The mythical mom

mother and son silhouette

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I was deep in conversation with my boss about our current parental challenges when she tossed something at me I didn’t expect: she called me a “better than average mom”. Me? Really?

Not really being sure what constitutes “average”, but being wholly surprised that I could be considered above that waterline, I pointed out what I tend to see on Facebook that often induces my own sense of being behind that particular curve.

There are the moms who seem to be able to handle it all…

…their hair and makeup always look spectacular.

…they always rock these sweet outfits that make them look so ridiculously cute.

…their kids are on multiple sports teams each and the schedule seems to manage itself.

…they’re so lovey-dovey with their spouse or significant other that you wonder if they’re secretly still newlyweds.

…they always seem to be cooking the most amazingly complex, attractive food that takes a ton of time and that their kids just LOVE.

…they’re typically on their way to or coming back from a workout where they just crushed a personal record or finished off the latest Beachbody DVD.

In other words: they’re fricking fantastic at being moms AND getting it all done.

Or are they?

My boss (probably) rightly pointed out that we typically only take pictures at our best. True enough, I don’t see a ton of people taking selfies in meetings when they’re being told that the thing they’ve been working on is getting sidelined or defunded in favor of something else. And rarely do they stop to take video of little Timmy having THE MOST EPIC MELTDOWN EVAR AND ISN’T IT SOOOOOO FUNNY. In general, you don’t see these same moms showing snaps of their ultimate bedhead or how they look trying on the pants that don’t really fit super-well because women’s sizing is complete bullshit and any size in one designer may be a complete other size in another designer.

In other words, while we show all of these pictures of us at our best, it’s easy to assume that when we don’t have those ourselves we must be at our worst. We’re psyching ourselves out, seeing pictured perfection that’s lit just so and snapped with costly digital SLR’s–not looking at the reality when the accent lights are put away and the best you’ve got is the camera on your old iPhone 5.

I don’t know that there’s a perfect mom out there, although I think that every mom who tries to be perfect is striving for something that looks like success to them. And it’s really easy to fall back on the assumption that if little Timmy isn’t an A student who plays three sports and two instruments, who volunteers in his spare time and cleans the house, that somehow you’re a failure as a parent.

The thing is, it’s not our responsibility as parents to outshine each other; our responsibility is to raise civilized humans that can grow up to be improvements on the original models. We shouldn’t be setting ourselves up to assume that every mom who rocks some fab blow-out is looking like that all the time–nor should we ignore those times when we look in the mirror before heading out and our own hair looks REALLY FRICKING CUTE. Call it out. Note it. You don’t have to take a picture of it to remind yourself that it happened.

My idea of the actual average mom is someone like me:

…she has a pretty full day, whether that day is spent at home, at a business, or somewhere in-between.

…she has those days where she looks really adorable or hot, and she has other days where you wonder if she needs to do laundry and learn about that thing called “a comb”.

…she cooks as healthy as she can based on what she can afford–both in time and money–and she makes choices all the time about whether she can “afford” to cook more than one meal or if the kids will just have to deal with whatever’s put on the table. (This also assumes that she’s the one doing the cooking, which may not be the case.)

…she wants to be healthy, for whatever definition that is in her mind, and she could always do more–but she’s trying. And some days, she just deserves credit for even thinking about trying, because even that can be hard.

…she maps out her schedule in her head on a daily basis, trying to figure out how to keep all the moving parts of her life from colliding in spectacular fashion.

…she sometimes yells at the kids because they’re not always behaving like those smiling, happy-faced kids that you see in those random posed pictures.

…and–most importantly–she deserves a freaking break every now and again, because perfect doesn’t and shouldn’t exist.

Our kids won’t always be perfect, either, and misbehaving isn’t always a sign of bad parenting. Sometimes it’s just fatigue or hormones or hunger or stress or any one of 1,000 other things that we can’t tell because the Psychic Hotlines just don’t work.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all should cut each other some slack–and we need to save a bit of that for ourselves, too. It’s hard to unlearn years of self-suppression, but maybe we each deserve the opportunity to consider ourselves “above average” from time to time.

Some days, you just wonder how you got here

When I was home for several days, fighting off fever, exhaustion and a sore throat that turned out to be strep, I took a whole afternoon off and binge-watched HBO’s “Girls”. I’d heard that it was a good show, and clearly there’s some positive buzz around star/writer Lena Dunham, so I figured that I’d watch a few episodes and see if it was worth giving it a longer look.

Of course it was.

I ended up watching something like 1-1/2 seasons that afternoon, and then I finished off the remaining 1-1/2 within the next two weeks. Somehow, this one show had touched on something that I’d forgotten since “Sex and the City” went off the air: that there is dramedy out there that reminds us of what we once had in favor of what we have now, and how what seemed so awful (or perfect) back then may never have been.

Some of it is parenthood; when you become a parent, your life changes forever. Things that you formerly did (spontaneous travel, spending money wherever and whenever you wanted, etc.) and stuff you previously spent money on (like expensive dinners or event tickets) take a back seat to diapers and car seats. You spend more time at Old Navy in the Baby section than you do in the Womens section, and whether or not you become comfortable with that, it’s part of just how things are.

I have some memories of my twenties, especially before I moved up to Boston, when my Thursday and Saturday nights were spent at Tracks – a long-gone gay club that featured alternative & rave music on Thursdays and drag queen volleyball on any night when it was warm and dry outside. I won’t say that we “did things that would frighten fish” (look it up in “Steel Magnolias”, y’all) – or at least I never did stuff that was frightening – but we partied. A lot.

Even after I moved to Boston, when dh and I were dating (or before then), there was a lot of going out and partying with friends, hopping a MetroJet flight to DC for the weekend to jump up and down at RFK in the Screaming Eagles/Barra Brava section and repair to our friend’s house afterwards to down copious amounts of cava or to a nearby Indian restaurant for curry and Kingfisher. Life was different in my twenties, and seeing “Girls” really reminded me of that.

I have so much sympathy for Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath. She’s a self-absorbed writer (what writer isn’t self-absorbed?) going from bad relationship to bad relationship, where even the one with the person who she believes is the one is weighed down by his own self-absorption. Your twenties are a bitch. It’s incredible to think that I survived it at all.

Watching a “Sex and the City” episode recently, the one where Miranda finally caves in to the notion of moving to Brooklyn because it’s what’s best for her family, I saw the maturing of a character who really had been self-absorbed for so long. Is that where Hannah could be in 20 years? Is that what I became when I got married and had kids?

That’s not to say that I’m not self-absorbed at times; I like my time to myself and my quiet time. I lived alone for several years before I moved to Boston, and I was rarely truly despondent and lonely. There’s something nice about the quiet of not having someone else in the house. I love having control over the remote, which may explain why I end up staying up late so many nights; even a half-hour of shutting the world’s wants out can be wonderfully relaxing.

I have no regrets as to how I’ve lived my life.

And I suppose, by watching “Girls”, I get a double-treat. In one sense, I’m seeing some amazing writing – very honest, no-holds-barred – and acting that really shows very vividly how wonderful and horrible it can be to be in one’s twenties. In the other sense, I’m getting a reminder of why I do and don’t miss my life from before I got married and had kids. I have no illusions about the joys of travel and a carefree life, yet I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything. I get so many laughs from the jokes they make, so many moments of wonder when I see them surpass expectations for kids at least year ahead of them, I can’t imagine them coming in a distant second or third to anything. They’re not the center of my world – I have a husband, a job, friends…a life. But my kids don’t come in last, and I wouldn’t ever want to go back to traveling nearly every month, because I’d miss them terribly.

By the same token, I’m glad I got to do some of the things I did when I was younger – the travel, the wild oats sowing, etc. – because I’d hate to think that I’d have to wait until my kids were out of college to experience all of that. At that rate, I might never have gotten to it. So, now, I appreciate it more. When I can get out to a movie and/or dinner, it’s more of a hassle but I cherish the experience. That’s why my girlfriend from up the street and I like to go to Lux movie viewings; if you’re gonna do it, DO IT UP.

Here’s the thing: Lena Dunham doesn’t have it all figured out, and neither did Candace Bushnell. But what they wrote (and, in Dunham’s case, acted and/or directed) even at its most ludicrous has an insane ring of truth. Relationships are hard. Experiences are worth having. Children – for those who actually want to have kids – can be a brilliant, life-altering addition. I think the important thing is to live without regrets. Don’t do what you’ll regret later and don’t regret what you have done, because this life is too short to spend it being angry for what you compromised…or the consequences when you failed to do so.

I know how I got here, and I have no regrets. I wonder how many others can say the same?

Having an “out of mommy” experience

Today, dd starts Kindergarten. It seems improbable that I’m the mother of a kindergartner. How is that possible?

It’s funny how, as she leaned on me yesterday morning – fussing and crying because I wasn’t coming with her on her school “visit” day events thanks to work commitments – I wasn’t even sure how this was happening. This was my child, clearly, and I was supposed to comfort her as best as I could for someone who had already RSVP’ed to a full-day meeting at a vendor’s site. And she looked at me and called me “mommy” and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I had a child who was so grown. Just unbelievable.

For the longest time, before I met dh, I never wanted kids. They always seemed annoying. Loud. Sometimes cute, but more often than not, I was happy when I wasn’t required to do anything for them. When dh and I started dating, we (fairly early on) had to have “the talk” about how we’d ever raise kids. I shrugged and said, “Of course, any kids of mine would be Jews.” (Being Jewish, and being female, that’s the law, dontcha know.) He seemed confused, since he was raised American Baptist. Oops. Guess that’s something we’d have to figure out.

Eventually, we did figure it out – we’d raise them with both sets of traditions. And we do, muddling through it all as best as we can. Neither of us is religious, though we have religious identities and we both are spiritual people to varying degrees. We don’t attend synagogue or church, and we typically only do our big nods to organized religion on the respective high holidays – Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah and Christmas (I omit Yom Kippur from my list for various reasons which could be a blog post unto itself).

When we decided to have kids, and then got pregnant, there was a part of me that really went “Oh, crap” rather frequently. Once I was pregnant, there was no turning back for me, and it seemed inescapable that I would become a mother. What on earth did that mean? I remember crying on my pillow one night while pregnant with dd, snuffling over the fact that I was worried I didn’t have a maternal instinct. DH calmed me down and told me that there was no way that was true, and he was right. When I had people reporting to me, I often defended them like a mother lion protecting her cubs. If they went wrong, I’d set them straight, for sure, but I tried to shield them from other people’s BS as much as possible. In other words, just like a mom.

So then we come back to my moment of reverie: dd hanging on me, anguished and looking only for her momma. And that’s me. And though I know she’s mine, there’s something odd about seeing this tall, slim, gorgeous girl coming to me and looking at me as though I can make it all better. I wish I could…but even the most super of all moms isn’t able to make everything all better all the time.

And I wasn’t able to get her to stop crying completely before I left for my all-day meeting; she was wailing for me as I walked out the door. But dh assured me that she’d calmed down not long after I left the house, and later reports from both of them showed that she had a good time visiting at school with her new teacher and the people running the after-school program. And today, I get to walk her up to school on her first day.

So mommy will be there sometimes, but not all. And no matter what, mommy is me. It’s as undeniable as the air I breathe. There are clearly days where it will seem strange, as though I blinked and my life fast-forwarded years in a heartbeat. But as bizarre as it may seem to stare at this wondrous beauty of a girl who can’t possibly be old enough for elementary school – and yet clearly is – the look in her eyes reminds me of the perfect truth reflected in her eyes: mommy is me.