Sturm und Mom

The Storm & Stress (& Joy) of Motherhood

Archive for the tag “guilt”

What Makes a Good Mom?

Letting a baby play with a plastic bag probably wouldn't qualify as good Motherhood.

This last week my chest felt like it was in a vise, but not from anything physical.  I was fighting off anxiety over the kids’ crazy baking schedule.  Brownies for Tall Girls’ class on her birthday, stollen for Sweetie Pie’s class on her “Share a Bread” day, and gingerbread cookies for Art Girl for her presentation on family traditions.  I tried to convince Art Girl that our new family tradition was hiding in bed trying to ignore all the coloured sheets of paper in her backpack announcing more school “FUN!!!”, but she didn’t buy it.

I know what you’re saying.  “So, Mrs. Busypants, just say no.”  But no one wants to be the Mom whose kid doesn’t bring the treats on her birthday, who’s presentation didn’t include the snacks that the student teacher suggested that you could provide (in a letter to the whole class, by the way.)   Motherhood has become a competitive sport with kids as our proxy players.

But why?  How did things get like this?   This debate was brought to my mind by the whole “Never worked a day in her life” kerfuffle.  Which then reminded me of the times when I was out with my stay-at-home mom peers and heard that Moms with nannies, “don’t love their kids as much as us.”  And the time my friend worried aloud if her son’s autism was due to the TV she let him watch.  Or the sadness I felt reading that Veronique at Vie de Cirque she went to Grad school in part over feeling “that (she) was a rather lousy mother,” (which I totally don’t get because her blog always makes me feel like a couch potato slacker.)

This self-loathing coupled with drive-by character assassination and the endless busy-busy-busy, is due I’m sure to that the fact that are target is worse than just moving.  It flies around the room like a laser pointer piloted like a toddler, landing on everything for exactly 3 milliseconds.  There is no consensus on what makes a good Mother.  When is your job done?  What do you owe those little angels of yours?  A college education?  A Tiger Mother study schedule?  Non-stop “advocating” until they are placed in the gifted class?  A TV?  Trans-fat free diet?  Perfect spank-free discipline delivered in a monotone voice?  Three meals a day and roof over their heads?  Lots of money?  Frugality and simplicity?  Really, I ask what?

And God forbid if you get it wrong.  Your adult children have the licence to go on about how their mistakes in life are somehow due to you.  (Thanks Dr. Freud!)  And that’s what we’re fighting against:  someone someday looking at our messed up offspring and thinking “what kind of bad mother let’s that happen?”  After all the sleepless nights, the money spent, the stretch marks from here to your ankles, this is what just might come your way:  a judgement of failure.  You should have done more.  What that more might be, that’s not so forthcoming.  But judgement, as a society we’ve got loads of that.

What makes a good Mom?  You try your best with what you have.  Period.  Really, what more can anyone do?  But more importantly, we are about to pass this toxic hate cult on to the next generation.  I’m not sure how happy I’ll feel watching my daughters fall as casualties in the Mommy Wars.  While I’m not sure where this all began, I feel deep down in my bones that this is where is all should end.  I believe we need to have a conversation on the Philosophy of Motherhood.  As a society children are now (mostly) fed, clothed and sheltered.  We need to look at the opportunities this affluence has given us and decide what we are going to do with it.

Because I can’t believe that God and nature intended Motherhood to be a guilt laden taxi-service marathon, and until we figure out otherwise, that’s just what it’s going to continue to be.


All Sixes and Sevens

My Mom had an unique expression for describing being out of sorts. “You’re all sixes and sevens,” she’d say.

I’ve felt like that for a while now, but haven’t had external validation until a few days ago. I was looking for large family blogs on the web, and stumbled on a few that were collecting links from any Mommy who was interested.  Except for one condition:  7 kids or more.

It’s official.  I don’t have a big enough family to be “special” and I have too many kids to be “normal.”  In the gigantic game of family match-up, no one is picking our family for their team.

However, I’ve noticed that most big families that make a point of getting out there to represent “Big Family-ism,” the “many-kid boosters” as it were, seem to be pretty interested in boosting a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t necessarily go for, either.  I hear a lot of advice and bite my tongue:  Homeschool or they’ll lose their faith.  Natural health because drugs just make you sicker.  Juicing cures everything.  Organic food because that’s what people who love their kids feed them.   If your kids are bad, it’s because you don’t eat whole grains.

Until this blog, I never made a big deal about how many kids I have.  I try not to bring it up (unless I have all six with me and they are bringing up the rear.)  I don’t want an award, a prize, or young Moms to follow me around looking for advice.  I also don’t want excuses.  I can get everyone to Church on time, as they say.  I think that I should try to have a family dressed in clean clothes, well-mannered, with enough social skills to carry on a conversation with someone their age.  If you have two kids, you pretty much do what I do, except I’ve got a couple of babysitters waiting in the wings.  I am not a specimen nor a spectacle.

In retrospect, I doubt I belong in the official big family club.  I’ve never been much of a joiner, not since I got kicked out of Brownies for a dispute over Easter Egg dye.  I’ve always been the loner, like when I took shop in Grade 7, just to make a point.  But this point is a little bit bigger — the next time these folks make you feel like you don’t measure up, remember that they even get under the skin of the Gal with Six.

Good mothers support each other.  They don’t look for chinks in others’ armour to play a game of “Who Loves Our Kid the Most.”

The Peanut Allergy Mambo

I will subdue you, Peanut Butter Sandwich!!!

Ten plus years ago, I took then infant Tall Girl (Tall Baby) to visit a Mom and her son I met at our church’s Mom’s Morning Out.  We had a very pleasant visit, but two things disturbed me.  The first was that she had the kids’ TV blaring non-stop in the background for the entire visit.  The second, was a bucket of cleaning supplies, including a huge jug of Pine Sol without a child-safety cap, left out in the open in a hallway right beside the kids’ play area.

“My God!”  I thought.  “Doesn’t she read parenting magazines?!?”

So, the news that more educated parents produce more allergic kids didn’t surprise me at all.  When we Gen X’s were children, the occurrence of allergies was almost non-existant among our playmates, way lower than they are among our children.  Something must have changed in the environment that we raise kids in, or the way that we raise kids, that has led to this change.  Obviously, it is the more educated parent who follows all the “latest and greatest” advice, dispensed by in demand pediatricians, hospital websites, and parenting magazines.  I’ve also heard the theory that autism is caused by a Vitamin D deficiency, the reasoning being that upper class parents are mostly likely to listen to warnings about the sun, leading to a steady increase in the number of autistic kids as income rises.

I have a weird perspective on the childhood allergy “dance.”  (Well, if you’ve got to dance, it might as well be something Latin and spicy.)  During my pre-kid 20’s, I was diagnosed with hayfever and cat allergies, and began taking Reactine(TM).  What started as ½ a small tablet every two days, soon turned into one extra-strength pill daily.  After about 8 months, I just decided not to take them anymore.  I suffered a little at first, but by the time my daughter was born 4 years later, I was virtually allergy free.  So, I definitely had an opinion on the allergy situation.

Fast forward 5 years to Art Girl.  Her persistent sniffles were identified as something called environmental allergies.  She took a daily nasal spray.  One day at the breakfast table (it’s always at the breakfast table,) she rubbed something – probably peanut butter – into her eyes that caused her whole face to swell up like that blue lady from Avatar.  Then, she lost her voice.  The nurse on the other end of the Health Hotline thought it might mean her throat was closing.  I hung up and tried to get into my doctor.  That lady told me that I could only bring her in if I waited 4 hours.  I rushed to the Walk-In Clinic, and the doctor thought that maybe we should try eye drops.  I started shouting about her airway, and he gave her a steroid inhaler that was lying around in the supply room.  Later at a follow up appointment with our regular doctor, I had to tell multiple people what happened, and none of them bothered to tell the doctor.  He thought we were just there to get a stronger anti-histamine for her sniffly nose.

That was 2 ½ years ago and Art Girl still hasn’t seen an Allergist, or had a “proper” allergy test (she has had a blood test which seems to support her  throat feeling itchy whenever she eats peanuts.)  She is off the nasal spray, her ear tubes have fallen out, her hearing loss is gone, her reading has caught up to grade level, and she’ll eat chocolate covered almonds by the handful.  But because of the Bureaucracy of Childhood that us parents function in, I am constantly going on and on about this peanut allergy.  I had to fill out a two page form for school,  paragraphs for the Girl Guide Sleepovers, and had a one-on-one consult about it with her summer camp leader.  Everyone official I speak to about my sweet little girl, I have to stop the conversation and say “Oh, I have to tell you:  she has a mild to moderate peanut allergy.  We think.”  No matter how well we function with that green 2 kg tub of Kraft Smooth Peanut Butter sitting in my pantry, she is an Allergy Kid, and I am an Allergy Mom.

While I bristle when people try to support me by crying for school nut bans, I understand some of the crazy.  There is only so much of telling people over and over about one little, almost insignificant part of your kid, before I starts to twist your reality.  I’m guessing that Art Girl will outgrow this, like her other allergies, but who wants to be the Mom who nearly kills their kid testing that theory?  So I guess we wait.  And fill out forms.  And all the while I wonder if it was something I did to her that caused all this trouble in the first place.

I Blink

Did you know that the song The Queen is Dead by the Smiths, was supposed to be called Margaret on the Guillotine, or something like that?  Seems that Morrisey et al. saw then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a enemy advancing a cause they most despised — the commodification of every aspect of British life.  Being a big fan of both sides, I’d rather not wade into who was right or wrong, but I must say that I agree with the Smiths’ impulse, especially in one particular area.  We are living through the age of the commodification of childhood.

I’m reminded of this ever January.  Between now and April, I have (count ’em) 5 children’s birthdays.  And every year the following conversation is replayed around the dinner table:

“What do you want to do for your birthday?”

“I dunno.  Could we go to the Waterpark like J___’s party?”

“Any other ideas?”

“How about we rent out the pool at the (not our) Club, like L___ did?  Or have all day art lessons?  Or get glamour makeovers?”

“That’s, like, $30+ a person, not including a cake or snacks.  How about a party at home?”

“OH OH OH!  Could we theme decorate the house and make sugar cube castles and have face painting and build a mini-castle for us to take picture of ourselves dressed up like real princesses?”

“What?  Do you live on Mars?  I meant rent a movie.”

“Well….that’s the party K___ had.  Or we could have a cupcake making party and put everyone’s picture on their very own memory books that we make for them before hand, like S___.  But I guess just a party at home would be okay……”

Oh course, the last of that is muttered into their pork chop with a dejected look on their face.  I’m sure none of the other parents who shelled out $300 plus for 3 hours of fun for their kid + 5 guests are necessarily that happy either.  But no one wants to be the first Mom that gives in.  You know, the first Mom who doesn’t put on the big show.  The first one that says “No, we’re not playing that game.”   In the detente that has become the Birthday Party Fun Time Escalation, the first one to blink.  We want don’t want to be, well, the bottom of the pack.  Maybe second from the bottom, but not the bottom.

But just as in the battle between the Iron Lady and the Coal Miners during the Strike of 1984/85, eventually someone has to give.  This is my official notice that, in the case of the Birthday Staring Contest, I official blink.

My children will not be hosting anything at a rental hall.  We will not have a “Personal Party Facilitator”.  There will be no teen in an animal costume leading a parade in their honour.  A private photographer will not be retained.  There will not be custom printed disposable plates with their faces on them.  No fans will be inflating bouncy castles, palaces, summer houses, dachas, or Taj Mahals.  The Party Room will remain dark.

Could we afford this stuff?  Sure.  We can also afford to cover the entire square footage of our backyard with pallets of Diet Coke.  Both make about as much sense.

The fact is, that all this party mayhem is just setting our kids up for the a big fall called “real life.”  How are we preparing our kids to thrive as adults in a world that is usually indifferent, and sometimes downright hostile, with yearly over the top parties?  With a life expectancy of over 80, does turning 8 really entitle you to a day of acting like some kind of Neo-Pagan God King, with everyone paying you homage and adoration?   If the tab comes in at close to $500 for doing what everyone else “achieves” just by being born in a Western country, what do we owe you when you actually achieve something?  Cars for Grade 8 Grad?  Geez, those guys that stormed Normandy sure got ripped off.

So this year, feel free to remember me when the Party guilt sets in.  Yes, maybe you didn’t arrange a Pirate themed extravaganza, complete with catering, amusement park rides, swash buckling lessons, and personalized pirate bobbleheads for all the goody “Chests of Gold.”   But hey, that Mom on the internet is giving her kid a choice of 6 guests with cake and two types of ice cream, or a trip to the Mall.  But not both.

See, I bet you feel better already.

The Magic is Gone

Well, the magic is gone.  Today, I was so thrilled to receive a Canada Post delivery at my door on Sunday.  But…it wasn’t my long over due Christmas cards from the big, photo printing company that I ordered in November.  Yet hope flames eternal, so I make the quick walk down the block to the mailbox, to check if they had delivered my parcel on the weekend.  Then I made the long, sad walk back up the block with empty hands.  This now confirms that my WordPress Dashboard does not grant wishes, as previously hypothesized in this blog.  No million dollars and book signing in my future.  Sigh.

Not that I have any time for writing any book even if a publisher was clamouring for it (however, I always have time to cash an inheritance cheque.)  Putting on Christmas with six children, is like planning a wedding.  Seriously.  We have to organize for two Christmas concerts, three teacher gifts, 6 dressy outfits, two “activity” Christmas parties, and 3 times 3 weeks of piano lessons to reschedule.  And then there are the stockings.  Those evil, evil Christmas stockings.

I wish I could go back in time.  No, not for the sleep, (which let me tell you, I would load up on,) but to give a message to 6-Years-Ago-Liz.  This is a lady who only has three children, and decides something very fateful that will rue her life for the next decade.  She decides to sew and embroider matching Christmas stockings for all the members of her family.  She thinks, “Oh, how fun!  I will buy bolts of lovely green fabric.  I will carefully sew these lovely stockings.  And, as a special personal touch, I will cross-stitch, by hand silly! each of my lovely family’s names on the cuff.  How cute!  How caring!  I don’t care if I have five children, I will never abandon my commitment to matchy-matchy crafting!  Because nothing says love and good parenting, like hours spent in mindless handiwork that is only displayed two weeks a year.”

Perhaps bubbling in my sub-conscious, I had a secret “Guilt Wish,” much like Freud’s Death Wish.  Maybe I unknowingly wanted more guilt in my life.   Because that’s what these dumb stockings have bought me — guilt.  Princess is almost five, and I am finally finishing putting her name in burgundy floss on her stocking.  Previously, Art Girl (then 5) wrote her name in bubble letters, coloured it in with a green pencil crayon, cut it out, and taped it to the top of the stocking.  Merry Christmas, Honey!   Your parents love you!  Really!  And now I have the Baby.  Yes, I have a “Baby’s First Christmas” stocking for this year, but that’s just delaying it, isn’t it?   The moment of truth is coming.  The moment when it’s December 20, and I don’t have her stocking done.  And instead of pride, I feel guilt.  ‘Cuz 6-Years-Ago-Liz, this was such a good idea.

You see, Years-Ago-Liz didn’t care what Future-Liz wanted to do with her time.  Or what her priorities would be, or her interests.  Maybe Future-Liz would rather be blogging, or baking, or knitting, or being less precious, than making matching Christmas Stockings.  Maybe she would find the idea of 8 identical stockings a tad too, I don’t know, crazy, hanging in her home.   Maybe Future-Liz would be resentful of Years-Ago-Liz for committing her free moments to a hobby that she wasn’t in to anymore.  All this pain for me, so that Years-Ago-Liz could feel cute one November in 2005.  Yay!

My consolation is that I’m not alone.  Us Mom’s all have projects like this in various states of incompleteness littering our storage spaces.  The Mom at piano lessons told me she needs to stitch on the cuff of her daughter’s stocking — it’s held on with a safety pin.  Other people have quilts, (ahem,) Easter dresses, murals to be painted on walls.  Maybe we are too ambitious, or maybe the stuff is a lot funner to look at finished than it is to do.  But I bet we could come up with a pretty big bonfire, if we persuaded the average suburban block to give up it’s unfinished kid crafts.  And baby, would it feel good to see it burn.

I’ve decided to make 2012 my “Quit Year.”  One of the things I will quit, is starting new projects before the old ones are either finished or permanently trashed.  So that means, since I’m too cheap to buy something I already have, I have one more stocking to make.  But let this be a warning to you young Moms out there.  Beware the never ending craft project.

Just say NO to matching.

Uber Mommy Guilt — The Christmas Edition

I know….it’s not even Christmas.  But I thought that we were being smart by leaving the Toys ‘R Us catalogue around, so that we got some decent Christmas Lists to share with Santa.  Previous years’ lists read like this: a Canary, Purple Soap, nice Socks, a doll that waves Good-bye.  In other words, stuff that doesn’t exist.  Or we aren’t getting (we have enough feet in the house with 8 people, without adding paws and talons, thanks.)  Even this year our 8 year old told us that she wanted an orange for Christmas.  She was reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and learnt that oranges were a very prized gift back in the day.  The day being over a century ago.  And yes, she did ask for an orange as she was standing in front of a bag of oranges on the counter.  So to help us adults out, we “leave” the catalogue around so that the Christmas Lists are a tad more accessible for those of us who are at Walmart at 10:37 on a Friday evening.  Or packing up the sled at the North Pole.  Right.

But, there is a time limit on how long the catalogue should be hanging around.  When the lists have a good 5-10 items with 3 super-really wants on them,the catalogue should magically return from whence it came.  However, that is it should disappear.  It didn’t.  The kids’ lists are now 30 items long. and the catalogue is in a place of pride in the children’s books — a classic to be thumbed over and over.  A scripture of materialism for the young and greedy.

I totally know that things have gone too far when I get the “Litany of the Gifts” thrown at me.  The Litany of the Saints is the part of Mass when the Priest asks for the prayers of many of the Church’s oldest and greatest Saints, and the people respond “pray for us.”  It is usually chanted in the Benedictine tradition.  The Litany of the Gifts however, goes like this :

Polly-Pocket-Spa-and-Shop-Set :

R. I want that


R. I want that


R. Give that to me

Part of me is, of course, terribly upset by my children’s greedy, gimme ways.  But the other part is guilty:  guilty because when I look through the toy catalogue, my dream shopping list doesn’t sound that much different from their Litany of Gifts.  Chip meet block.

I had similar pangs while on-line clothes shopping yesterday.  It reminded me of a tradition that has fallen (excuse me, been pushed) to the wayside around here:  new Christmas Eve PJ’s, and matching fancy outfits.  When we had just two, it was so much fun to match everyone up.  When we had three — triple fun.  Cost was totally worth it.  When we had four — really, really cute, but OMG that cost a lot more than I thought it would.  But with five and over — too much money for a whole lot of unnecessary laundry.  Never mind that we already have tons of sleepwear, and dressy clothes.  Yet I still feel a pang of regret, that we aren’t shelling out $300 plus tax for nothing more than the chance to take some really cute pictures.  While it’s totally irrational, I still can’t shake the feeling that I should be doing these things.  This new clothing angst was compounded when two of my kids came down for school, several days in row, dressed all in hand-me-downs.  Sweetie Pie (8) started recounting how proud she was that while completing an assignment to visit one of those “Earth footprint” websites, she could check “Wearing all hand-me-downs” in the clothing section.  She smiled.  I faked it.

I doubt that I am alone in my guilt.  Maybe the trigger is different, but the guilt is the same.  We have good lives.  We are happy.  We are blessed in a multitude of ways.  We have tons of material comforts and diversions.  So do our kids.  So why all this angst?

I have since hidden the catalogue.   It is nice to have all those web order numbers handy or I would have tossed it.  And I am trying to think of a new tradition for Christmas Eve that involves something new but small and cost effective (fluffy socks?  ornaments?  any ideas would be appreciated.)  As to the guilt:  I’m ignoring that, too.  Because I finally learned, that no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, when it comes to kids, it never goes away.

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