When my daughter, Caitlin, asked why her pre-school playmate, Monica, had two mommies, and no daddy, I asked her to listen to a song. I slipped a Barney CD into the SUV’s car stereo, punched in song number eight, My Family’s Just Right for Me.
“Play it again.” She asked once it finished and sang along almost on key.
Having heard the song at least three hundred and ten times, I sang too. When it finished, I lowered the volume. “Families are like your box of Crayola crayons, they come in different colors and sizes. Megan’s daddy doesn’t live with her, but she has a family, it just doesn’t looked like ours.”
“She has Nana and Granddad and us. We’re a family.” She sang out from her car seat.
“Yes, we are a family.”
There were no more questions about Monica’s mommies. I dug out the CD a few years later when my son asked the same question. No one sings acceptance better than a purple dinosaur. I still utter silent halleluiahs to PBS and the creators of the purple savant. As my children grew and life took the three of us outside of his playground, I wished there was a Barney for all occasions and each of the seasons of my children’s lives.
A mom job doesn’t come with a how to manual. She doesn’t know the answers to the questions she asks of herself. She doesn’t know if she has done enough, or if what she’s done is good enough. It’s not like opening a box of Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix, pouring the mix into the bowl, cracking the eggs, adding the oil, baking for thirty-seven minutes, cooling, and then frosting with butter cream. Being a mom isn’t as exact as one, two, three, and POOF! All done and ready to go.
It’s a job with no quitting time and goes on until the heart stops beating, with no report card or quarterly evaluation. She looks to her children for a sign of a job well done, but as the sun rises and sets each day, so does the child. It’s hard to gauge positive outcome from day-to-day because of perpetual motion. A child moves forward indefinitely without exhibiting the slightest indication if our instruction has taken root. We do a lot of wishing and hoping.
I’ve logged eighteen years as a Mom and continue to strut around on wide-wall training wheels. Motherhood doesn’t slide over my body as easily as a La Perla slip. It’s feels more like a pair of Levis slipping over hips that have given birth twice, there is a lot of tugging and swearing. The answers I need are not always inside of me. I continue to reach outside of myself for answers to their questions of life:
- What’s behind the moon?
- How do I create an Eco system inside a shoebox for my science project?
- What’s an Eco system, anyway?
- Why did Granddad have to die?
- Is there really a God?
- What matters more, loving one person or many?
- Why are boys and girls so different?
It’s a tough jig being a parent, much harder than sustaining an Eco system inside of a shoebox. In all these years, I have never known from one day to the next if I was doing a good job, if I was answering their questions accurately, if I was providing the best possible advice. Motherhood is as deliciously seductive as the boxed cake mix but ever so slightly more complex. Being a mom requires nothing less than MacGyver-esque skills. You do what you can with a paper clip and the gum wrapper you find in the back of your too tight Levis. Later, you hope you got it right.
I’ve had my share of bad mothering moments, said the wrong thing, yelled when I should have counted, and took up the wrong battle. It’s not a regret and nothing I change even if Merlin himself was standing before me offering author fame, a villa in Barcelona, and the lover in one of my novels. Even if he offered me all of that INSTEAD of being Caitlin and Max’s mom, I’d have to say….. NO. (OK, I confess I’d probably ask him to take me on the same journey the ghost of Christmas past did for Scrooge. I’m human. I’d want to know about the lover.) Sure, I’ve had my share of unfavorable mothering faux pas, but for every Yin, I’ve had exceptionally brilliant Yang moments. Maybe once or twice, I’ve even exceeded Harriet Nelson’s bar of excellence.
I suspect most moms can relate to the pendulum swing of motherhood. We swallow the bad with our cold coffee. And when it’s good we don’t always remember to thank our children for making our jobs worthwhile, but we should. I did this past weekend, and it felt good.
If you’re a mom give yourself a pat on the back for all that you do. If you’re a woman on the quest to define who want to be, remember how you arrived at this moment of personal freedom. Even if you didn’t like your mom all that much, she gave you spirit to go the distance.
Do you have a personal best you’d like to share?