The Woman in the Mirror

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Clark and I recently attended a bandmate’s wedding. It was a beautiful sunset celebration and in many ways a musical reunion. We bumped into people we haven’t played a note with in years with whom we experienced late night recordings, long lay-overs, and impromptu song writing sessions. That was long before any of us had spouses, kids, or even a warm-bodied date to a fancy wedding. We struck up casual conversation with an old friend who’s wife is expecting their first child. Before we could edit our verbal commentary, we became that couple– the Consummate Parental Spoilers who say things like, “Get ready. You thought marriage was tough. That was nuthin’. Just wait until you have that baby. Hardest thing we ever done.” Picture Willie Robertson slapping an acquaintance twice removed on the back of the shoulder while offering unsolicited parenting advice. That was me in Aldo stilettos. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could see the color draining from his childless face. All I could think was, “I’m a moron. Someone stuff a spring roll in my mouth before I say something else royally stupid.”

What IS the matter with me?

The truth is that in the early days of marriage, Clark and I wanted a lot of kids. Four. Maybe five. That was before we knew first-hand how hard child-rearing could actually be. A friend of mine with two grown children recently said, “This parenting stuff… it ain’t going to tickle”. He’s right. It already feels more like my heart has undergone the emotional equivalent of an Indian burn than anything remotely tickling.  And I’m only just getting started. This morning at breakfast, a cheerio rolled under the refrigerator sending Salem into orbit just as the school bus pulled into the driveway. While he was desperately trying to retrieve his orphaned breakfast, I was yelling at him to hurry up because God-forbid he be late to preschool and risk his chances of being accepted into the Ivy League.

I yelled at my son for trying to save a lost cheerio.

The guilt of sending him to school with my booming voice still ringing in his little ears sent me crawling back to bed while pulling the covers over my head. Not only did I underestimate the identity-splitting nature of parenting– that I no longer hold the rights to my body, my schedule, my interests, or even my thoughts, but I grossly overlooked the emotional stamina required to shoulder the weight of worrying about another human life.  Nothing about motherhood has turned out to be quite what I thought it would be. In many ways, it is worlds better. In others ways, it it the reason why I will soon be gray beyond a bottle job.

Last night, I was falling asleep to Paradise Valley’s track, Dear Marie {insert shameless John Mayer fan plug here} when I got stuck on the lyric, “Dear Marie… Well, I got my dream, but you got yourself a family”. Family… kids… sticky fingers, board books, scrapes and bandaids, lisps and animal crackers…. this is one {single} man’s observation of An Ultimate Success Story. I do believe with every sane corner of my shrunken brain that raising these two kids is {and will be} my life’s greatest endeavor, and yet, I can’t shake the feeling like I stepped off of a cliff, and I am caught in a never ending free fall. Oh, how I wish it was a more graceful dive. But the truth is…

…I sometimes go weeks without locking eyes with my husband.
…I am afraid of waking up 20 years from now and no longer recognizing the woman staring back at me in the mirror.
…I yell at my kid before he goes to school.

And the stress of it all has me tangled up between thoughts of “Aw heck, let’s give the Duggars a run for their money” and “I don’t even remember how to spell the word B-A-L-U-N-S-S-E much less maintain it with my quiver full ‘o two.”  But these are common thoughts of common struggles, right? {Please, tell me I’m right.}

But here’s what I hope: I hope that the woman staring back at me in the mirror 20 years from now has few{er} regrets of how she raised her children. I hope she is less of a control freak than she was when her kids had sticky fingers. And for the love of all that is holy and just, I hope she has more social decency than to bully a former bandmate at a wedding who has no idea what he is in for. Some things are better left to figure out on one’s own, {right Joe?}

How has parenting turned out to be different than what you expected?

{Image via Casa Sugar}

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Brain Blender

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Recently, I was asked to write an article on the topic of parenting. It took me a week to agree to the project, a month to write the first draft, and I am limping along here with the final post six weeks from the actual deadline. The assignment has me reevaluating both my role as a writer and as a parent. I realize one is optional and the other is not, but I care passionately about both and yet I am so far from expertise or even maturity in either field. Both are on the puree setting in the ‘ole brain blender, and the result is a whole lot of delete… delete… edit… delete… that sounds stupid…. delete… edit… you don’t know what the heck you’re talking about… delete.

Last week, I stumbled on this parenting article, and not only did it make me laugh out loud, but it breathed some fresh inspiration into my otherwise lacking motivation. Pieces like this make me A. want to be a writer, and B. want to write so accessibly that it makes the reader say, “I’ve so done that… thought that… said that!”

Here’s an exert from the article, 10 Types of Irritating Advice for Parents:

Family, friends and more or less total strangers feel a compulsive urge to give advice… Here are some of the worst forms of advice. Be warned.

1. Bossy books from bossy self-appointed experts.

Have new parents been robbed of their decision-making powers?

Why else would there be so many irritating books telling them how to behave. There are more than 70,000 parenting books on sale. They hide behind cutesy covers, all jelly colours and gurgling babies, but look within and it’s more like a drill sergeant marching parents around the nursery.

These experts don’t want to help young parents, they want to become leaders of cults. There are rules for everything and rule number one is that all the other rules are going to make everyone miserable. It’s going to end in tears, usually from the parents.

2. Unbearably competent (borderline patronising) friends.

Make that ex-friends, because it’s not normal to have life so well organised.

You know the sort. He’s baking organic vegetable snacks while she’s teaching the two-year-old how to count in Catalan.

They organised the right school moments after conception. They know everything, you know nothing.

Their baby has never cried, never thrown up on the hire car, it never even really seemed to be a baby at all, but was more like a middle-aged Archers’ fan hidden in a macrame shawl. And please, please, please don’t tell us how to be like you.

They do it better in France.

They’ve got a second home there, they drive down in the summer and they come back with that certain je ne sais quoi.

The quoi in question is usually along the lines of how much nicer French children’s clothes are and how French children can eat in restaurants without looking like they’ve been face-painting with guacamole.

And they just can’t resist giving you that little tip, that little special bit of advice picked up from an old French villager. Just learn how to say non.

I high recommend treating yourself to the whole article. It is a worthy and hilarious read, and a comforting reminder that when it comes to parenting, all of us are in the same brain blender trying to keep the lid on our kids, our homes… our sanity one day at a time.
Hang in there today. You are not alone!