Exactly when and where I need it. Because mothers? We get the job done.

Organizational skills? Please. On any given day a mother remembers exactly where her child/children need to be, how they’re going to get there, and who is going to take them home. What they need to eat before they get there, the equipment they need to take, and an extra snack for someone else’s child in case they forgot. I’ve seen mothers bandage a flesh wound, make plans for Halloween costumes, RSVP a birthday party and arrange a car pool. Simultaneously. A mother can carry on at least four different conversations at once, remembering exactly where she was at any given point. Total recall. But with Mom instead of Arnold. (This last Jedi mind trick drives my husband b-o-n-k-e-r-s, but it’s handy when you are doing twelve things at once. Which mothers usually are.)

Negotiating Experience? Pah. Mothers spend almost every waking moment in negotiations. We are experts–experts–in the bribe/distract/threat school of getting shit done. You don’t know what hard negotiations look like until you’ve negotiated yourself out of a hostage situation involving a hungry toddler draped over a kitchen chair whining about how he doesn’t like the same meal he had three helpings of two days before all while helping your older one with homework, listening to your spouse tell you he’s going to be late, speed dialing the sitter with an eye on the clock to get everyone bathed and in bed before the sitter comes so you can go to book club. (And let’s stop pretending. Let’s just call it Wine Club). You know that 10,000 hour to be an expert rule? Yeah, done. And dusted.

Fierce advocate? Check! Hell hath NO fury like a mother whose child has been unfairly targeted. (On a serious note, look how many successful activist and advocacy movements were started by mothers. Candy Lightner’s daughter was killed by a drunk driver. She started Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) four days later. Shannon Watts planted the seed for Moms Demand Action the day after Sandy Hook to address gun violence in the US. Autism Speaks was started by grandparents.) You do not screw with our children. You do not overlook them or sideline them or under any circumstances put them in danger. We will come for you. Hard.

I’ve said it before. If you ever need the impossible done? Talk to a mother who has lost or is in danger of losing something dear to her. And watch it happen. Mama magic isn’t just kisses and band aids.

Able to cope with stress? Check! Watch a mother whose alarm didn’t go off get a household of kids out of the house in under ten minutes on a school day. Pb&J sandwiches–boom, like a boss. Lunches, breakfast, find the football socks, the keys, the homework, stuff the backpacks, supervise brushing of teeth, combing of hair, on and on and on, kiss, see ya later, door slam.

The Art of the Deal? Puh-leeze. Any mother worth her salt knows how to make a deal. She knows threats don’t work for long. Compromise is the mainstay of motherhood. It’s your bread and butter. We’re good at it. Scratch that. We are great at it. You know why? Because it takes a mother about 15 seconds to realize living in an environment in which everyone gets a little bit of something they want/need is much more pleasant. A mother knows Jimmy doesn’t like rice, but Josie does. So she’ll make the rice for Josie but make sure dinner includes at least two other things that Jimmy does like. Every damn night. Times infinity. It’s not giving in. It’s not weakness. It’s listening and doing what you can to make sure everyone gets a piece of cake. Everyone in life–everyone, I don’t care if you are the President, or a toddler throwing a fit in the middle of IKEA, everyone wants to feel listened to.

Recently I went away for a week. I left food in the fridge, lunch cards stocked up with money. I made meatballs. I listed who needs to be where on what day, with what gear, with which food. I left numbers and prearranged pick ups and playdates. The list took up most of a kitchen cupboard. It was color coded and highlighted.

When I returned everyone, as I expected, was absolutely fine. My husband is an eminently capable adult who manages other adults through their crises for a living. As he stood in the kitchen upon my return he said, you know, I can maintain what you do. But I could never actually DO what you do.

As far as compliments go, it was a pretty dang good one.

So next time, before asking us to clean up the mess (we’re pretty good at that too), maybe ask a mother to take charge beforehand.

Because, mothers. We get the job done.

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The Case for Mother’s Day

Surely we don’t need a commercialized holiday like Mother’s Day to tell us when to celebrate the mothers in our lives. No need to buy into this forced appreciation nonsense, right? We should celebrate and appreciate mothers every day!

Uh huh.

We should eat five servings of vegetables, floss and take 10,000 steps every day too. And sure, every now and again we remember and go on a kick. Spinach for all! Fit Bits to the ready! Where was that floss again??? Then life gets in the way or things go back to normal or we just, simply, can’t be bothered.

The same thing happens with celebrating mothers.**

To be sure, the notion of Mother’s Day has been pumped up like Arnold Schwarzenegger on steroids pushed through a Denny’s All You Can Eat Breakfast Buffet sieve. Super-sized and monopolized by florist and pedicurists all over the world.

You should still acknowledge it.

Why? Because being a mother sucks thankless ass is hard, especially if you’re trying to do it well. And 90% of that hard work goes on behind the scenes where no one else can see. Invisible Mom Syndrome.

Hey kids! Remember me? The one who remembers which of you little tyrants darlings likes your apples sliced and which one doesn’t? The one who doesn’t argue with your ridiculous quirky insistence you don’t like cheese– except when it’s shredded?

Or that mother over there schlepping her kid’s cello, which is as big as she is. Or that one, getting up at 5 am to drive her kid to hockey practice. Or the swimming pool. Oh, there’s that mother over there who clocks seventy kilometers a day taking her kids to and from karate.

Mothers, the silent, invisible army making sure kids eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, get to bed at a reasonable hour, and make it to adulthood.

Hey kids! Remember me? The one meets you after school each day with a smile and a snack despite your pissy attitude tired complaints? The one who nods and says “Oh, really?” in all the right places when you’re blathering incessantly talking about Pokemon–because even though I’m bored senseless, I’m still mostly listening?

Yeah, me over here, standing on the pedestal of motherhood. Which is really more of a sewer cover at street level threatening to give way at any moment.

No, no mother has to do any of this. Some don’t. But a lot of mothers do, because it is making life just a little bit more enjoyable and easier for their kids to walk the walk to adulthood. Because growing up, when you take away the rose-tinted glasses of adulthood, sucks is hard work. This is what good moms do.

But just because it’s our job doesn’t mean it’s not nice to feel appreciated.

Have you ever busted your ass at work to get something done? Is it nice to have that work acknowledged? Of course it is. Now imagine your boss walking by and saying, “Well, I don’t really believe in telling my employees I appreciate them. After all, it’s their job. They get a paycheck every week, that should be appreciation enough.”

That’s what its like being a mother. Except we’re not getting paid. And there’s no overtime. Or vacation.

So, forget the we should celebrate mothers everyday bullshit. We all know it’s not true. The bigger question is, why the hell wouldn’t you take advantage of a ready-made day like Mother’s Day??? Why wouldn’t you take advantage of a day set aside and marked on your calendar (automatically for crying out loud!), to celebrate your mother, or your child’s mother? I mean seriously, it’s going to kill you to buy a damn card?

Yes, yes, there are plenty of mothers who don’t want a fuss made, who don’t buy into the commercialized falsehoods, who may feel lessened by the idea it took Hallmark and The Olive Garden to point out that what most mothers do on a daily basis should be acknowledged.

But I’ve yet to meet a single person in my life, ever, who doesn’t appreciate a word or token of appreciation, tangible acknowledgment that what they do is valued.

Sometimes I hear a fellow mother’s lament her family doesn’t ‘buy into’ the idea of Mother’s Day.

Horse shit.

I don’t particularly enjoy standing in the pissing down rain to watch my son’s football team get creamed every week, but it’s important to him that he knows I am there, that I value his commitment, that I support him. What if I said, well, I don’t believe in watching your games because it comes from a false place and I feel like I’d be betraying my shockingly selfish principles if I stood there week after week?

If your wife, if your mother, if you grandmother or baby mama celebrates or wants to celebrate Mother’s Day, get your ass down to the store and buy a card. Or make one. Or bring her coffee in bed, or list all the things she does that you appreciate on a piece of paper. You don’t have to spend money to show someone your appreciation. You don’t have to go the commercial route if that’s what is bothering you.

And fathers? Don’t give me this bullshit excuse about how your wife isn’t your mother –it’s up to you to corral your kids to do something. You’re the adult here, Dad. Stop trying to find opt-out clauses in the handbook of grown-up-ness. If the mother or mothers in your life want a show of appreciation, get off your butt and stop hiding behind some lame excuse. This is not about your own feelings about Hallmark or The Olive Garden. If it’s important to someone in your life, you do it. Stop making it about you.

One day. ONE. They put it in the same month every year! They made it a Sunday! You can’t turn sideways without some sort of reminder! I mean it literally could not get any easier….

So no more excuses. Use the damn day for what it’s there for. Feel free to skip The Olive Garden, but at the very least, let her know you appreciate what she does every day, behind the scenes.

 

**I write about motherhood a lot, and I always receive comments from readers about their own relationships with toxic family members, including mothers. Not all mothers are good or kind. Not all women should be mothers, and I know many of you, both personally and through these pages, who have been harmed, in ways big and small, by relationships with those mothers. When you’re writing a piece like this, it’s easy to use the collective idea (ideal) of motherhood to make a point. To those of you with mothers not worth celebrating (and there are plenty), buy yourself a card. Appreciate yourself, and the fact that you survived in spite of, rather than because of, your mother. Don’t got to the Olive Garden though–unless you really like bread sticks.
D

Behind the Scenes of a Stay at Home Parent

By now you’ve probably seen the video of Robert Kelly, the father whose children danced their way into viral stardom.…and his BBC interview. Children look for dad, mom tries to corral them out of the room, hilarity ensues. Well, for viewers anyway. I’m not sure if Professor Kelly’s wife Kim Jung A is a stay at home parent, but watching her on all fours trying to salvage her husband’s interview summed up what many stay at home parents do daily behind the scenes.

In this case, it just so happened that it took place in full view of a news camera.

Stay-at-home parents. Ridiculed, minimized, poo-poohed, satirized, parodied, endlessly mocked. A friend told me a story recently. An adult at her child’s school tried, unsuccessfully, to reach my friend on the phone. When she finally was able to take the call, she was asked, sarcastically, whether she’d been too busy at tennis or Pilates. The same was asked of her child. The answer was neither, but the anecdote illustrates the value many place on stay-at-home parents. That is, usually not much.

The truth is, the stay-at-home parents I know are running troops so that other people’s children can take part in Scouts. They are raising money for children in Syria, giving their time and skills to programs that help trafficked women. They are volunteering at school, heading up committees, ‘donating’ their professional skills in terms of expertise, experience, and time. Do some of them play tennis too? Sure thing. Pilates? Yup. But the idea of stay-at-home parents sucking on bottles of Proseco? Pfft.

That’s only on special occasions.

*************

You know the folks who wield the brooms in the odd sport of curling? The ones who move ahead, sweeping furiously, freeing the ice of debris and bumps so the stone can slide freely across the finish line?

Stay at home parents are those players, sweeping away all the crumbs and debris that life throws at you to help their family reach the finish line in as smooth a line as possible.

**************

It took me a long time to realize the value in what I do, to stop equating money in the bank with worth. Just because I’m not presented with a paycheck at the end of the month, I won’t minimize the way I am able to make my family’s life that much easier for them.

My husband wouldn’t have the job he has now unless we agreed to move overseas, which meant I gave up my job. My being a stay at home parent right now means he can travel when he needs to, stay late at work on a moment’s notice, not worry about the school calling him up when someone’s puking their lunch up, enroll in a Master’s course, and not worry about what to do with the kids during the 14 weeks a year when they don’t have school. Generally he is able to delegate most of the boring day-to-day stuff. To me. You know, the stuff everyone hates doing. The stuff which usually makes everyone’s lives immeasurably smoother.

Don’t get me wrong. I complain. Sometimes bitterly. I complain my college degree is wasted. That my kids are–right now–growing up without the role model of a mother who works outside the home (they don’t equate writing a novel or winning writing contests with work. Work to them means in an office, behind a desk). I complain about the huge portion of my day spent in the kitchen. But, my husband and I, we’re in this together. He couldn’t do what he does as smoothly if I was working outside the home. I couldn’t do what I do (right now that’s writing novel 2) if I was working. Despite the trade offs (and there are always trade offs), we make it work.

Do we miss the cushion of another salary at times? Absolutely. But just because it doesn’t result in a direct deposit into our joint account doesn’t mean my role in the family is worthless.

I am the sweeper. Rememberer of cards and buyer of birthday presents, scheduler of conferences and vaccination up-keeper. I am able to pick up the slack for those mothers I know who are earning outside the home, volunteering when they can’t, helping out on field trips and class events, things that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Stay-at-home parents are often the ones car pooling everyone else’s kids, standing in during emergencies, reading to another mother’s child at an open house because she couldn’t get the time off work. I’m not writing that to make working parents feel guilty. On the contrary, I am then able to point out that working mother as an example to my own children. Working parents have to figure out all of this stuff too, and it’s stressful. Our choice for me to stay home leads to less vacations, less dinners out, but it also leads to less stress for my husband and kids–and at times, more for me.

These are all the things going on behind the normally locked door while Mom or Dad is giving an interview to the BBC. Or going on in the house when Mum or Dad is in the office. Keeping the kids quiet, entertained, fed, healthy, play-dated, socialized, and out of the way so the working parent can do their job, do it well, do it with a little bit (or a lot) less stress.

I’m aware how lucky we are for me to stay home and be that sweeper. I know that for many, many families, they are playing all the roles at once. Sweeper, curler, coach, referee, stone, and hell, even the ice. I’m grateful for the opportunity, to stay at home, to volunteer, to write; grateful we’ve been afforded, quite literally, this chance.

But I also expect my family to be grateful for what I provide as well, both behind the scenes and out in front where everyone can see.

 

 

Tales From the ‘Hood

It’s always a good thing when you can look in the rearview mirror….and laugh at yourself.

Yesterday, I met up with a group of women (and one man–you held your own, lone man–you should know that we kept the labor and episiotomy stories on the back burner for your sake–) to pass one of the long, winter break days. While the kids threw themselves around in ball pits teeming with streptococci, we exchanged stories from the trenches. Tales from the ‘hood. And by hood, I mean, of course, motherhood. (And you, lone Dad).

These informal information sessions are one of my favorite parts of being a mother. They are, I’d argue, also one of the most important. You see, motherhood, much like writing, can be a lonely business and a lot more of it is done inside the confines of your own head than is good for you. But, just like I always feel better when I can get the ideas from the ping-pong ricochet in my head on to the page, I always feel better talking to other parents as well.

Sitting around and talking seems like a luxury, but really, it’s anything but. Aside from honing your multi-tasking skills (yesterday it was smearing some anti-bacterial cream and a band-aid on an injured knee while maintaining my conversation, drinking my coffee and fielding texts from the older child who locked himself out of the house), that village consciousness is absolutely necessary to healthy parental survival. Casual conversation among peers is an important aspect of checks and balances in the ‘hood. It’s a way to make sure you haven’t lost your ever-loving mind in the throes of infant sleep deprivation. It’s a way of finding your sense of humor again in stories of shit and vomit. Most importantly, it’s a way of connecting and feeling less alone during a time of life when, despite a child clinging to you at all times like a frightened koala, you often feel very much alone.

This time we were talking about the ridiculous things we did as first time mothers, when we were flushed with parenting righteousness and middle class, over-educated book knowledge. Many of us were determined to do it by the book, not realizing for years that kids don’t follow a book. You’ve got to figure it out as you go along. Nevertheless…when I think of some of the things I did, said, and believed those first few years, I cringe.

What a monumental ass I was.

Some people may shy away from that obnoxious ghost of motherhood past, let the over documenting, crazy mom of yore fade gently into the background.

But c’mon! Where’s the fun in that?

During my first two years of being a mother, I am guilty of the following (not a complete list, by any stretch.)milk

I was convinced my son might be suffering from Dwarfism because his head seemed too big in relation to his limbs; I also worried he was autistic because he didn’t respond to his name…at three months.

(I should also add I asked my OB/GYN if the baby was epileptic once. She calmly informed me it was hiccups)

Yelled at my mother not to make eye contact with the baby during the middle of the night “No Stimulation!” Actually, I probably hissed it more than shouted it.

Chased my son around the playground with a tofu hot dog to get him to eat. More than once.

Threw myself into the backseat of a moving car to feed the baby because “My God, you heartless fiend (his father)! You want him to wait fifteen minutes for his food?? He’s starving. Starving!”

Moved his bouncy chair every 20 minutes to give him something new to look at.

Kept a journal of how often he ate, pooped, slept.

Religiously clocked screen time allowance to meet American Pediatrician Guidelines, including commercials.

Yelled at my husband for using up all my hoarded ‘tv time’ on a Saturday morning.

Was in his face every minute of every day encouraging enriching behaviors like putting the square shape in the square hole.

Had panic attacks about his dislike of fruit, bread, bagels, pizza, eggs, etc. Incessantly worried he wasn’t getting enough vegetables. Hid vegetables in his food (though never stooped to making brownies with puree kale…even I had limits)

Requested (ok, maybe more like demanded…) sex neutral clothing and toys like school busses because busses know no gender…

Insisted, to my pediatrician, a trained professional, that a love of cars and wheels was the result of social conditioning and not innate preference.

Swore my child would never have soda, McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, video games, unsupervised screen time, toy guns.

Clapped like an idiot when he came down the slide.

Said things like ‘well done!’ for minor achievements like breathing and swallowing.

But perhaps worse than any of those forgivable moments of first mom neurosis, is that I know, on more than a hundred occasions, I was holier than thou about my own righteousness.

sad-girlSo, consider this little confession of smarm my bit of penance. A Hail Mary for my early motherhood sins of sanctimony.

Eventually you learn that your child doesn’t need to eat every fifteen minutes, that tofu dogs are gross, and most people grow into their head size.

What you also learn? That time spent trading stories from the ‘hood? It’s priceless.