It would be remiss of me to to begin this Blog posting without at least acknowledging that yes, it has been a very long time since my last entry! Or for all of you good Catholics who know the embarrassment of kneeling in a big closet talking to a God-like voice behind a screen in order to safeguard your entry past those heavenly gates, forgive me readers, for I have not posted; it has been almost one whole year since I hunched over my keyboard to confess my deepest, darkest sins as a middle-aged mommy.
Needless to say, my biggest sin is that I have, like all of you fellow mom warriors, been caught up with the daily busy-ness of my life, which actually means the lives of my children, husband and running the household along with everyone's schedule which I have now, hopelessly and with pangs of regret quelled only by a gin and tonic at cocktail hour, wound my own mid-life sense of who I am around...
Yet somehow, despite my perpetual parental battle fatigue, I must somehow appear "together" enough to have a friend approach me a couple of months ago with the following pick-up line: "You're a pretty self-actualized person, can I ask you something?!" Now for a mommy seeking mommy approval, that's just music to my ears, right?! And little did she know that this supposedly self-actualized mom had come into work that very day having "lost it" it with her own 10-year old daughter because she oh, I don't know, sassed me, eaten a candy bar and called it breakfast, got mad at me because I said something in the wrong tone of voice, had been up for an hour but was using the last 5 minutes to get ready for school and now I would be late for work, or ______________, (for those of your with pre-teen daughters, you can easily fill in the blank here!) But hey, if I had this exterior image of excellent mental mommy health, I was not about to tell her otherwise!
So I pressed her further for more details, knowing that she, like me, had three children of varying genders and ages, and asked her who in her family needed coaching. "Oh, everyone from the dog to the husband!," she replied. We laughed... "Sounds like you need a Family Whisperer!" I joked. And we laughed some more, both secretly wishing that there really was such a helpful fairy-like presence to swoop in and gently take care of all of our family's individual and collective challenges.
The truth is, I am far from an expert on anything parental. But I do know that parenting is a lot less like whispering fairies and a lot more like a noisy battlefield. In fact, right now, my life seems to revolve around the crisis of the day or week at my house. Whether it's my stressed-out pet cat who decided in her kitty teen angst to start peeing around all our new furniture because of her inability to deal with transitions, my smart pet son who decided in his teen laziness that he would rather lay around listening to Pandora all afternoon rather than do any homework or study for a test, my other son who truly believes that asking for forgiveness is much better than asking for permission, confessing all the daily sins of his guilt-ridden heart each night right when I am exhaustedly tucking him in and just want to go to bed (I think he has figured out that by 10pm I'm too tired to get that mad! Totally working me!), my daughter's early entry into the teenage attitude that my only goal in life is to annoy and stop her from having fun and my neverending, seemingly futile attempts to "right" the ship of my household, which quite often feels like the Titanic, while my hard-working, traveling husband makes exhausted cameo appearances in our lives.
But like many extremely engaged moms (and stay-at-home dads, I now you're out there, too!) I have been playing this parenting game long enough to have earned some stripes and have done my share of Baby Einstein videos, spent a small fortune on organic food, detergents, and free-range clothing that comes from antibiotic-free animals, non-Rbst milk squeezed from the udder of the happiest cows possible, wooden educational toys, watched countless hours of educational shws that teach solid either moral lessons, a second language or have a college prep theme. I've read "Raising Your Highly Spirited Child" for the same son who has now miraculously become the teen poster boy for "Raising Your Son Off the Couch", limited screen time, made them read daily, done flash cards, vetted their friends and their friends' parents, found countless kooky or unreliable piano, guitar and violin teachers (actually she was neither kooky nor unreliable, we loved her! But, of course, my son decided to quit playing right after we bought him that Stradivarius!). I've carted them around the state and beyond to stand in every possible weather condition cheering them on as if their very self-esteem would cease to exist if I didn't show my support by clapping and screaming encouraging and inane phrases like Nice Try! and Right Idea! instead of What the Hell Were You Thinking?! and Don't Just Stand There, Move!! All of this, of course, in an effort to gain family nirvana...
In fact, now that I am properly seasoned and let them watch Family Guy along with all their friends, I have found that parenting is often like playing a daily game of Whack-a-Mole. Because you know, that if practiced with enthusiasm and the desire to do it right, it has very little to do with whispering and much more do with preparing yourself for Viking-like battle each day. You must wake up with a heart devoid of guilt and nerves of steel, mentally armed with a large and emotionally-charged mallet that is often filled with your own fears, childhood hurts and nostalgic memories of the way you grew up super-imposed on today's much-changed landscape of what creates happy childhood memories. Your own precarious state of self-actualization underlying your strength for the day (or a good night's sleep; it's amazing how much more self-actualized you feel when you sleep well, isn't it?!) and the daily battle rounds you face. For as you skillfully and tactically handle each crisis, another one seems to surface from nowhere with hardly a chance for rest.
And on this battlefield, many of us must also survive, and sometimes not, the collateral damage of the sacrifice of lucrative careers, marriage crises or divorce, the aging and passing of our own parents, and frightening illnesses in ourselves or loved ones that bring us to our knees and to a place where we will fantasize about a major mid-life career change from this job we supposedly love. You know, just walk into your husband's office (or bathroom, you choose) one day and yell "I quit!; I'm going off to an island to go through peri/menopause in peace, so do your own damn grocery shopping and laundry, monitor and argue with all the kids about what constitutes "screen time", think of your own boring dinners that at least one person in the family decides they don't like that night and figure out your own complicated carpool that falls like a domino when they change the location and time of practice, yet again and oh, by the way, you're supposed to find personal joy in all of this each day!"
Sounds more like a roar, than a whisper, right?! The truth is, it is a massive responsibility to take on, this molding of another human being. And the joy you get from the job does not often come in direct proportion to your efforts, does it? So in the end, you must learn to measure your success simply by the bonds you forge while whacking at all the problems you overcome and the simple pleasure you feel when your kids are gathered together in the kitchen, laughing at each other's, or better yet, your jokes, by the satisfaction you feel when your son or daughter gets an A on their test after the countless hours of studying that you hounded them about, by the pride you feel when you receive the email from their friend's mom about how polite your child was at their house, by the gratitude for the smile you get when they see you in the audience or on the sidelines, or by the swell of your heart when you hear them play a song on the piano that takes your breath away...
And if each night, your voice, hoarse from all that loud whispering, will tell them that you love them, and your arms, weary from all that whacking, will give them a hug, then you will sleep, (hopefully!) the deep sleep, of a proud warrior, knowing that you have given it your best for another day and have managed to screw up your children just incrementally less than you are screwed up. And that, in my self-actualized wisdom, is true parental success!
Enjoy the last weeks of your summer; September brings new rounds of battle for us all!