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In Case You Thought I Didn't Own A Soapbox

There's an aspect of adulthood, maybe more specifically motherhood, but definitely something not present in my youth, that has come into my awareness slowly, unpleasantly, and what seems to be, unavoidably.

My childhood experiences were somewhat colored, by my obvious physical imperfection of having a fat lip. I was used to being looked at, stared at, sometimes made fun of, but always at the very least, noticed. It's hard for me now, looking back, to determine if my childhood was "hard" or harder than average with or without this. I'm referring to when people talk about how cruel kids can be and how hard 4th grade was, or 7th grade, etc. I can't really tell because I was aware from an early age that there were stupid people in the world who would judge me for my appearance and try to make me feel like less of a person.

And another really amazingly mature part of me was able to separate that from my reality and realize it was their problem, not mine. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, believe me, I'll let you know when I do. I just know that I was conscious of this at a young age and I realize now that those kinds of thoughts couldn't be further from my own child's mine. "He says I'm a turtle head TELL HIM I'M NOOOOOOOOOOT!". My whole point is: I don't think I can look back at my past, my childhood and determine if it was as fraught with as much judgmentalism as I feel like I face now, as a 31 year old adult. And a mother.

As mothers we have this job that is nearly impossible to define. We've all said it at least once, "why isn't there a manual for this?!" or something of that nature. We all sort of know what we are doing, or at least have an idea of what we want the end result to be, and come up with ideas, follow suggestions, and do our darndest to meet that end. There are no yearly interviews or job-performance feedback forms. There are no raises or promotions if we get it right. A good day is not having to wipe yogurt off the walls or 6 uninterrupted hours of sleep. Or not getting bitten by a 3-toothed bandit. Or shot in the eye with a foam bullet that flies at unnatural speeds from a plastic gun your three year old fires. And makes you cry.

What it all comes down to is, each of us really trying to do the best that we can. When we know better, we do better----right? At least that's the hope for all human beings making their way through life. Parent or not.

What I don't get is how nearly every conversation I engage in, since becoming a mother has almost ALWAYS entailed some aspect of apology or "confession" for how things are done. I remember feeling pretty big shame that my almost 2-year-old still took a bottle. I had no intention of taking it away until I was ready and he was ready. That bottle brought him true joy. He swaddled it, cuddled it, sang it lullabies. But when people found out he still had it at 22 months, I was embarrassed. Why? Did that negate how deeply I loved this child, how desperately I wanted the best for him, how hard I worked to be the best mom I knew how?

A couple of weeks ago, at the grocery store I passed a woman who had a small child in her cart. He was about 20 months and absolutely darling. Big mess of dark hair, vibrant brown eyes, chubby cheeks and an infectious smile. I couldn't help myself and as I passed her (I was childless as my own preshies were at home oozing from the eyes) I said, "He is darling!" He nodded in a agreement and she quickly turned and fumbled about his face, offering some apology for the condition of his face. Apparently it was covered in crusties from having a bit of a cold. She quickly started dabbing at his face, never once acknowledging the compliment for what it was. She had a cute son. That was it. I didn't even notice the dried snot, mostly because I am certain it was a drastic improvement from the oozing that was going on at home with my own children. I sort of felt stupid as I walked away that what I felt and stated was completely abated by her embarrassment or almost involuntary reaction to another mother or woman commenting on her child.

A few weeks ago at the park a young mother "confessed" to me that her children (2 years and 3 months) sleep with her. She apologized that that's just the way they do it in their home. It was weird to me only because why on earth should I care where her child sleeps? As long as he's not kicking MY ribs, I don't give a dang dittly. I have friends who won't let their kids in or near their beds with a ten foot pole. That's their prerogative. I often pull Benja into my bed for snuggling or comfort that he needs. Or I need. I won't let Avee near my bed with a ten foot pole because I know her well enough to know I'll never get her out. And she has a wicked nocturnal left jab.

The other night I took my kids to a restaurant and a mother across from us had two large bags filled with toys to entertain her son. He was probably a little less than 2 years. She looked at me, alone with my two angelic children, who were actually so hungry from neglect that they couldn't stop eating long enough to even think of misbehaving, and shrugged apologetically saying, "It's the only thing I can do to make him be good." Why have we created a culture where this woman felt like she had to justify her method of parenting to a complete stranger?

Most of the people I know or talk to don't really judge other mothers for their parenting methods. I guess sometimes we have "better solutions" in our heads but in my mind, that is different from judging. I have a friend who has a daughter 7 months younger than Benja. She is a little spitfire, so full of life, and energy, and entered this world with opinions. Juxtaposed to Benja, she made him look like a pliable little blob of babiness (oh-oh, I just called my child a blob, alert the press).

One time I was over at my friends house at lunchtime. Benja was probably just under two and so little S would have been almost 18 months. My friend put her in her highchair where she stood for her entire meal. My friend worked around it and got her child fed. She explained she had tried everything and couldn't get her to stay seated and would rather just have mealtime be pleasant and nourishing. I remember thinking, "yeah, I don't think I could be as flexible---my kid would sit because I would MAKE him sit." Fast forward a year, I have my own opinionated spitfire that makes up the rules everyday and I silently obey them. Do I strap her into her highchair? Yes. Is she skinny enough to get out of even the tightest restraints? Yes. Am I just happy to have her just eat and not stand on her tray with one foot in the apple sauce? Yes. I realize now that when we do make judgments, it is mostly out of ignorance. I had no idea what life with a girl was like when I formed my opinion about how children should eat. This friend reads this blog. She knows I think she's a phenomenal mother, and that I have repented of ALL my sins since having Avee.

What has me thinking about this is the recent Today show piece on mothers who drink at play dates. Another fairly famous blogger (I don't know her, but my world is very, very small you see) was on there, as one of the moms who participates in such play dates. I think she was blindsided---where she thought it was going to be more of a "this is how we do it and it's great" it turned into this thing where she's barely more competent than a hired babysitter and a lush to boot.

I don't drink. I don't really hang out with people who drink. Not so much because I avoid that, as much as, again, my world is very, very small. :) I'm also pretty sure I would not be entirely comfortable at a playgroup where drinking was going on because alcohol and its effects are a complete enigma to me. My earliest and longest running exposure to a drinker was very unpleasant and gave me nightmares until the subject finally died from kidney failure when I was 12. Clearly, I don't have a skewed perspective of alcohol...

What I also don't do, is begrudge a mother her right to do something she clearly feels is okay and is not impairing her ability to parent. One little bit of the piece on the Today show had this author talking about her drinking with her friends at play dates. She made a good point about this just being another thing women use to judge each other. That crap really should stop. However, in her defending of this choice she sort of made a judgment on people like me. She said, something to the effect of "I'd like to see a mother who stays sober 15-16 hours a day watching her kids, and I'd like to see if she's a great mom." That sort of surprised me. Here I was being open minded about something I wouldn't choose to do, and suddenly, my choice to "remain sober" brings into question whether I can be a good mother. That's absurd. Besides I have significantly bigger impairments to being a good mother than remaining sober. CSI:Miami reruns, David Caruso, you'll never know the amusement you bring to me...

To the mother in the grocery store who's 4 year old is lying on the floor screaming for a package of pop-tarts. I'm not judging you. I'm looking to make sure it isn't my son and I've forgotten he's with me. I want to say, "been there" or "will be there" or "hey, I know he's not always like this" but there's no way to really say that.

To the man at the rec center who kindly turned off the fire alarm my child set off while teasing about there being a spare closet I could leave them in if I needed a break. And for kindly kneeling down and talking to my children like human beings and shaking their hands, thank you. It's Thursday, I'm beat by Thursday---you'll never know how much your kindness and not judging me for not keeping a better handle on my children was appreciated.

To the mom who thinks any "imperfect" development her child has is her fault or something she's not doing right, it's not. Unless you beat them or have pit bulls that chew off their toes. Then it is your fault and you should be judged. And have your toes, and ovaries chewed off.

To the mom who worries she's not doing enough. You are.

To the mom who worries she's messing up. You are. But it's okay. We aren't required to be perfect in anything else, why should you expect it in one of the hardest "jobs" you'll ever have? I don't remember the mistakes my mom made but I do remember her loving me. Always. Everyday. Even after I was a teenager. And even after I said that really bad word when I was 4. I remember her making me practice the piano and the cello and how I hated that and how I love it now. I remember her teaching me not to stare, not to be unkind, to change my underwear, to have self-respect, to stop beating up my brother. Maybe sometimes in teaching these things she made mistakes, but I don't remember them. I also don't beat up my brother anymore, so I'd say there was some definite success.

To the mom who doesn't know how much her children weighed at birth. This makes me laugh every time I think about it. Most women, myself included--fo sho---throw around our children's birth weights like badges of honor, as though ANY size coming out of ANY part of your body is easy or comfortable. "I was a 6 cow wife" "And I was a 9 lb birthing machine..."

Except my sister. That baby was huge.

To the mom who has a martini at her play date---you're the boss. I won't judge you if you don't judge me for getting drunk on Hershey syrup straight from the bottle before noon. I'm still a good parent.

To the dad who is oblivious to this whole culture of judgment and never has conversations with other dads while golfing about how your 3 and a half year old still isn't potty trained and the anxiety it causes you that you're doing something wrong or that other people are judging you for toting around a diapered 3 year old, you're a lucky sonofa gun and we'd be wise to learn a thing or two from you.

do i get to be first? really? i'm NEVER first!
that was great, and really hit home for me. I find myself frequently feeling like i must not be doing enough if my 3 yo isn't doing high school math yet or something, so thank you.
and when did you stop drinking at playdates?

I FINISHED IT! WHOO HOO! What a soapbox! I am afraid sista you just scratched the surface on this one. My husband ask me if blob was a bad word to describe a baby. Heck we call J little sh@@ alot. Anyhow my child is suckin on my hand and even thought you can't hear her cry I can:) You are a fabulous mom with darlin kids:)

Damn, sistah. This was GOOOOOOOOD.

Great post. I totally agree that moms should stop judging each other and HELP each other more... I know I take things people say way to seriously due to my own insecurities as a mother. Thank you.

I liked your soap box post. Can I still "Dang Ditty" from you? I want to make that my new saying.

And now I will add something a little more coherent than my first comment (which stil stands, but...), since I've read this post again...

I just read a GREAT parenting book because I was freaking out about my boy and one of the best things it said was to the effect of, "Don't get your hair in the air over a bad behavior of someone else's child - today it was their child, next week it will be yours. And your child didn't 'get' it from them. It's called being a kid." For some reason, that just freed me as a parent - there are so many things kids do that come with being kids and trying out the world (and their parents) - behavioral glitches are not a sign of bad parenting, they're a sign of being a child. Bad parenting is neglect or abuse or failing to create boundaries when they are needed, but it's not evidenced by stinky childlike behavior. Whew.

The toes and ovaries chewing line was HILARIOUS and absolutely correct.

And your last paragraph is a gem. What I wouldn't give to be able to RELAX.

I'm soooo freakin' glad you own a soapbox. I'd give up all five hundred of mine if I could write about ONE like you did here. :)

thank you. for saying so well what so many of us feel. and for reassuring so many of us that it's ok to feel that way.

aside: although i love csi and csi:miami, i can NOT stand david caruso. he only has two poses and they're both pompous. and those dang sunglasses!

WOW! That was one very large soapbox and I hope that every mom who reads it really takes it to heart!

I am also sorry for commenting about Benja's bottle. I was a stupid person who didn't know that her next child was going to come along and still have her blanket and thumb attached to her at her high school graduation. It wasn't until the twins that I realized what you are learning w/ A... YOu have no real control, all you can do is lead and hope that the little sh*#$ follow!

Everyday is a learning experience for myself and my children. I don't always get it right, but I am doing my best. When my children are grown, I will know I have done my job if they think half as many nice thoughts about me as you think about your own mother.

WOW, is this the longest post you have written? hershey syrup straight from the bottle? So many things to comment on:

I'm with Breit mama, how little we know about the things we will or won't do in the future all the while thinking to ourselves "when I have kids I won't do that.." HA!
I have said this many times this week: Parenting is not for wimps. We are doing the best job we can, sometimes we do better than other times, but hey, we got no instruction manual with this deal. If parenting was meant to be easy, it would not be this hard.

I was just telling Millie this: people are going to think, do and say whatever they’ll think, do and say. We can’t physically do a thing to change that, nada at all. And you are right it’s not you, it’s them :) you can’t change them, but you can certainly change you.

Last week my teen asked me if she could spend the night at her friend’s house. They are a nice enough family, but have major problems, the dad left, came back, left, came back, the mom had a boyfriend on one of the breaks, the older sisters have boyfriends who come and go, etc. So I thought to myself “hmm, how do I tell her ‘no’ without exposing my feelings of reservations about the family dynamics?”. So I told her ‘no’ and being the teenagery teen she is asked “why?” (I had told myself when they were little that MY perfect children would never question my decisions, right) I said that I don’t know all the people that come to her friend’s hose, that they are a nice family but right now it was not a good time to spend the night. She responded “you are being judgmental” (TEENS!), I said “yes I am, I’m not judging the kind of family they are, I’m judging your safety, you are my responsibility. They can do anything they want, it’s fine with me and it doesn’t bother me at all, but you are the one I care about, so I have to weigh that side with ours.”.

Off my little soapbox now!

Amazing post! I will have to reread it often as I am beginning this adventure known as motherhood. Right now, I am just happy that I can get her fed, which I have to go do immediately.

you are a much better woman than I am. i totally judge people, and i suck for that. thanks for the inspiration to be better. your blog is such a good blog. you don't happen to live in the southern half of texas do you? cuz then you could be a good influence on me in person. :)

I'm so proud of myself for actually reading the entire post! LOL! (I get distracted easily.)

What a great post! You worded everything perfectly. I know that moms worry a lot if they're doing things right. (At least I do.)

You're so right about not judging people. I've always struggled with being better at that. It's gotten better now that I have kids of my own.

Growing up, I used to think it was disgusting to see kids with snot on their faces. Years later I saw that my child had snot and I knew I hadn't become the mom that I "despised" so much seeing at a younger age, but I was just having a harder day than normal. Now when I see a child with snot on his/her face, I think "His mom is probably having a hard day." We really should be easier on each other.

Thanks so much for your post!

This is a great post.

I saw the Today show episode, but where it lost me was to me this is an issue of safety. I just don't think you can care for your kids when you are taking a substance which dulls your senses (obviously that's not a you, you...a general you as in anyone...)

And it completely cracked me up when the lady pleading for women to lighten up and stop judging people went all judgmental about those of us choosing not to partake.

But I'm with you completely on the intent I think you are going for. We're none of us perfect mothers, but the vast majority of us are good mothers, in whatever manner we get it done...

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