Who’s a cool mom? I’m a cool mom!

Everybody say "pumpkin"!

Earlier this week, I was scheduled to chaperone Bess’ class trip to a local pumpkin patch.  Given that she’s in half-day kindergarten, this was to be somewhat of a whirlwind visit, with the children being whisked to the field by tractor-drawn wagon to select one of ten thousand identical pumpkins that had been scattered there for us, whisked back to the barn to deposit said pumpkins in a box, across the street to feed some animals, and back to school for snack and dismissal.

I’m a little ambivalent about my level of involvement at school.  I love being there, I love being around the kids (especially even the ones that aren’t mine), and I want to support the teacher.  That, and I a little bit want to spy on my kid and her friends so I know what’s going on, not that she doesn’t tell me.  She does.  Everything.  On the other hand, I don’t want to burn myself out, as I am wont to do.  I have issues with saying “no”.  Mostly, my ambivalence springs from the fact that I don’t want Bess to feel smothered by my presence, like I’m there everywhere she turns and she can’t get a break from this crazy lady who was just packing her snack at home and is now hanging drawings outside the art room and waving wildly at her.  I want my kids to know I am around and that I care about their lives.  But who is to say that what I want to give them is what they want to receive?

Monday morning, things weren’t going all that smoothly.  I had hosted a fundraising event for 200 people Friday night at work, and we had company on Sunday, and John worked all weekend, and I was T-I-R-E-D.  John let me sleep in a bit, but then when I got up I was a little under the gun to get the show on the road, and I don’t like having to rush.  I got beds made snacks prepared people dressed teeth brushed vitamins taken hair styled dogs fed and Bess onto the bus, and then it was time for me to get in the car and get over to school.

Harry was not really hip to the whole schedule thing.  He was hanging on my legs and screaming,  “Daddy doesn’t make good eggs!  I don’t like Daddy!”  Daddy, of course, was in the shower and unable to run interference for me, so I tried to gently loosen Harry’s death grip and calm him down, plying him with TV and chocolate so I could leave.  Successful at my endeavor but now running late, I ran out the door and to my car.  Which was locked.  Normally I leave my car open and the keys inside (shhhh!  Don’t tell!) but today…locked.  So I had to go inside to get the extra set which my children had used to lock the car from the kitchen, repeat the Harry extraction process, and drive down the street and into the school parking lot at mach 3, speed bumps and all.

The teacher already had all the kids split into their groups, and gave us our lists when we got to the classroom.  Each group was four kids.  Totally manageable, fun even.  We sat on the bus with our groups, and I was on the end of a three-bottom with my daughter and her friend Sarah, with the boys in our group on the two-bottom across the aisle.  We were talking about Halloween, and before I could stop myself I started making up a song about pumpkins or witches or something.  I have this habit of setting many conversations to music, and I’m not really that great of a singer.

A few lines in, I had a horrible thought:  what if this embarrasses Bess?  A mom who randomly belts out stupid songs about Frankenstein is way, way worse than a mom who misses the class Thanksgiving party.  But I had already started.  I couldn’t let them smell my fear, so I sang on.

And Bess turned to Sarah and said, “See?  I told you I had a fun mom!”

What is Motherhood All About?

About a month ago, I put my oldest child on the school bus for the first time. She was headed out for her first day of kindergarten, with her horse backpack and sparkle pocket jeans and Twinkle Toes Sketchers (that she tied herself!), and a yellow t-shirt that brought some color to that rainy day under her denim jacket that she likes to wear “because it makes me look older”.

Her father and I waited with her at the bottom of the driveway. We turned anxiously at any sound that could have possibly indicated the arrival of the diesel-powered vehicle that was coming to swallow our firstborn, and snapped pictures of her for Facebook. “Go, stand at the end of the driveway! Now wave! Now let me see your backpack!” Once the bus finally came, she darted out across the street and across the threshold before you could say “Look left, right, and left again”.

“Wait, I need a picture of you getting on the bus!”

She obligingly stood on the step, looked over her shoulder and smiled, and then buckled herself in next to a little girl and said, “Hi, I’m Bess! What’s your name?” The doors swung closed and the bus took her away.

And that was it. All these years of work, of nurturing and feeding and cleaning and loving and enduring sleep deprivation and noise and worry and frustration and did I mention the sleep I sacrificed for this child? and she just got on that bus as if I didn’t even exist. No tears, no hugs, no blown kisses, barely a glance. Mom who?

Isn’t that what I’m supposed to want? Any mother would be glad to send her child to school without having to endure the drama of removing an hysterical offspring from her leg with a crow bar. All the parenting books say that such behavior indicates a strong and healthy parent-child attachment; I should be proud. Job well done, right?

I, however, did not feel glad or proud. I felt lonely and unnecessary and I wanted to run after the bus screaming, “Why don’t you love me?”

Instead I trudged back up the driveway. In the house, my three-year-old son was playing Thomas trains with the sitter, and I was supposed to be working. Instead I sat in my office and moped and ate chocolate and drank Coke, regular Coke and not that diet garbage.

Indeed, what is the point of this thing called motherhood? As my beautiful, poised, confident and outgoing daughter takes another step away from me, I must learn to move on as well and embrace whatever it is that comes next. In the epic words of Semisonic, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

 

“Inappropriate” – The New “Because I Said So!”

That's my girl!

I just read the really powerful essay, “Inappropriate”, by Tracy Lynch in the latest issue of Brain, Child magazine.  (Have you read it?  What do you mean you don’t subscribe?  What is wrong with you?  It’s the best magazine out there!)

The short and significantly less artistic version is this:  we use the word “inappropriate” to shut down conversation, to describe things when we don’t have a better answer or don’t want to offer one, or don’t want to think about it any more.  Kind of like the “because I said so” of our parents’ era, just more politically correct.

Recently, I had occasion to ponder the use of this very same word.  My daughter started kindergarten last month and she takes the bus to and fro.  There is a very cute and polite and lovely boy who lives across the street, and my daughter has decided he is her “boyfriend”.  When I ask her what that means when you’re six, I don’t get a very good answer, but whatever.

So the other day, the bus driver dropped Bess off at the bottom of the driveway as usual, but when I waved my usual cheery “enjoy the rest of your day” she gave me the crooked-finger.  Me?

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Me?

“Yes, just a minute.”

Feeling a little bit like a kindergartener being sent to the principal’s office, I stepped onto the lowest step of the bus so I could hear her.

“Could you please tell Bess that she’s not allowed to kiss on the bus?”

Ummmmm…yes.  I will tell her that.  And then maybe we will go to a Medieval Festival and get a nice brass chastity belt that she can wear while locked in her room for the rest of her life.  Do they come in a Youth 6?

So, I think we can all agree that six-year-olds sucking face on the school bus is inappropriate.  But try explaining why.  We don’t kiss boys.  But I kiss my brother and that’s okay.  Your brother is family.  But I kiss Uncle Jimmy (not her biological uncle, just a family friend) and that’s okay.  Yes, but you’re not old enough to be kissing boys that way.  When will I be old enough?  Later.  When later?  I don’t know, but not now.  When I’m seven?  No, when you’re a teenager.  But he’s my boyfriend.  No, he’s a friend who is a boy, just the same as all your other friends.  No, I like him better than my other friends.  Okay, but he’s still not your boyfriend.

You get the idea.  A circular conversation with no end in sight, and truly I’m not even sure what the answer is, or at least what the answer is for the purposes of this conversation.  Obviously, there is a degree of maturity required before one is ready for the intimacy of a romantic relationship, and my six-year-old daughter is not there.  But how does one explain the intricacies of attraction and affection and responsibility and respect to a child?

It is inappropriate to kiss on the bus, and it is inappropriate to have a boyfriend at this age.

Because I said so.