Memory Keepers

My kids, like most, have memories like a steel trap.

Remember that time you promised us ice cream and then we didn’t get any?
You mean the time your brother was running 104 temperature and we were trying to get him to the hospital, that time???
I dunno, maybe. But you still owe us an ice cream!

But the memories they keep, the ones that get caught in their young traps? They tend to be highly selective.

For instance, they don’t remember the seven hundred and sixty-two times I asked them to get their socks on, They only remember when I screamed at them to get their f**king socks on right this goddamn minute.

See? Selective memories.

Your kids have them too. They won’t remember all the mushy- gushy kisses, they’ll remember–and tell everyone who will listen– about the time you accidentally elbowed them on your way to the toilet to barf.

They won’t remember all the times you told them you loved them, but you can be damn sure they’ll remember the one time you threatened to sell them on eBay.

They won’t remember the mom magic that helps you keep track of who likes hard-boiled eggs and who likes scrambled, who likes their pasta with pesto and who prefers it with butter, who likes their carrots peeled and who doesn’t. What will they remember? The one time you put cucumber in the lunch box of the kid who doesn’t like cucumber as if you were trying.to.poison.him.

They won’t remember all the times you stayed up all night, not to get lucky, but to obsessively check their foreheads. They’ll remember the one time you were out to dinner and they threw up on the babysitter.

Remember that time, Mom? The time when you were out and I got sick all over the babysitter? Remember??

They won’t remember the 683, 909 calm and rational explanations, but they’ll remember the one time you lost your shit and threw a cup across the room.

They won’t remember the times you got up early to make scrambled eggs for breakfast on a school day. They’ll only remember the time you bought the bread with the seeds. You know. The one they hate.

No remembrance of time past, the hours spent pushing swings, spotting their little bodies climbing up the slide, zooming cars around on the floor. Nope. They will remember all the times they were so bored, Mom! 

They won’t remember the 10,000 meals you cooked, the ones they gobbled up. What will they remember? The ones they hated.

Out of 5,493 loads of laundry, the only one they’ll remember is the one when you shrank their hoodie in the dryer.

They won’t remember the times you pretended to be interested in play by play Pokemon or Minecraft stories. They’ll remember the time you shushed them because they were about to announce who was eliminated on Master Chef.

They won’t remember the scenery on the way to the National Park, or the $3,498 you spent on admissions. They’ll remember the way the ketchup at Burger King squirted on the table.

They won’t remember the 7,930 toys you bought them over the course of a lifetime, the 15,000 bits of Lego, the Barbie shoes you glued back together. They’ll fixate on the Barbie Dream House they never got.

Oh wait, that was me…

They won’t remember the blood, the sweat, or the tears. But the yelling, the screaming, the swears? It’s the stuff of legend. The stuff of therapy, of memoir, of blogs.

It’s all good. I may not remember why I opened the fridge, or what I came into the room to get, but all this stuff? Stored for life..or at least until I have grandkids on my side.

 

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There’s No Medal At the End of Motherhood

Last night some friends and I went to see Bad Moms. After explaining to the non-Americans that yes, shit like that really does happen in American PTA meetings, we talked about the idea of women doing it all.

Why do women so often feel that no matter what we do as mothers it is never enough? Why do we carry around the idea that if only we do better, do more, then we’ll win at it?

Motherhood isn’t a sport you can train for. It’s not a game you can win.

There’s no medal waiting for you at the end of motherhood.

You work your ass off. You give up cheese and wine and deli meat for nine months. You stop dying your hair. Most of us give up a a body part or two (did I ever tell you how being pregnant wrecked my teeth?). You give up sleep and sex and alone time. You give up hobbies, the Sunday paper in peace, Saturday afternoon naps. You give up crappy take out for dinner five nights out of seven, impromptu happy hours, spontaneous, last-minute vacations, holidays out of school term. A lot of us give up our identity, a career, money, high heel shoes, dreams.

But guess what? There’s still no freaking medal at the end.

Once you are a mother, you’ll be a mother until you shuffle off this mortal coil. It gets easier and then harder again, then presumably easier. It’s like head lice, you think you’re good but it keeps coming back. But it doesn’t end.

Do you know what’s at the end of motherhood? Death. Death is at the end of motherhood. And even then you’ll probably be dragged out in therapy sessions.

Motherhood is not the Olympics. You’re not going to come in first just because your Rice Krispie treats are made with homemade marshmallow. You’re not going to win the gold because your kid does three activities or because you made a conscious decision for them to do no activities and play around in the mud all day instead. You’re not going to get to stand on the podium in your Mom podium pants because you schlepped your kid around to play on three different teams or learn Latin. You’re not going to smash a mother record because you get by on the least amount of sleep or breast-fed your kid the longest. No matter what you squeeze into your day or what you don’t, what kind of cakes you bake or buy, you’re never going to get a medal.

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There’s no silver for you because you puree kale in your mini food-processor and freeze it in little cubes. There’s no bronze for me because I try to write honestly about motherhood.

Motherhood isn’t a race. It’s not an endurance sport that requires training and multiple hydration stops (unless you’re talking wine). Sure, we all want to find our personal best, but that personal best shouldn’t be about how much we can fit in (or conversely, how little we can do), but finding a balance between raising children to be healthy, functioning adults and being healthy, functioning adults ourselves.

Trying to do too much, to be all things, to be the best at all things–maybe it might make you feel like you’re doing it all, but at the end?

Still no medal.

If you’re lucky you might get some flowers and brunch on the first Sunday in May.

You can bake the best cakes and throw the best parties and sew the best Halloween costumes. You can create Van Gogh inspired lunches or be the one who volunteers for every field trip, who sits in the front row for every assembly and concert. Or you can brag loudly about doing none of those things.

There’s still no medal.

The moms in Bad Moms were exaggerated examples (mostly), but they were recognizable enough to make me question why so many of us take a thing like motherhood, which is hard enough, and make it into something impossible?

Women are smart and talented and intelligent and creative and capable. Then we have kids and all of that multi-faceted-ness I love about women gets squeezed into the narrow channel of motherhood where it bulges like a hernia. Eventually it explodes into something resembling what we have now: Mothers going for the gold.

Being a good mom–or even a bad mom–doesn’t have to be the sole defining factor of your existence. It can be an important one, even the most important one if that’s what you choose, but don’t let anyone else make that choice for you. Because even though motherhood may feel like a competition at times, it’s not.

There are no podium pants. There are no podiums. No one’s going to raise a flag or sing an anthem or ask you for an interview or put you on a box of diapers as the face of Motherhood. No ticker tape parades or entries into Wikipedia. There are no trophies or consolation prizes.

There is no medal at the end of motherhood. The reward is kids who grow up to lead respectful lives, who contribute in some way to the betterment of society–even if that betterment is being a kind soul. That’s your reward. And it’s worth more than any medal.

Just don’t kill yourself trying to get there or you’ll never get to enjoy the result.

The Only Advice You Ever Need

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When my kids were young, every waking, walking, talking moment was an important teaching moment. So many things to impart, to model, to drive home: names and ABCS,  numbers and how to fold a slice of pizza to eat it NY style. I taught them how to take turns, how to climb the steps to the slide, and the magic of please and thank you. I taught them how to wipe their sweet little tushies.

As they got older and those sweet little tushies turned into cute little bums, the lessons became more nuanced. How to push their peas onto the back of their fork with their knife (ok, that one their very proper Brit dad taught them), how to avoid hurting other people’s feelings, when to call me from school. Don’t get me wrong, I like nothing better than imparting moral lessons at the dinner table. As my younger son once famously lamented: You have a lesson for everything!! But as they get older and our time together becomes compressed I realized I could sum up most of my lessons into the only piece of advice you really ever need to give your kids.

Don’t be an asshole.

All the things I strive to teach my kids–playing fair, thinking about others, listening, taking turns, being kind, respecting differences, looking after their belongings, not eating with their head in their plates…ALL of those things fall neatly under the category of not being an asshole.

One of the perks of older children is the freedom to call a spade a spade. Or in this case, an asshole an asshole. As the cute little bums gave way to big boy butts and a tween-age tuchus, the stranglehold we kept on our four-letter word usage has loosened, but along the way we’ve used every fill-in-the-blank to round out this advice, from ding-dong to dolt, to jerk or wally (ok, my very proper Brit husband used wally). But keeping it four-letter-word real now appeals to their vulgar little minds. It catches their attention. Sometimes it makes them laugh. And they remember it. Hopefully as they go forth into the world they hear my strident Mom voice in their conscience reminding them to ask, WWaAD?*

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The answer? Oh, it could be as simple as walking out of a public toilet knowing full well the toilet paper was gone yet not giving the next person a heads up. But there are so, so many other things.

Like excluding someone on the basis of looks or popularity, spreading rumors, sabotaging friendships. Like feeling better about themselves by making someone else feel bad or taking out their frustrations on an easy target. An asshole demands his way or the highway. She mocks the boy who summoned up the courage to ask her to dance. Like making the cheap joke just to get the laugh, even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings. Like stepping on whoever is in their way with no regard, or even sometimes just for fun. An asshole will pressure you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, all squirmy in the gut.

Don’t be an asshole.

The thing about ding-dong dolt wallies is that though their intentions are sometimes cruel, often it’s just a case of not stopping to think about how your actions or words are going to affect those around you. Stopping to think is doable. It just requires a little bit extra.

Don’t be a wally. Take the extra thirty seconds.

60af4c5eabf01b83fd8e100cd8c45c71We all hurt other people’s feelings. Sometimes even intentionally. We all eat with our fingers and forget to flush the toilet, say things we don’t mean or talk in the movie theatre. We all make mistakes and bad choices. But if you’re an asshole, you probably won’t learn from them.

All the lessons I’ve taught over the years. All the speeches and pleas, they can all be diluted into that one, single lesson.

Don’t be an asshole.

The world has enough. Like that woman last week who didn’t warn me about the toilet paper.

*What Would an Asshole Do?

 

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

New-Month-New-Decade-Welcome-to-the-1950s-STAT-5.3.13Recently a mom friend rocked up to the school-yard with her latest accessory: a brand new bundle of squirmy baby-liciousness. Within moments, every woman within a hundred foot radius who still possessed vaguely functioning ovaries felt a primordial tug toward her. As one multi-limbed Earth Mother entity we made our way over to her to coo and coddle, goo and gaa, and just plain marvel at that new little life swaddled and peaceful in the dappled autumn light.

For one quick heartbeat, one small butterfly wing stroke of time, I felt a twinge of longing. You know the one. In that briefest of blinks, I felt a pang. For just a flicker, I mourned the idea of never again feeling a new life kick within me, at never again smelling the scent of possibility that hides in the folds of a newborn’s skin.

And then…oh then the sun went behind a cloud. Or maybe I blinked, or exhaled away from that yummy baby bundle. The flicker was quickly replaced by the hundreds of things I don’t miss about having babies around, about having toddlers around, about having little ones who require my constant supervision and conversation around. I shook off that momentary longing and firmly planted myself back in the realm of thank God my kids are older and I can pee by myself territory.

Gosh, there are so many, many things I don’t miss about having little ones anymore. I don’t miss diaper bags bursting at the seams with baggies full of snacks and cups of Cheerios. I don’t miss sippy cups, cleaning out valves and replacing straws. I don’t miss reaching for the last baby wipe only to find it dry and useless. I don’t miss triple checking I have a pocket full of matchbox cars before every outing. I don’t miss the constant redirection of a frustrated toddler; the impossible exercise of explaining why it’s not ok to scream in line at the bank even though it’s exactly what I want to do too. I don’t miss the mindless chatter, the pointing out and naming, the never-ending one-sided conversation of life with a baby and toddler.

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I don’t miss traveling with a stroller and a car seat and extra diapers just in case. I don’t miss trying to explain to a nine month old why 4:55 am is not a reasonable wake up time. I don’t miss interrupted sleep. I don’t miss filling the long hours of nap free days with things to do and places to go. I don’t miss the pockets full of rubber bands and bottle caps. The twigs and rocks and socks full of sand.

I don’t miss cribs or high chairs, bouncy seats or Baby Bjorns. I don’t miss the jigsaw puzzle pieces of a five point harness or contorting myself to put my child in backward in a two door car. I don’t miss spit up or poop-plosions or the sickly sweet cloying scent of the diaper pail. I don’t miss trying to contain the flailing limbs of a tantrumming toddler or playing “Baby throw the spoon on the floor six hundred times and Mommy picks it up.”

I don’t miss the boredom or the monotony of life with small children, the strict obsessive routine to avoid meltdowns. I don’t miss worrying about crying fits in restaurants or booking a flight at the right time to avoid tears. I don’t miss counting down the hours to bedtime. I don’t miss mashing up food or making pasta with butter for dinner 349 nights of the year. I don’t miss cutting grapes in half or quartering hot dogs.

I don’t miss the way my heart bleed out during bouts of separation anxiety or the way time stopped the first time someone rolled off the bed. I don’t miss the guilt, the anxiety, the neurotic chasing around the playground with a tofu dog. I don’t miss the hawk like vigilance every time a small body of water was nearby or chasing them around the parking lot of Applebees while other people ate hot food that wasn’t cut up into minute bits. I don’t miss changing poopy diapers in small airline bathrooms or dirty playgrounds. I don’t miss asking do you have to pee? sixty-eight time a day.

ROWAN23I don’t miss feeling like I was missing out on conversations or grown-upness or second guessing every thing I did or didn’t do. I don’t miss the pointed questions designed to place me in a parenting ‘type’. I don’t miss hoarding screen time or all the nevers I swore I would never do.

I don’t miss any of that.

Of course in the space of that blink, that breath, I remembered too. I remember it all: the way my babies folded up into me like tiny, little hedgehogs, the way a fist curled around my finger, that milk-sweet breath on my cheek. I remember the way their eyes opened in the morning and sought me out, how “Mama” was the first thing they asked for in the morning and the last thing they asked for before going to sleep. I remember the way they kicked and stretched in a jazzy womb dance, a ballet to the soundtrack of my heart. I remember watching in amazement as that second line turned pink and how everything, absolutely everything, changed in those tiny moments of time.

Oh there is much I don’t miss, but don’t be misled.

I would do it again in a heartbeat, in a flicker, in a small butterfly wing stroke of time.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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