Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Bear of Shame, or the Story of the Mother Who Didn't Have Wipes

Today was a beautiful day. This winter has had a long and unexpected and not entirely welcome coda this year which has only sweetened the anticipation of spring. Today the sun was out, the sky was cloudless, the temperature was just warm enough for short sleeves but not warm enough for sweat. I got out of work early--I am in the Emergency Department this month, so am working half the number of hours I usually work, though at odd hours--and raced to pick up my daughter early from day care. The thirty minute drive from work to day care has a sweet, crazed quality to it--never am I so eager to reach a destination, never am I so irrationally angry at anything or anyone who causes the moment of arrival to be delayed. After picking E up, I decided to take her to a nearby park in the adjacent but much ritzier neighborhood a few minutes from our house. Instead of the space-age shock-absorbing pseudo-gravel that carpets most playgrounds these days, this playground is carpeted in sand, ye olde original shock absorber. It was E's first encounter with sand and while initially tentative, she was soon letting out excited squeals and hurling sand into the air and by extension into and onto every part of her, including the area between her nose and her mouth in which snot has taken up semi-permanent residence since she started day care. There I was in my barely-nice-enough-for-work-but-certainly-not-casual-enough-for-the-sandbox attire, with a toddler whose face was covered in snot-stuck sand. All I had with me were my keys, my smart phone, and E's hoodie. I did not have wipes.

The playground was full--mothers, father, babysitters, grandparents, nannies. I walked over to someone who seemed to be a nanny--surely they come prepared!--and asked if she had a wipe. "I'm still learning," I said, by way of explanation. "Oh, that's why we're here to help each other," she said, and I felt good about humanity. She opened the child's blue elephant backpack which I could see was meticulously arranged. "Her mom sure knows how to pack a bag," she said, pulling out a travel-size package of all-natural hypoallergenic wipes.

Well, there it was. Her mom sure knows how to pack a bag. I imagined the woman out there in the world of work somewhere, calm in her knowledge that should her child be caked in a mixture of sand and snot while at the playground, there would be a wipe at the ready. As I walked back to my delighted daughter and wiped her face, I thought to myself: Am I ever going to get my s&*t together?

Sadly, it's a familiar refrain. My thank you notes are still not done from E's birthday and the holidays in December. I sent off the ones that were truly socially dire (grandparents, great aunts, co-workers) and now I'm wondering if it's even polite to send the others. Is there a statute of limitations on gratitude? Speaking of the holidays, I just couldn't make a holiday card happen this year, so you won't find my daughter's adorable face on a refrigerator near you. The baby book I lovingly bought when I was pregnant remains half-finished, with only the pregnancy section filled out. When it came time for my daughter to go to day care, we were not on any of the right waiting lists. A year later, we still aren't. When it comes to potlucks, I either bring store-bought hummus and a loaf of bread (from Whole Foods, though, so maybe a couple of extra points there) or I just decline the invitation upfront because I foresee that the guilt of not having made a homemade casserole will just be too much for me. I have even shown up to a potluck with my daughter having brought nothing and proceeded to feed her everyone else's food because she was hungry and I hadn't even brought snacks for her from home. On Valentine's Day, my 14-month-old returned home with a Valentine's goodie bag from one of her classmates and I just had to throw up my hands. Am I supposed to be cutting Valentine's hearts out of construction paper after my child goes to bed to give to her barely ambulatory classmates? And if so, who is going to finish my notes from clinic? Most nights, I go to bed feeling like a there's a bear hibernating next to me -- the bear of all the things I'm supposed to be doing, am late doing, don't know yet that I'm supposed to be doing -- and I just try not to wake it up. Just give me one more day, bear of shame....

But here is what I will not do: I will not waste any of the time I have with my daughter on the bear of shame. Our time together is not an expansive as I would like it to be, so I am going to use it to delight in her and in the world with her. I will try to get better at the thank you notes and the day care waiting lists but I will do that after she has gone to bed and if I'm too tired, I will go to sleep instead. I will probably never show up at a pot luck on time with home-baked goods. Many things will remain undone or not perfectly done. But E and I, we will do lots of fun and interesting things together. I may not have my s*%t together, but at least I know what's important to me. I'm probably never going to get rid of the bear of shame, but it's not going to eat me either.

So the Story of the Mother Who Didn't Have Wipes is actually the Story of the Fun Afternoon at the Playground. Instead of remembering that I didn't have any wipes and some other mother had remembered to pack them, I will remember my daughter's gleeful shriek as she wiggled her toes free of the sand piled on them. I will remember her little finger pointing up at the sunlight seeping in between the leaves of an enormous old-growth tree. I will remember her look of surprise as I blew the seeds off a dandelion and her subsequent earnest attempt to locate and un-seed every dandelion in the neighborhood. And hey, maybe I'll put a packet of wipes in my glove compartment tomorrow, because  I may not be perfect but at least I can learn.

15 comments:

  1. Ouch, I can feel her smugness through cyberspace! We've all been caught without wipes before, or given wipes to people in that situation, but most likely without gloating or judging. Hmph. I'm going to make my own judgement here: you're doing great.

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  2. To: The Mother Who Didn't Have Wipes

    From: The Mother Who Never has Wipes, A Sweatshirt, A Sippy Cup, The Favorite Blanket, The Healthy Snack and hey, has anyone seen my keys?

    You are doing just fine! Thank you for this post, it made my day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it, LiveFromBoston! Thank goodness for bananas which are technically "a healthy snack" (are they?) but are also kind of like dessert and come in their own carrying case. As far as keys go, I just have four sets -- when I lose one, I invariably find another when I go looking.

      Delete
  3. This post is beautiful! I love the last two paragraphs, because that's what its all about - the amazing time you got to have with your daughter and creating those wonderful memories!!! Thanks for this great mom empowering post!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cutter! Mom empowerment is what it's all about!

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  4. This is an amazing post! Like Cutter said, the last two paragraphs are awesome.

    From someone who has the desire to always be prepared, I always keep a fully packed diaper bag- stocked with a change of clothes, diapers, wipes, snacks, formula, etc. in my car. Well, that bag was packed pre-starting med school when my baby was 3 months old. 6 months later I was out with my baby (a HUGE 9 month old wearing 12-18 mo. clothing to fit her daddy's long legs) and she pooped her pants and was totally, utterly, completely a mess. When I opened the diaper bag I realized that the diapers were wayyy too small, a 0-3 month shirt barely cleared her head, the leggings did not cover 1 thigh, and the formula was stinky and old. It was completely embarrassing.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Boxes,

      Haha! I was at the children's museum recently and realized all I had were the diapers one size too small. I was wandering around trying to identify nice looking people and asking them if they had any #5s. Not one but two mothers said, "Sorry, but we use cloth diapers." Oh my.

      Good luck with med school! Stinky and embarrassing about covers it :-).

      Delete
  5. Great post! Beautifully written.

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  6. My youngest child is 24, and my oldest grandchild (there are 6) is eight.

    I tell you, the expectations put on mothers today are higher than the Himalayas, with even less social support than I had back 25 years ago.

    Please don't abandon potlucks. The social benefits are big. Just pick a "signature dish" -- I recommend an antipasto platter from Whole Foods!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Liz,

      Nice to hear a perspective from a mother farther along in the mama adventure. I agree with you -- the expectations are insanely out of proportion to what is possible, and yet we meet them, because we are mamas and that's what mamas do. It makes me both sad for us and proud of us.

      I won't abandon potlucks -- but I will continue to secretly resent them :-). Antipasto sounds just about right.....

      Thanks for reading!
      M

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  7. What a beautiful writer you are - so happy you are here! I'll offer another view from the future - my daughter at 10 has written her own thank you's for the past two years and I have managed to make it a somewhat enjoyable affair (lots of stickers and fancy pens helps) - looking forward to starting my son at 8 next month (he was signing the last two years). I tell them both - if you want to have a big bday party with presents, ok, but you will write the thank you's. I will address, but you will write. I was so overwhelmed in my kids younger years that I wrote things on bday invitations like "Gifts optional. Books only please." I hated to mar an amazing day with a smorgasboard of clutter necessitating gratitude.

    May all your life experiences with E be spun from the perspective of: The Story of the Fun Afternoon At the Playground. I agree we have way too many expectations these days around parenting and when you look at it objectively who is it really all for? Not our kids. Or us. Strange societal standards, impossible to uphold, designed to mire us in guilt and shame. But only if we let it:). Keep letting go and having fun. And thanks for reminding me to do the same. Because society catches us in the bear of shame at every age.

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  8. I loved reading your post. You write beautifully. I will take your lesson to heart. Thanks.

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  9. Thanks so much for writing and sharing! What a great post! I feel very much the same way that it is just not possible to do everything e.g. Allison Pearson's "I Don't Know How She Does It" definitely describes that - check out this hilarious excerpts about how women used to bake mince pies but fake orgasms and now have orgasms but fake mince pies http://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm/book_number/1094/index.cfm?fuseaction=printable&book_number=1094
    I had a mom who was a little OCD about having everything clean and perfect and always having the homecooked specialty dish at the potluck (but she was a stay-at-home mom at the time and had taken a nursing career break to raise us, and who went back to nursing later and even she told me that you can do those martha stewart type things if you are either martha stewart or have no other job and nothing else to do.) Everyone picks what's important to them, but the super amazing mom who does everything martha stewart like (by herself - no nannies etc) and holds down a full time to 100 hour a week job simply does not exist. I just remembered thinking my mom wasted too many hours where we could be enjoying an experience worrying about whether I was getting covered in dirt. So with my kid - our house is often not spick and span - but I do feel taking every moment you can with your child to make an experience fun e.g. from playing in the sandbox to singing songs while putting away the blocks, it is in making the experience one of joy and love that hopefully will be something kids remember...more than us sweating the little stuff. Someone told us to get in the habit of getting our kids to help out early - in developing nations kids at 4yo are often responsible for making a meal for the family although we don't think we are quite that brave yet, we have been trying to get our 18 month old to help clean up our play area every night just to start getting help early even though this takes a little longer than doing it ourselves. It's remarkable though - even my friend's 3yo they can already help with washing produce and using plastic knives to cut cucumbers. So Gizabeth - what a great idea to have them do their own thank you cards.

    Recently for birthdays of less than 5 yo, our friends have been asking for no birthday gifts but donations to a charity of their choice - e.g. the Children's Hospital will often set up a website where friends can do online secure donations and acknowledge how much a money has been donated on behalf of a child.

    or check out the uniform project
    http://www.theuniformproject.com/
    and the Akansha foundation http://www.theuniformproject.com/upweb/#!causes
    several of my friends have started their kids on photo blogging projects to raise money for a cause the child believes in as per the Never Seconds blog idea http://neverseconds.blogspot.ca/
    where 9 yo Martha Payne raises enough donations from her lunch photo blog to fund a school kitchen in Africa - so it's neat to see the potential kids have :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks so much for writing and sharing! What a great post! I feel very much the same way that it is just not possible to do everything e.g. Allison Pearson's "I Don't Know How She Does It" definitely describes that - check out this hilarious excerpts about how women used to bake mince pies but fake orgasms and now have orgasms but fake mince pies http://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm/book_number/1094/index.cfm?fuseaction=printable&book_number=1094
    I had a mom who was a little OCD about having everything clean and perfect and always having the homecooked specialty dish at the potluck (but she was a stay-at-home mom at the time and had taken a nursing career break to raise us, and who went back to nursing later and even she told me that you can do those martha stewart type things if you are either martha stewart or have no other job and nothing else to do.) Everyone picks what's important to them, but the super amazing mom who does everything martha stewart like (by herself - no nannies etc) and holds down a full time to 100 hour a week job simply does not exist. I just remembered thinking my mom wasted too many hours where we could be enjoying an experience worrying about whether I was getting covered in dirt. So with my kid - our house is often not spick and span - but I do feel taking every moment you can with your child to make an experience fun e.g. from playing in the sandbox to singing songs while putting away the blocks, it is in making the experience one of joy and love that hopefully will be something kids remember...more than us sweating the little stuff. Someone told us to get in the habit of getting our kids to help out early - in developing nations kids at 4yo are often responsible for making a meal for the family although we don't think we are quite that brave yet, we have been trying to get our 18 month old to help clean up our play area every night just to start getting help early even though this takes a little longer than doing it ourselves. It's remarkable though - even my friend's 3yo they can already help with washing produce and using plastic knives to cut cucumbers. So Gizabeth - what a great idea to have them do their own thank you cards.

    Recently for birthdays of less than 5 yo, our friends have been asking for no birthday gifts but donations to a charity of their choice - e.g. the Children's Hospital will often set up a website where friends can do online secure donations and acknowledge how much a money has been donated on behalf of a child.

    or check out the uniform project
    http://www.theuniformproject.com/
    and the Akansha foundation http://www.theuniformproject.com/upweb/#!causes
    several of my friends have started their kids on photo blogging projects to raise money for a cause the child believes in as per the Never Seconds blog idea http://neverseconds.blogspot.ca/
    where 9 yo Martha Payne raises enough donations from her lunch photo blog to fund a school kitchen in Africa - so it's neat to see the potential kids have :)

    ReplyDelete

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