Something big has happened in my life. 2.5 years in as a mom, and I have graduated from the diaper bag. Not that I even had a “real” diaper bag, as my diaper bag was always the giant yellow Patagonia messenger bag I used first for a work commute bag, then for a graduate school backpack. It was sort of the big yellow school bus of diaper bags, and it allowed me to carry more gear than a Himalayan sherpa while expeditioning with two small people who might at any moment need diapers, wipes, toys, a complete outfit change, bibs, blankets, burp cloths, pacifiers, teethers, a bottle, a snack, a bandaid, or even a change of shirts for me (Claire barfed a lot).
Toddlers, I’ve realized, don’t need nearly as much gear. I can actually leave the house without packing each of us a complete outfit change. In fact, I can generally throw a couple diapers, a catheter, a wipes clutch, and bibs into my bag and we could survive an outing. Even better, my toddlers even think carrying a backpack themselves is cool and grown up, so they got their own little backpacks for Christmas. Now, they can actually tote their own diapers, wipes, water bottle, snack, and toy, and they think it’s fun! Have fun, baby pack mules, knock yourselves out! I’ll just be over here twirling, wild, free, and unencumbered by all your stuff!
I can’t really say I was ever around friends and had a husband remark upon his wife’s body to me, but if I were ever around a couple and the husband smacked his wife’s booty and told her she looked hot in her yoga pants, as our toddlers played nearby, as I examined the stain on the knee of my own leggings and wondered if it was snot or what, exactly, I would think, “Good for them. They’re adorable.” And maybe also a little bit of, “Gag, get a room, you two.”
It started when I saw the posts from the Spina Bifida Association on Facebook, again letting their audience of people who already have SB in their lives know that SB can sometimes be prevented by making sure women of childbearing age are getting enough folic acid even before they become pregnant, as neural tube defects happen so early in a pregnancy that by the time you miss your period and start taking your prenatal vitamins, it’s too late. But I have a feeling if you’re following the SBA on Facebook, you already know that.
“Etta fall down. At da zoo. Hurt knees. Hurt hands. Etta cry.” It happened in October, but she still tells me this story of her epic zoo fall at least once a day.
“Claire Bear fall down. At da wi-berry. I bonked my head on a shelf. I screamed. Then Mama had me.” This fall at the library, too, happened in October. This story, as well, is told as frequently and reverently as a great epic from the oral tradition, with all the solemnity a toddler can muster.
Usually we sigh, the way we all tend to do when someone tells us something we’ve heard before a hundred times, and say something like, “I know baby, you fell down and hurt yourself, but that was weeks ago, and you’re ok now! Your owies are all gone!” The repetition seems to us a little silly– why keep telling the story of such little hurts? Childhood is practically made of skinned hands and knees, of knots on foreheads and bruises that fade slowly, like sunsets that last weeks.
But to our girls, they are the biggest falls they’ve had yet. Their most significant injuries. Big events in the life of small people who lead otherwise routine little lives. To them, they are big stories worth telling.
You probably saw it in one of your social media feeds in the last week– a New York Times opinion piece by Heather Havrilesky called Our ‘Mommy’ Problem. Most of the piece was stuff I head-bobbingly agree with. One of the things I most feared prior to motherhood, and one of the things that most annoys me about it now that I actually have children, is the way women with children are reduced to “mommies” and mommies alone, not allowed or not able to have an identity outside of their relationship to their children.
I also kind of always hated the word “mommy” in general. It sounded infantilizing to me. I was determined that my children would always call me “mama” or “mom,” never “mommy.” But the entire world refers to me to and in front of my children as “mommy,” and so they have started calling me “mommy,” too. Sometimes I’m “mama.” Sometimes I’m “mommy.” Sometimes lately, I’m “Sawah,” as they’ve noticed that their dad and I call each other names other than “mama” and “daddy” and they’re trying to figure out how we can be people with names and also their parents. (One day, when they’re grown ups, they’ll realize we’re people, full stop.) And in my children’s sweet, small voices, just about anything they call me sounds sweet and lovely, at least the first 5 times in a row that they say it. This, I loved:
Why does this word irritate me when the wrong person says it? When my kids call me “Mommy,” I feel a surge of pride and happiness. “Mommy” is also my mother’s name, thanks to the fact that my older sister shamed me when I tried to switch to “Mom” in my teens. But the “Mommy” I say to my mother or hear from my children is a private word, a word that defines the relationship between me and my mother, or me and my kids. It’s like the word “sweetheart” or “lover,” but arguably even more intimate.
But the essay lost me when it started blaming social media, our filtered window into each other’s home lives, for making mothers into something they don’t want to be:
We are besieged by Facebook images of sun-kissed children canning homegrown peaches and building tiny replicas of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks and being home-schooled on organic dairy farms in Wisconsin. We know far too much about other people’s lives these days, and the more we know, the clearer it becomes that we are doomed to lag behind the pack in this increasingly high-stakes game.
I mean, what do the homeschooling dairy farmers really have to do with you, you know?
I have lofty aspirations of being a Crafty Mom. But I have 2.5 year olds, two of them, actually, and I have realized that doing crafts with them is just not worth it, to me, at this time, most of the time. Because it takes me an hour of internet surfing to get the idea, and then I have to gather supplies, and then the actual project requires me to first get them occupied with something else for 20 minutes while I set it up, and then they spend 5 minutes on it and make a massive mess, and then I have to bathe them and then occupy them so I can clean up the mess, and then I need a nap. Maybe we’ll do crafts one day when it’s easier. Maybe I’ll just get over my urge to be That Kind of Mom. But in the meantime, it’s not like the moms out there with toddlers, crafting, are actively crafting to make me, way over here in Arkansas, feel bad. They’re just dancing to the beat of their own drummer. (And I mean, maybe they are trying to make me feel inferior, in which case, they’re assholes, and who cares what assholes think about anything?)
I get that Slacker Mom is a really popular internet genre. There are like, two kinds of moms online and they are either the ones writing super detailed Pinterest tutorials or the ones writing hilarious f-bomb laden tell-offs to the Pinterest moms:
My sister-in-law told me about a mom at her kid’s elementary school who took the basic school T-shirt that everyone got and painstakingly created a beaded fringe at the bottom, replete with cinched waist and perfectly cuffed sleeves. All of the other little girls gathered around, screeching variations of “I want the same thing!” Incredibly enough, instead of laughing in their unrealistic faces the way our parents might have, all the adults started mumbling, “Yes, O.K., we can do that, sure, I’ll learn a challenging new craft, no problem. Tonight, of course. We’ll do it tonight.” This made my sister-in-law, who was already late for work, want to teach a few people the artisanal craft of rearranging someone’s face using only your bare hands. We are outclassed at every turn. We are outspent and out-helicoptered and outnumbered. It used to be good enough just to keep your house from being coated in a thin layer of dog hair and human feces. No longer.
I mean, for sure, no one can make you bedazzle a tee shirt without your consent. You seriously, really, for real do not have to do it. Sure, on some vulnerable day, you may see some lovely Anthropologie-model of a mom post a picture of her doing some insanely enriching and hippie-tastic nature-related gross-motor-skill-developing spiritually-affirming whatever in her backyard, all with perfect hair and kids who have on like, matching clothes, and you may like, actively hate her for all the ways she’s making you feel. And on those days, maybe close Instagram and walk away and have a cookie and hug your kid and watch some cartoons and tell both of you that things are all gonna be OK.
But on a good day? On a good day there is just no reason for you to take that shit personally. Because she’s not backyard Montessori fine motor skill meditating TO YOU. She’s just doing her thing. You see your dance space? It’s over there, and it’s got nothing to do with hers, so just go on with your bad self over to your dance space and you do you. And maybe unfollow people who bring you down. And maybe talk nicely to yourself and let yourself know that you are the mother your children need, and they don’t need you to be anyone else but you.
And then maybe if we can stop constantly seeing other mothers as the problem, we’ll all have some energy left over to pursue our own self-care and interests and hobbies and careers and righteously tell off the strangers in public who insist on calling us “Mommy” instead of…oh…anything else.
A small, huge thing happened yesterday when I dropped Claire off for preschool.
I was taking her out of her car seat as usual, and she turned to her sister and waved and said, “Bye bye, sissy!” as usual. And she blew a kiss, as usual. And then… she told Etta, “I love you!”
Mark it down in the baby book blog: it’s the first time I have ever heard either one of them say “I love you” to the other one. Sure, they show it– they like to hug and kiss and hold hands, and I sometimes find one in the other’s bed, but this was the first instance of verbal love between the two of them. It exploded my heart.