Benign Neglect

July 18, 2009

When mom was queen... 

 A constant moving target in my relationships with my children is knowing when to be near and when to get the hell out of their way. Precision in hitting this target is a worthy goal, but it is damn near impossible.

Stress management is a part of my every waking moment – my sleeping ones, too, now that I need a gadget to keep from grinding my teeth in the night. My all-time favorite relaxation activity is to soak in a hot tub to the point of pruny-ness.  And since it is more reasonable than, say, having a cocktail at 10am or throwing heavy objects across the room, I indulge in it often.

It was not easy to keep my soothing bath schedule when my three were toddlers, but you can bet your ass I managed to do it. One morning while performing this sanity maintenance routine, my children were playing quite well, happy to run around the house naked but their diapers. Aided by the luxury of our teeny house and several well placed safety gates, I soaked, sipped my hot and creamy coffee, and solved some easy Sudoku puzzles. This was our routine. My kids would come to the doorway (also gated) to check in periodically. Unless one was screaming or crying or didn’t appear for too long, I stayed put. I highly recommend this if you have the means.

After only a few minutes of peace, I hear, “Mess, mama. Mess, mama.” Down the hallway and across the living room, the entire length of our house, I see my brown-bobbed almost two-year-old daughter pointing to the dining area.

Hmmmm. Is this really worth leaving this hot bath to brave the cold air soaking wet? Nahhhh. The dining area is all wood, no upholstery. Whatever it is can wait. “Well, clean it up,” I told her. Off she went, arms pumping, feet stomping, back to the scene of the crime. My attention returned to my puzzle.

A few minutes later I heard my other daughter’s feet pounding the wood. Barreling down the hallway, she held a cloth napkin high in the air with gusto, soaked and dripping with God only knows what.  “I DID IT!” 

Her joy was pure.  What else could I say?  “Good job!”  

After my bath I discovered the mess was a cup of milk, most of which was still all over the floor. And the table. And the chair. Their three cloth napkins were no match for the spillage.  Linen does not absorb that well.  But they did their best and were proud of their work. So was I.

Now three years later, they all use the potty by themselves (finally), eat with utensils, and propel their own swings. Sometimes they still come to mom for help.  Mostly they ask Dad because, they tell me, he’s better at stuff. But I watch them navigate new experiences, make new friends and scale new walls.  “New” is the essence of childhood as they sprint across the rapid trajectory to adulthood. It is hard to watch from the sidelines, but I think of the “Mess, Mama” episode.  The recollection gives me not only confidence in their abilities, but a reminder of the satisfaction that comes from being productive on one’s own.

So I try to be found off to the side, watchful but not hovering.  And 20 minutes of most days, I still soak in the tub and know it is a good thing.

That’s me. Spent. Despite my writer and photographer aspirations, my day job is mommy-at-home. For some of you, this might conjure images of June Cleaver or, possibly, your own mother. Well, I more closely resemble Roseanne Barr (in the TV show). I’m not that wide, but if I keep managing my stress with chips and salsa and gin & tonic, I might be there a year from now.

I have lost all ability to keep a house organized or plan meals. I am impatient and cranky and my kids are happy to tell you so.

The other day I took my kids to the dentist, the pediatric kind with bright colored patient chairs and funky sunglasses and ten flavors of toothpaste. Toward the end of our back-to-back appointments, my children were getting rowdy. I tried so hard to keep a calm voice and not look like the tyrant I am. And it must have worked because the dentist and her assistant marveled at my calm demeanor and parenting skills.

“Kids,” I said to them. “Is Mommy good at using a calm voice?”

Altogether now… “Noooooooo.” Their heads moved back and forth, but their bodies kept playing.  The fact they confirmed was not worth pause.

If you wonder why I fessed up, it is because the false sense of perfect parenting does a favor to no one. So to all you other parents out there who feel less than perfect, stop by my blog. I’ll give you reason to feel superior.