It was a hot and sticky Saturday afternoon, and the neighborhood pool teemed with activity. Groups of teenage girls walked around the water’s edge to try out newfound freedom and bikinis, and a handful of men in the lap lanes made fast kicks in the aquamarine water. Kids splashed and ran until stopped by the lifeguards’ whistles, and parents dragged around water-logged towels and soggy snacks. We lurked in the corner of the kiddie pool: hunched down, playing some complicated and ridiculous game of my 6 year old’s own creation. I fought to keep my eyes from rolling as he explained the rules for the umpteenth time – it was basically an elaborate version of aquatic hide and seek, and we had been playing for two hours. But his eyes shone with excitement and joy – the kind of joy that a first born with siblings shows when given rare parcels of undivided attention from mommy. So I acquiesced and followed the conflicting rules, just to hear his peals of laughter ring out, unbridled and free.
You can feel the excitement in the air. Kids are euphoric, parents are relieved and teachers are downright giddy these days. Summertime is here, and while most of parentdom breathes a sigh of relief, I am wringing my hands with anxiety. I know it makes me sound like a fun-hating shrew, but I can’t help it; this momma doesn’t dig summer. Here’s why:
I do not get summers off from work, so my kindergartener spends full days at daycare with his little brother. Of course this costs more. Although I understand the reasons why, the bottom line makes it hard to be excited about summer. After insurance and taxes, 73.5% of my take-home pay goes to daycare. Every week of summer. (And nope, they are not at an elite school preparing for the Ivy League. Just normal daycare.) So yes, kids, I am super stoked that you get to have water gun fights and learn to make balloon animals – mommy is just too tired to seem excited for you. I spent my lunch break selling plasma to help cover bills.
I live in southeast Texas. My children and I have very fair skin. So of course we go outside, but we’re sweating in less than 5 minutes, and after half an hour I’m pushing fluids and reapplying sunscreen. And now that there’s Zika to worry about, bugspray has been added into the mix. They are squirmy and greasy and sweating SPF into their eyes. I am panting in the shade and holding the running water hose over my head. Fun right?
All the summer trip invites
My sisters and many of my friends are teachers who (deservedly) get the summers off. So every few weeks of my summer go something like this:
“Hey! Why don’t you bring the kids up this week? We’re going to barbeque Monday afternoon!”
“Well, um, I have to work Monday, so…”
“Oh that’s right! I always forget not everyone gets summer off!! Maybe next time!”
Yeah. Maybe next time. Right now I gotta go iron my slacks. Grr.
Ok I’m happy for you guys who get to really enjoy and savor your summers. I really am! But when I look at my social media feed, sometimes it’s hard not to feel like the grounded kid stuck at home while everyone else gets to play. I love seeing your pictures of your day at the lake, or your excursion to the National Parks. But when I’m still in my work clothes, turning on the sprinklers at 6pm so my kids can at least splash around before bedtime, I don’t want to read about your week at the beach. I can’t help it – I get a little jealous.
FOMKMO (fear of my kids missing out) is what happens when FOMO (fear of missing out) is attacked my mommy guilt. I have fond memories of my own carefree summers. I remember hanging out around the house and swimming every day until my toes pruned. Not once in these memories was I being shuttled from daycare to home and then rushed through a bedtime routine. Time slowed down in the summer and everything was just chill, man. I worry that my kids are missing out on a fundamental part of childhood by missing these lazy summer days. It makes me a little sad for them.
Now, before you unload annoyance or judgment upon me, I know that this is a first world problem – actually more like a first world pout. I understand that my husband and I are lucky to be employed and have quality childcare. I don’t spend my nights crying myself to sleep while looking at pictures of beach houses or anything ridiculous like that. I remind my kids how lucky we are every day, and we just keep on keepin’ on.
Just please understand – if you call and invite me to a Sunday evening party, I might scream into the phone or we might “accidentally” get disconnected. No hard feelings. You enjoy your summer momma. We’ll do our best to get through ours.
I wrote this in April, published on Scary Mommy…
Your absence, once profound,
has become the status quo.
Your transition from chorus to background noise,
The winds of grief blew you away from me.
But what maintains your distance, I don’t know.
Is it choice or defect?
It’s been so long that the reason
no longer matters.
Last night I dreamt we were in Venice –
Gondola rides and windswept hair.
Winding through canals in awe of ancient beauty.
For a brief dreamed moment,
I had you back.
But the thing is –
We wake from dreams.
And even though irreplaceable,
Venice still sinks into the sea.
It is slowly, imperceptibly, but surely
Sinking beneath the surface to one day disappear.
And so, my dear, are you.
My father died when I was 24 years old and nowhere close to being settled in life. He never met my husband or children. Yet as I move through marriage and parenthood, the lessons he taught me bubble up from beneath the surface and manifest in my daily life. His legacy proves that much of what kids learn may not be overt ‘lessons,’ but rather a gradual osmosis of values and truths, illustrated by example. The values and truths of his life reveal a kind of casual and unobtrusive feminism that have become a part of my world view and shaped who I am.
On My Value:
My father was a coach and athlete, bestowed with three daughters. I never once CONSIDERED that he had wished for a boy. I remember overhearing his conversation with a relative once:
“Poor guy, you never did get a son!”
“Why would I want any kids other than these? They’re amazing! So smart. They are so so smart!”
We were all pretty girls, yet I rarely heard him comment on our appearance. On the other hand he constantly praised our intellect and encouraged our talents. He read every research paper I wrote although I can’t imagine they all held his interest. He inspired me to work harder in school with his sheer excitement over my accomplishments. Without coming out and saying it, he taught me that what was inside my head held more importance than the prettiness of my face. Placing value on attributes other than appearance made a lasting impact.
Before stay-at-home dads were in vogue or parental leave was extended to fathers, my dad was in the trenches. Every morning we woke up to him cooking us breakfast. Eggs, oatmeal or the occasional bowl of cereal were prepared by him while our mother got ready for work. He packed our lunches himself, balanced meals ready for us to grab on our way out the door. I want to point out that it literally never occurred to me until recently that it was my dad and not my mom doing these things. I’m not saying he was a hero for doing it – it was not an issue. He was just taking care of his kids.
But it became a relevant lesson when my husband and I started a family in a somewhat traditional and conservative suburb. I now frequently hear things like:
“Omg you’re so lucky that your husband helps you clean! Most men don’t do things like that!”
“Oh your husband will babysit, that’s so nice!”
Every time some (well-meaning) woman is shocked that my husband is involved in the daily life of our kids, an image of my dad in the kitchen flashes to mind. It helps remind me that this concept of parenting as a team is not some new-fangled approach to child-rearing. It’s the way some people did it all along. Kids learn lessons from the balance of duties in our own homes whether we realize it or not, and mental pictures are worth more than a thousand words.
My dad to me once after I brought a college boyfriend home for dinner:
“Amanda I just want you to be happy. But you need to listen to the way he talks to you. I didn’t hear much respect.”
To my sister who was contemplating ending a relationship:
“You can break up with him for any reason you want. You may just not like the color of his eyes anymore. It doesn’t matter the reason. If you want to end it that is your right.”
Years later I read between the lines of his specific advice. I hear that I should always expect to be treated with dignity and respect in my life. I hear that we are in charge of our relationships and are never obligated to compromise integrity or peace to save another’s feelings.
My dad favored harmony over hashing things out and would usually remain silent when my sisters and I debated politics at the dinner table. I doubt he would have been quick to label himself as a feminist. But every message he reinforced to me through his life tells me that he regarded me as an equal who should be treated as such. He taught me a lot about what it means to be a strong woman without ever coming out and saying the words. He wanted me to value my intellect and expect respect and equality from everyone in my life. If that’s not a feminist I don’t know what is.
His legacy reminds me that we all pass on messages to our children through not only the words we speak, but the lives we lead and the way we handle situations. I have a responsibility to live values I wish my kids to replicate, and I have a pretty good example on the way to do it. Hopefully I can try to emulate the ideals I want my children to value – one day I may just be surprised at what example taught them the most.
My toddler threw an epic fit this morning because I put pants on him. Maybe he didn’t like those pants or maybe (more likely) he was just tired, but he screamed and thrashed around for a good 10 minutes. And as I waited it out I wanted to get on the floor next to him and kick and cry too. And I realized: I never get to lose my shit, and this mommy could really use a good tantrum.
See our family has been going through somewhat of a rough season. Unexpected bills, 3 cases of the flu and teething have put all of us on edge. But through all of it I trudge on, because as the saying goes: moms don’t get sick days. Although it is my life’s greatest calling, raising my children is the most stressful, scariest, hair-pullingest experience I ever could have imagined. It takes everything out of me. Sometimes I feel a little unhinged, but I can’t show it. So the question is: when does this mommy get to throw a fit?
Mornings I wrangle the kiddos into the car, drive to daycare and then work. I try to swipe a little makeup on my face, pour myself some coffee, and then it’s time to deal with the other civilized grown-ups. It is important for me to display acceptable office behavior if I want to keep my job. So no matter how overwhelmed or upset I may be, I have to put on a friendly face and act professional. It is certainly frowned upon to sit down at your desk and stomp your feet and cry, so morning outbursts are out of the question.
After work is the daycare pick-up. It’s basically a parking lot full of cars that are left haphazardly running, blocking empty parking spaces. But you can’t go full-on meltdown road rage in the daycare parking lot, even if the other parents park like inconsiderate morons. That is how your child gets uninvited to birthday parties for the rest of the year, and you get the look of disdain from their moms for even longer.
Then it’s home for dinner, baths and homework. Any one of these can be a potential source of conflict. Some days my kindergartner cries at the mere mention of flashcards. Or runs screaming because we are having chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, never mind that it was his favorite last week. And most days my toddlers flips out about something, whether it’s the injustice of bath time ending or his unrequited desire to stick his fingers into the electrical sockets. As most moms know, the only way to effectively diffuse these situations is to remain calm. If everyone is kicking and crying there would be nobody to calmly diffuse the situation. That’s my job. I get the big kid to eat, distract the toddler, soothe the anxieties and steer them towards bedtime. There’s no time for mommy meltdowns in the midst of bedtime routines.
If I’m lucky I get a shower before I get them in bed, but that’s not exactly sacred alone time. I am always listening for crashes or crying, and frequently interrupted with some terribly important question such as “mom who’s your favorite ninja turtle?”
By the time I fall in bed I’m too tired to even think about having energy for anything.
There is so much that is hard about motherhood. But the thing I find most challenging is that I am always on – always a responsible party. No matter how stressed or overwhelmed I am I have to remain rational and make the best decisions for the little people in my care. Some days I get overwhelmed and want to throw a larger-than-life fit, flailing arms and legs and all. But I have found that this mommy doesn’t get to throw tantrums. Not in this season of my life anyway – there’s just too much going on. I can however get away with stomping my feet a little if the mood strikes – a tiny victory that keeps me going.
Hang in there mommas, and if you need to throw a little fit now and then I understand. Let me know how it goes – I’ll be cheering you on.
There is part of me that (foolishly) believes being in recovery should make me exempt from struggle. Not the everyday issues we all got through, but the big stuff. A tiny part of my brain believes that after pulling myself out of the mire of addiction and hopelessness, I should get a break from now on. I went through hell, I survived, and from now on it will all be easy and sunny.
Life, of course, has other plans.
Shit happens. It is unavoidable and the test of our mettle is not that we avoid it, but how well we deal with and overcome it. My brain knows this, but my heart howls like a wounded puppy whenever a sudden and unexpected hardship appears on our horizon.
Last week my husband got laid off. This happens to people all over the country all the time. Luckily he’s eligible for unemployment, we have a 401k cushion to fall on, and he has skills that are in demand in today’s workplace. We have options, unlike so many others. We’re lucky.
It just doesn’t feel that way. All of my planning and over-preparing couldn’t prevent this from happening and although I am putting one foot in front of the other and taking all of the rational steps, inside my head I’m curled up in a ball crying “It’s not fair! We’ve already been tested! We get a pass!”
Only of course we don’t. There’s no threshold to the number of challenges we will face, and climbing one mountain doesn’t render the terrain flat for the rest of our lives.
I think it’s the uncertainty that takes me back to a place when my future was unclear and felt foreboding. And that scares me.
On the other hand it’s my recovery that keeps me from properly moping. I can’t hide in bed feeling sorry for myself when I have learned the importance of doing the next right thing and taking it one day at a time.
So the trauma of the past makes this setback all the more painful, but it also gives me the strength to push through it.
And push through it we will. Onward through the fog, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Because that’s what we do in this messy, imperfect life.
“Oh thank you! We’re hoping he sticks with it – I hear the high school has a great team. We’re just so proud of our all-star!”