The Identity of Motherhood

Scary Mommy Book Review

www.scarymommy.com

Book Review of Scary Mommy by Jill Smokler

By Brenda Robert, Ph.D.

Among the most cherished and iconic of our cultural mythologies is that of motherhood. Linked arm in arm with such other icons as baseball and apple pie, motherhood has been painted as a blissful, self-sacrificing state and those who occupy the pedestal are somewhere between the Madonna and sainthood.  Depicted in art and literature as everything from soulful to stalwart, “mothers” of the world have an impossible standard to live up to.  After all, who can possibly match the good deeds of “Mother” Teresa or the ferocious force of “Mother” Jones?

The welcome news is that someone has made it OK not to live up to those impossible standards.  That person is Jill Smokler who has written a delightful and truth telling book called Confessions of a Scary Mommy (Gallery Books, 2012). Smokler’s book shines a light into the hidden corners of motherhood….you know those corners, the ones where the dust balls, animal cracker crumbs, and missing pacifiers congregate. It’s also the place where mothers hide their secrets, the dizzying and occasionally distressing aspects of being a mother which aren’t voiced to a judgmental society. Each of Mommy’s chapters is an essay prefaced by a list of Mommy confessions by other mothers on that particular subject.  For example, in the chapter on husbands: “I tell my husband we are out of milk so I can run to the store for ten minutes of quiet time.  I don’t tell him I drank the last of the milk.” On eating: “I eat sweets while hiding in the bathroom so I don’t need to share with my children.”

Scary Mommy is more than hilarious; it’s also addictive, especially so for someone who has been there.  For those who haven’t, it’s a peek behind the curtain of that sanctified state known as motherhood.

Brenda Robert is an author, poet, and mother of three, grandmother of three, and greatgrandmother of one. She earned the badge of MOM long ago and wears it well. She is retired from a career of teaching English and then keeping those teachers in line as an administrator. She is also my mom!

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The Meme: A Genetic Mutation

“A meme (  /ˈmm/; MEEM)[1]) is ‘an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”[2] A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond’ to selective pressures.[3]

 

“Its unfolding petals suggest the expansion of the soul. The growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise. ”

Answer the following questions:

How do you find time to….

Do the laundry? This is the easy part. On the way out the door the laundry goes in the washer. On the way in the door the laundry goes in the dryer. On the way up from the laundry room for some random errand, the laundry makes it to the first floor. On the way up to the 2nd floor where the bedroom is, the laundry makes its way up. The laundry gets dumped on the bed. Three piles: hers and mine and towels. I put them away while my daughter splashes around in the tub (the bathroom door actually has French doors that open into the bedroom so, yes, I can still see and monitor her. I did write a post on water safety after all!

Write a blog post? Most of the blog is written in my head while I ride my bike to work. It gets typed up while I’m on the computer or between the hours of midnight and 2:00 am! Cut, paste and cite is also a big time-saver!

Be the parent you want to be? I don’t understand this question. How do I find time to be the parent I want to be? This is a 24 hour job. Even while I’m at work I’m being the parent I want to be. I’m maintaining my identity as a professional, providing for my family and serving as a role model for my young daughter. When we’re together I may be folding the laundry but I’m talking to my child, teaching her about the world. It’s a part of everything I do.

Find time for yourself? This is sneaky time. Can I steal a few minutes here or there? Can I get someone to watch her for a few minutes while I go for a run. Can I stop at a guilty pleasure fast-food restaurant on my way home from daycare? Finding time for myself while raising a toddler almost single-handedly isn’t easy.

Foster Your Spirituality?: By running, hiking, watching my child play, attending yoga class, going to Sunday morning meditation.

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Some of the questions didn’t speak to me so I used one and added one:

Rocker: Buy a big oversized chair that can be used to rock your baby in from the time they are little until they are young children. I had an uncomfortable glider from birth to 2 and now I have an electric, overstuffed glider/recliner that is extremely comfortable. I wish I had had one from the day my baby is born.

Sling: Some may gasp at this. My three year old still likes to be put in the sling and carried around until she falls sleep. Luckily she only weighs 26 pounds. I do this because she does fall asleep. It’s like a magic pill for her. My theory is that she gets over-stimulated and the sling helps her some this overstimulation. I use the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder. They are kind of hard to come by.

RULES:

  1. Please post the rules;
  2. When answering the questions, give as much information as possible;
  3. Leave a comment on sex, drugs, rocker, stroller, baby if you would like. This is so we can keep track of the Meme and take a polite nose into everyone else’s lives;
  4. Add a photo that speaks to you and say why it speaks to you;
  5. Tag 3 or more people and link to them on your blog. Add new questions, delete old questions and play about with the rules.

Thank you to bellissimom for tagging me on this meme. I in turn will tag: navinatime, asnormalasnormalcanbe, sleeplessinsummerville.

Maintaining the Balance of Mommy and Me

Have you ever tried to keep a teeter-totter in motion without someone on the other side to balance you out? Well, that’s what it feels like sometimes as a mom, especially as a single mom. Balancing my roles as a parent, a professional, and an individual feels a little like running back and forth between two sides of a piece of playground equipment just to keep it in motion!

As a parent who has made some pretty child-centered parenting decisions such as opting not to have a crib and allowing her toddler to nurse until the almost age of three, the majority of my non-working and waking hours have been literally devoted to parenting. In addition to working days, I also work some evenings; I don’t have a partner to tag team with; and I usually go to sleep at the same time as my child.

Given these circumstance and parenting decisions, I have become quite creative in finding ways to get the time that I need for myself and in maintaining my identity outside of parenting.

Below are some of the strategies that I have found useful in regaining some of the “me” that gets lost during parenting. I have somehow managed to find ways to fill the nearly “on-empty, adult-me tank” that occasionally gets low on fuel.

And these tips are not only for single parents: Anyone who knows the challenges of parenting may find them useful.

Make Your Free Time Meaningful
What do I think of when I first think of free time? Let’s see…vacuuming the living room, unloading the dishwasher, and grading papers. How much of that is restorative to me? None! I am the master of getting everything done before giving something to myself.

What I have learned in finding ways to balance the responsibilities of parenting with restoring myself is to deliberately schedule activities during my twenty-four hour free time that are meaningful to me.

For instance, on Sundays I started going to a mediation class for an hour. It’s only an hour and it feeds me spiritually and emotionally. It’s like McDonalds for the soul! I also started running with a friend on Sundays. To save time, I suggested a location that is extremely close to my house. With this arrangement, I can do something that is meaningful without spending my precious free time traveling. Perhaps running around a lake further away would have been more slightly more scenic but it would have meant one less hour that I would have for myself.

Break the Rules of Parenting Occasionally
Taking a hot bath or even a quick hot shower is a luxury for me these days. It is quite relaxing and restorative, but hard to do with a toddler in the midst. So how do I gain some me time? By breaking the rules! Tonight my daughter wanted to eat her evening snack at a late hour so I made the decision to let her take her snack upstairs where she could eat it while I snuck in a quick bath! I felt ever so slightly guilty as I watched her happily munching away on her avocado while wearing her Elmo bib in the bathroom, but for a few minutes I got to relax in tub thus bringing some balance into my life.

Work Meaningful Activities into Your Daily Routine
One of things I love most is to ride my bike. A year ago I decided to move out of my townhouse and into a single family home so that my child would have a nice backyard in which to play. My house of choice was deliberately chosen because of its proximity to daycare and my work. The location of my house allowed me to ride my daughter to daycare on my bike. This has turned out to be a wonderful bonding ex[erience for us, as well as a centering and peaceful activity for me. We have watched the seasons turn, have observed the flowers growing, and keep a close eye out for dogs. At the same time it is me at my happiest. After dropping her off I am able to bike to work and then do the same in reverse at the end of the day. Instead of commuting in a car an hour a day, I am on my bike doing something I enjoy.

Network with Other Parents
Spending time bonding with your child are special, happy moments, but from my perspective, there’s still a self that needs to be fed. By forming social relationships with other parents, you can plan and enjoy activities that are child-centered but that also allow you to engage in healthy adult-to-adult communication. Coffee shop play dates, trips to nature centers, eating out: These are all activities that can include your child, but at the same time you are able to find ways to connect with adults and explore the non-child side of you.

Find People that Care about You and Your Child/Children
Going out for ice cream is so much more fun with another adult. If you are a parent that does most of the hands-on work, it is so freeing to have another adult around who can clean up that spilled water or take the child to wash her hands. A loving adult who cares about you and your child can be a gift that you can never repay. And the best thing about it: That other adult is FRESH! They are likely in a good spot mentally spot and probably have had a good night’s sleep whereas you may have been wakened multiple times by a child calling “momma.” Going out with another adult allows you to continue to bond with your child, but at the same time you can get that break you might need. And, hey, have a hot fudge sundae while you’re at it. You deserve it!

Find Ways to Save Time
A friend of mine jokes that I have hired a husband for most everything. I have retained the services of a doogie-pooper-cleaner-uper; I pay a woman who cooks amazing macrobiotic meals and drops them off at my house once a week; and the several inches of snow that fall on my sidewalks are blown to the side by a snow removal service. Yes, these things all cost money, but if this leaves me more time to take care of what is really important; i.e., me, then it is completely worth it!

Sign your Child up for Activities You Enjoy
My little girl is enrolled in mama-baby music classes, mama-baby yoga classes and swimming lessons. Each of these benefits me in some way. The music class is fun. I get to sing and dance and wave scarves around. Yoga is one of my favorite ways of keeping fit; during momma-baby yoga class I’ll sneak in a few extra vinyasas for myself. Swimming lessons? After the 30 minute swimming class I get to hit up the hot tub. She sits on the side while I loosen up those achy muscles. Score!

Don’t Pack Too Much into Your Free Time
I have found that when I have an evening free I want to do all of the things I enjoy in one evening. I want to go to a movie AND go out to dinner. I’ve learned over the past couple of months to pick one of the two and to savor the luxury of not rushing to and from different activities. By only going out to dinner I have a leisurely hour to get to the restaurant and a good couple of hours after my outing to do whatever I want at home. It makes for a more relaxed and enjoyable evening. Plus, I can get a 20 minute nap in before I go out if I so desire!

Balance isn’t about a fifty-fifty split between being a parent and nourishing the self. As a parent with lots of hands-on parenting time, balance means being creative about finding ways to maximize the free time one does have and about being intentional about what is being gained during that time. It’s also about finding ways to bring yourself into the parenting process and to secretly gain something for your own self while you are parenting. Happy parenting and remember “nourish thyself!”

Rediscovering Myself: The Momma in Me

When I had my baby almost three years ago, I felt trapped, scared, and alone. The forty-one years prior to my child’s birth had been all about me: my schooling, my jobs, my love life, my friends, my travel. I was a busy woman and I liked it that way. I came and went as I pleased. I enjoyed the world and a myriad of activities. I ate and slept when I wanted. Flexibility in my day was mine, and I LOVED it that way!

But then came a day when that all changed. It was the day my little, tiny, needy, crying baby girl was born.

On some level, when this precious soul entered the world, the previous version of me packed up her suitcase and left. Or perhaps, part of me simply moved over and made room for her little soul to join mine to create a new and better version of myself. Either way, this 7 pound, larger-than-life being had taken my life over like an alien in Star Trek forcing me, a forty-one year old, seasoned woman to completely change my life.

The fact that the person I had known as myself was gone scared me immensely: “Who is this screaming child robbing me of my sleep and my life?” and “Who am I and what is to become of me now?”

It felt as if everything I had known was gone and would never return.

My mother gave me some sage advice that kept me going. “It won’t be like this forever, Christina. She’s an infant. In a few years, she’ll be less dependent on you and you’ll get back some of what you feel you have lost. Those things are not gone forever.” I held onto the hope and belief that someday I would be me again.

The past three years since her birth have been spent assessing my life and who I thought I was. What do I keep of my former self? What do I let go of? What do I gain in its place? How do I mother while maintaining my identity as an independent woman?

Compartmentalize & Focus
I was so used to multitasking that it was extremely frustrating to be so incapacitated while caring for my infant. She was also a difficult-to-soothe, colicky baby that did not like to sleep at night. This is all exacerbated by the fact that I was doing all of the nighttime care because I’m an NMSM (Never Married Single Mother).

To cope, I learned to compartmentalize my thinking. In these early months, I realized that in order to be the kind of mother I wanted to be, I would had to give myself over to parenting during those precious hours that I was with her. So, when I got home from work, I would make a radical mental shift and clearly accept that the next twelve hours would be baby time. I would repeat to myself over and over, “This is baby time . . . This is baby time,” as I walked down the sidewalk towards our townhouse.

Be Present
There was no use wishing that I could parent an infant and continue to do the things I used to do. I realized that I had to be present for my baby and wholeheartedly accept my role as a mother–no matter how difficult those hours might be. At the same time, I had to temporarily leave my transforming identity in the car until the next time I went off on my own.

Me Time
When I did leave the house it was ‘me time’, and I rejoiced in that. Granted I was working, and most of the time I wanted to put my head on my desk and take a nap, but there were those intermittent times when I felt like my old self again. I would deliberately seize those few minutes to just relax and enjoy life. This came in the form of stopping by the YMCA for a soak in the hot tub for fifteen minutes or taking a bike ride around the block for ten minutes before the babysitter had to leave.

The New Me
Now that she is almost three, things have gotten much better, just like my momma said they would. I have not reclaimed myself completely, and I’m not sure that I ever will or even want to do so. In short, I simply don’t see the world the same way I once did.

For instance, I recently signed up for a pottery class and claimed it as a delicately carved out period of time that I could spend doing something just for me. It was meant to be a visceral, creative, non-stressful endeavor where I could explore myself through art. What more could I ask for?

Lo and behold, what did I do in my ceramics class for the first three weeks? I’ll tell you what. I threw little tiny baby pots on the potting wheel so my little girl would have a miniature clay tea set that she could call her own. One day she could say her momma lovingly and solely made them for her.

The old me would’ve thrown five bowls all for myself. But now, as a mommy with a little two year old living in my heart, I am thinking of tiny hands and small smiles.

There is a new and better version of me that is still evolving, one which I am daily discovering, developing and nurturing. Every day I strive to find out what parts of me remain, what parts are only meant for my daughter, and what parts are some combination of the two of us. There was a former Christina and she may be gone forever. But in her place is a person defined by both me and my little girl, the little girl who brings out the momma in me.

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I was thrilled that  “The Power of Moms: A Gathering Place for Deliberate Mothers” published a guest piece that I wrote.

I hope you enjoyed it. And thank you, my little girl, for the opportunity to recreate myself, as difficult as that may be at times.