In my pre-child years, I had a long list of things I swore I would never do when became a mother:
- Cry in the bathroom
- Bribe with candy
- Power walk
- Drive to school in my pajamas while drinking coffee from a regular (not travel) mug.
- Wear a bathing suit with a skirt.
- Swim Mommy Stroke Style (wearing sunglasses and/or visor)
- Lick my fingers to wipe dirt or peanut butter or whatever mystery substance is crusted to my kid’s face.
- Extract a booger with my bare hands.
- Extract a poop with my bare hands.
- Catch vomit in my bare hands.
- Pop a zit that is not mine.
- Go on a house tour wearing sock booties.
- Wear clothes based purely on warmth
- Not wear certain clothes because it requires complicated undergarments
- Sing loudly to Hall and Oates while grocery shopping
- Sing loudly to Foreigner while waiting in line at CVS
- Sing loudly (and do the harmonies) to The Cranberries while waiting in the school car line.
- Use masking tape and/or staples to hem a Halloween costume
Then there were the things I swore I would never say when I became a mother:
- “Watch your mouth.”
- “Because I said so.”
- “I don’t like your tone.”
- “Who do you think you are talking to?”
- “If I have to ask you to _____ one more time…”
- “Excuse me?”
- “Pardon me?”
- “I am sorry, what did you just say?”
- “Wait until Dad gets home”
- “Dad will not be happy about this.”
- “Do I need to call your father?”
- “Is that really necessary?”
- “Am I talking to myself?”
- “Is anyone listening?”
Now that I actually am a mother, of course I do and say all of these things. If I were to dissect these lists, I would find some come out of habit, or memory, or a learned behavior/response I picked up along the way. Others are just byproducts of being overwhelmed, cranky and chronically sleep deprived.
But I think even more interesting than these assimilated maternal behaviors are the ones that seem to come out of left field. I am talking about your own personal stamp on motherhood. The way that you are as a mom that makes you unique, because you didn’t learn it from your own mom or read it in a parenting book – it’s just you being you with your kids, in the moment.
Let me tell you a story.
It was about 5:00 on Tuesday – a gorgeous afternoon, hot but breezy. I knew I should be making dinner but I REALLY DID NOT WANT TO. Phoebe was playing with her dolls and Emma was doing homework so I snuck out to the hammock with my book. I read a few pages but mostly listened to the sound of the leaves in the tree above me, rustling like a crinoline petticoat.
I was there a whole three minutes when Emma flopped into the hammock with the Pottery Barn catalog. I am not sure if she was tired or hot or both, but she was in a mood. The following conversation ensued:
“I can’t find my Anne Frank book so now I have to read this dumb Pottery Barn catalog.”
“Anne Frank is on the playroom bookshelf.”
“No she’s not.”
“Yes, she is. Did you look?”
“Yes, and she’s not there.”
“I put Anne Frank on the playroom shelf this morning.”
“Ugh! Mom. No you didn’t. I’ll just read about jute rugs and hurricane lamps. Because they are so educational.”
Now I guess this is the part where I should offer to retrieve Anne Frank, but
there was no way I was giving up my spot on the hammock I decided that would be parental enabling. So I went back to my book.
Emma signed deeply.
She thumbed through the pages. She muttered under her breath. Then, she started to press her feet into my thigh, hard. Then harder. She was in a full-on leg press when I said: “Can you stop doing that?”
“Ugh, Mom can’t you just go get Anne Frank? I don’t feel like reading this stupid Pottery Barn catalog! Look at this Octopus Embroidered Lumbar Pillow – it’s freaky!” She ripped out a page and tossed into the air.
I could feel myself getting annoyed. Really annoyed. I wanted to say, “I just want five minutes in the hammock. You are ruining my hammock time. You are kicking my leg and I don’t like it. I cleaned up all your books today and you are too lazy to get the book off the shelf right in front of your face.”
But I bit my tongue.
I needed to break up the tension. I looked underneath the hammock and saw that our dog Zoe was now eating the discarded Pottery Barn page. “Zoe thinks the octopus pillow is hideous enough to eat.”
Emma cracked a smile but fought it hard: “Mom! Just go get Anne Frank.”
I opened the catalog. “And looks at all these anchor pillows. I mean, coastal can be overdone, people.” I ripped out the page and threw it to Zoe, who proceeded to rip it apart with her teeth. Emma was now covering her mouth with her hand – I almost had her. “And THIS! I mean, c’mon. Why is this rug $2,000? Does it fly? Is it a magic sisal-seagrass blend carpet?” I ripped out the page and then in half. I threw half the page to Zoe, and the other half….I stuffed in my mouth. Yes I did. And yes I did think about how many germs are on the pages of that catalogue. I am that
desperate dedicated to getting a laugh.
Emma’s eyes got huge for a moment, and then she cracked up. She may have even squealed with delight. We ripped out page after page and stuffed them in our mouths. We gnawed, gnashed, and ripped the poor Pottery Barn catalog to shreds. Zoe just sat there staring. These people are bat shit crazy.
In the end I did go retrieve Anne Frank from the playroom shelf. I did this in part because I am also very lazy and understand the joy of someone getting you something you could absolutely get yourself.
I also fear that my hammock days with Emma -now on the cusp of tweenhood – are numbered. So I will do what it takes to keep her in there with me.
And plus, while Anne Frank is a bit heavy for a hammock read, how do you say no when your kid is requesting Holocaust literature? Sometimes the life lessons need to be carefully weighed.
We settled back in to our corners of the hammock. Emma’s formerly antsy legs now rested heavy next to mine, our limbs a tangle of knobby knees and freckles. I closed my eyes and breathed in this moment of perfect harmony: the breeze, the gentle rock of the hammock, the sound of the leaves, the warm weight of her legs on mine.
“Anne’s sister Margot is a little uptight,” Emma said.
WIth my eyes still closed, I replied: “Living in an annex may have that affect on people.”
“True,” she said, then paused. “You’re pretty funny, Mom.”
Motherhood is full of could, woulds, and shoulds; the things you never wanted to do but do anyway, or all the things you thought you would do but didn’t. But then there are the completely unexpected moments with your kids that you never could have imagined or categorized…because they are less about doing or not doing and more about just being yourself.