We’ve all done it. I know I have. Maybe it is a byproduct of living in this computerized age, this tendency we have to cut down, rather than support or build up.
Nowhere does this prevail more than between mothers. It’s actually a bit frightening, even though I think most of the time it occurs the same way a ring of dirt appears during bath time. It sneaks up on you and then it is there, in plain sight and offensive.
I belong to several mommy groups. They each have their own hallmark of membership. There’re my breastfeeding groups (yes, plural) and my born in 07 groups (again, plural), and my paranormal lover’s group and my mother’s to boys group and my “mixed” babies group and my c section mama and proud of it group…the list really does go on and on. And on. And with the exception of one group (it knows who it is), what all these groups have in common is the way the moms in each have the uncanny ability to go right for the jugular.
“What is it with these MOMS”? My sister often asks. “Why are they like this?”
For these mamas are far removed from the warm and gentle milk and cookie toting June Cleaver types. They are more likely to call you a dirty ho bag than invite you in for sanka and a shared smoke. Perhaps this is the best case for persistent feminist thought to pervade our culture further: rather than advocate for the blending of the domestic sphere—which has always been considered to be feminine and therefore the “logical” place in which women should exist—with the dominant and male centered public sphere of the workplace, perhaps we should admit that that gentler, warmer, domesticated space that we expect should be filled with gentle waves and soft pastels—you know, like on those old feminine hygiene commercials—is as biting and about as nurturing as a tank full of piranhas.
Maybe we should rejoice that the stereotype has been shattered. After all, mommies are people too. Who just happen to be female and can’t all happen to be nice, or in command of a sense of humor. But to be honest, a lot of what I see on these mother boards horrifies me just as much as it does my sister.
Part of this relates to this book I read for one of my mom’s book clubs (yeah, I belong to a mom book club, wanna make somethin’ of it?) called THE MASK OF MOTHERHOOD. Basically the premise is that as mothers (or, parents, too) we hide behind a mask. A large, community condoned mask of “isn’t this WONDERFUL? I LOVE being a mommy SO much, ALL the time every MINUTE, to be precise, because every second is so fulFILLING and REWARDING! And to admit anything else would be saying I do not love my family or my baby or myself, because really I was MADE to do this, if you don’t feel this way the moment you find out you are about to be a mommy and stay this way through every moment of your baby’s childhood, then, well, I feel sorry for you because there is something wrong with you and by the way my baby sleeps twelve hours a night and eats very well and never cries and is hardly ever sick because well that would mean I am a bad mommy, letting germs get to my precious lovely, and that is not me at all, that is not me at all because I am a very good mommy. I am a very very very good mommy. All the time. This is exactly how I knew it all would be, my partner helps whenever I ask and my mother in law says all the right things because she knows, she knows how good at this I am, and I have no second thoughts about anything because I am a good mommy, right? Anyone? Still listening? To me?”
And perhaps the people at Hallmark are still listening because they need inspiration for their overpriced greeting cards, but by that point in the mommy game, the only other people still listening are parents who also have marshmallow sweetness coursing through their veins.
Because to admit to the confusion and chaos and sleep deprivation that is parenthood during the early months and years, is to admit, somehow, that something has gone wrong with you. To vent about it is akin to admission that you really feel you should have left your children in some Baby Safe Haven drawer like the grotesque parent you are.
Because what often happens when we as parents participate in the one-up-manship that is often at the core of our playground and dance class interactions, is a swift and sure dismantling of affirming that the person who has just admitted their baby only eats chicken nuggets or only sleeps two hours at a time or still wears diapers…at 4! is able to be, has within them, the ability and tenacity and determination to be a kick ass amazing parent, even if her kid still craps himself, can’t self soothe to sleep, and has the eating habits of a person with a severe and acute eating disorder.
And that is what a simple “I am so sorry” does. It affirms. It whispers that you are not the freak of the natural world who does not know how to parent. (And modern parenting is, actually, a learned behavior that changes and changes and changes, even when we’re doing it right).
A few months ago a friend* whose oldest daughter is on “the spectrum” updated her status on Facebook at that desperate hour of four AM. “Four hours of sleep,” it read, “Jessie up all hours and the other two due up soon.” Obviously, this is a terrifying status update. She is more of an acquaintance so I did not recognize her other so-called friends, but the long list of mommy admonishments in the comments boxes made me cry. And made me get very angry. I am a know it all, so the how to posts were understandable. It was the posts that basically said this night from hell was somehow all my friend’s fault and that she should suck it up that got me hopping. Within them was the sentiment that if she did not glory in the splendor of parenthood when she was shaky with fatigue that she was somehow spitting on the blessings she had been given.
And they are blessings.
But somehow it seems a “friend”, and certainly another mother, could maybe cut the girl some slack and just say “It will get better”. As opposed to: “Oh, I don’t have that problem, Micah sleeps through the night!” Which translates into: I am better than you at this parenting thing, sorry you are such a sap and in need of so much couples counseling that you can’t rouse your husband up to deal with you. Which is often a cover for, now that you mention it, just last week three of mine were in my bed all night and for the life of me I couldn’t get them out, they were all over me and my husband who just slept through the whole thing, like those bed bugs the hotels can’t get rid of, so they’re at my mom’s for the weekend because there is something growing in my fridge I need to bleach out and I can never do it cause I am just too tired all.the.time.
I’ve done, we’ve all done it, that one up man ship. But when I can jump out of the piranha tank for minute and remember we’re all human, I hope I always do that instead.