I don’t want to be the stereotypical white person who cherrypicks and steals traditions from other cultures without respecting or understanding the meaning, but just because they sound kind of cool. Yet I’m craving tradition. I also recognize that some of what gets labeled as “tradition” serves to control women and maintain a patriarchal status quo. I don’t need that. But again, sometimes I crave “traditions.” So perhaps some research into my own waspy (boring?) heritage is on the agenda in order to rediscover lost traditions that speak to me. Or perhaps even better – create our own unique family traditions?
Where did this random train of thought regarding traditions come from?
I was reading about the Jewish tradition of upsherin and I liked the idea of it. Never mind that I don’t think of Sam as an unpruned fig tree. I just like the ceremonial nature of attaching meaning to the commonplace.
Upsherin, as I understand it, is the Jewish practice of not cutting a boy’s hair until his third birthday. Its origins are in a verse about allowing the fig tree to go unpruned for three years, and then it will bear fruit upon pruning. Metaphorically, the concept of “bearing fruit” has to do with growth, maturity, productivity, and living out the life God has planned for you and using the gifts God has given you. Upsherin also signifies the official start of the boy’s Jewish education. Of course, I could be misunderstanding this entirely. I only read about it on a blog by actress and celebrity mom Mayim Bialik.
The thing is, Sammy has not had his first hair cut yet. His hair is soft and golden and so beautiful. True, many strangers call him a girl, but that doesn’t bother me. I understand that with small children people look for certain indicators (length of hair, pink clothes) so that they may comfortably categorize your child into a narrow gender binary (which I believe is extra silly for small children.) But I digress. I don’t have any pink clothing for him, but his hair does go a couple inches past his collar and sweetly curl up a bit at the ends. Can you tell that I’m going to have a hard time cutting it off? Those days of having a wee baby passed by quickly. Once I cut his hair he’s going to look that much more like a “boy” and less like my “baby.” On a purely practical level, you should see how he kicks and squirms during the torturous toenail clipping episodes. Like he’s fighting off zombies. There was no way I wanted scissors anywhere near his head and face.
So we decided to wait until he turned two and might possibly sit still for the haircut. (Do two-year-olds sit still? Yeah, I might have misjudged that one.) Now his birthday is only two months away, and I’m already feeling sad about cutting his locks. Like I said, I’m not hung up on strict gender restrictions for a one-year-old. But it’s starting to look scraggly, hang in his eyes, and starting to – just the tiniest bit – resemble a mullet. I think everyone will agree with me that I can’t have my sweet Sam sporting a mullet.
It used to be that I could go several days without talking to a single person other than my husband. I was even a full-time university student at the time. Lest you think that I did nothing but wallow in friendless self-pity, I assure you that I tried various tactics. I joined the glee club. That was an awful dreary experience (and nothing like the much-loved show). The rest of the glee club members, all a decade younger than this “non-traditional” student, mostly ignored me. The tipping point just before I quit came when a new girl joined the club. She strolled in on her first day, exuding cuteness with her blond perky ponytail, carrying a pizza box. “Hey Everybody! I was just walking past a frat house and these frat guys were outside on the porch, and they said they had too much pizza and gave me one! So who wants pizza?” Glee members swarmed around her. I was neither cute nor perky. Frat boys would never offer me anything other than a seat on the bus if perhaps I was looking especially old and haggard. In a few moments this girl had everyone talking to her. Nobody ever informed me of the Bring Pizza To Class Rule in order to make friends. And can you tell me, who ever heard of frat boys claiming to have Too Much Pizza? Glee club and various other tactics notwithstanding, I was still able to go through whole days without so much as a “Hey! How ya doin?”
I wished I had some friends. They didn’t have to be soul mates. After all, I had Jack, and I had my sister. What I missed was having someone to catch a movie with or share a laugh fueled by delicious dinner and wine or even just to walk to class together. I really miss having a shopping buddy who is as happy to spend an afternoon at the mall as I am. Shopping is fun when there are two of you laughing at clothing and arguing over styles. And the dismal failures in the dressing rooms aren’t depressing when there’s a friend to make light of them. A friend and I, both well past our prom prime, tried on a pile of awful poofy prom dresses, just for a lark. But I digress because she was a close best friend and confidant. I’d be happy now with just someone to gab with over coffee.
But, see, I did have friends once. I have photos of tulle prom dresses to prove it! What happened? People move far away. People marry or grow insular in the first years of romantic relationships. People grow apart. People lose touch, and in drifting away the bonds of friendship are loosed until all that is left is a cheery Christmas card exchanging photos of your families. Some friends are meant to reside permanently in your life, while others are meant to enrich your life for a short time and then to exist mostly in your memories. Then there are those friends who you silently wish would drift away, but remain ever annoyingly present through the relationship equivalent of a pacemaker. Of course I’m referring to Facebook. And now I’ve grown gloomy in the company of the ghost of friendships past.
But wasn’t there optimism and a hint of happiness in this post title? Yes, there was! And I can thank Sam for that for tonight I went out to dinner with several fellow mamas from his playgroup. We left the toddlers home with the menfolk so that we could indulge in a rare (rare for me!) mothers’ night out. I had a sweet pink martini with a silly name like Razzmatazz Tartlettini, the pan-seared duck breast with raspberry demi-glaze, and a glass of wine, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The food was delish, but that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was that we did NOT spend the entire night talking about our babies! Woohoo for conversation not centered on milestones and poo!
Amazingly, a group of women with nothing more in common at the start besides the birthdates of our babies and yet we all enjoy each other’s company. We get together in parks or meet in our homes for the babies -now toddlers- to play. It’s been wonderful to have a group of women to connect with who were going through the same stages as we were. It’s been great that Sam has had friends to play with. It literally kept me sane during those early months when all I did was rock and nurse; but once a week I could leave the house to go rock and nurse with other exhausted nursing women. Once in a blue moon, we even leave the toddlers at home and go out for drinks and adult conversation. Did we talk some about the kids? Of course. Did we talk about subjects indirectly related to the kids? Yup, like what kind of money markets, 529s, savings accounts we’ve got set up for them. But we also talked about non-kid related subjects! You have to understand, I was so worried that the whole conversation would be around the usual topics, and at times I really crave discussion that is not about toddlers, even my own (gasp!).
But here’s where I start to doubt. Are these women my friends? Or is this just a temporary alliance? Once our tots grow up and begin to expand their horizons, will we still want to spend time together? Or will I have lost another circle of potential friends? How well do I even know these women? How closely can you know someone when 90% of conversation is about your kids? Certainly you can tell by now that I’m lousy at making new friends. So I’d rather not lose these budding friendships. I already sense that some of the women are forming closer bonds. My guess is that maybe they’ve gotten together one-on-one outside of the group play dates to hang out. Maybe I should try and set something up. It might be a little too soon though to try on poofy prom dresses together.
Or am I just deluding myself? Once a playgroup has served its function, do the relationships fade away?
I don’t know what a part-time mother is, but I know I’m not it. A part-time mother is not awake for well over an hour at 4 A.M. climbing out of bed every five minutes to restart the dulcet notes of a magical glowing sea horse. A part-time mother does not tediously cook and prepare nutritious and delectable delights for her toddler, only to have the tasty morsels flung to the floor. A part-time mother does not use her last amount of energy for the day in gently rocking her teething toddler to sleep. A part-time mother does not do all of the above with love and patience.
For the first year of Sam’s life, I easily fell under the category of full-time mother. “Full-time mother” is the moniker given to the woman who often works, without that rewarding deposit in the bank account, to care for her children and home from morning’s light to well past sunset. The use of the employment lingo “full-time” lends deserved weight and respect to the hard work of mothering and home-making.
I was happily a full-time mother until this past spring when a job opportunity came my way. The job is a cozy fit for me in many ways. True, the first several months were difficult due to a steep learning curve. But now I feel I can settle into a comfortable groove of steadily doing my job with an Absolute Commitment to Excellence, otherwise known in the company jargon as “ACE.” I love earning a paycheck again, the scheduling flexibility and part-time hours suit me perfectly, and I genuinely enjoy the work. The feel-good bonus is that I may actually be helping people. But there is one thing that niggles at me from time to time.
Why do I need to give up the “full-time mother” label? Have I somehow been demoted to a part-time mother? How would you even define a part-time mother? I can’t help but feel slighted by the parenting community, if such a thing exists, by this perceived demotion. I don’t feel compelled to defend my working outside the home; that’s not what this is about. It’s the right choice for our family, and that’s that. I guess I’m just thinking about labels, how they can change perceptions in society, how they can influence the images we have of ourselves and others, and how they can invite scorn or respect.
I still consider myself very much a full-time mother to Sam, part-time employment notwithstanding. When acquaintances, during the inevitable small talk that I as an introvert have always dreaded, ask what I do, I always start by proudly saying that during the day I am home with my son. I describe my evening job second. I am firstly Me in all my flawed and brilliant glory. But when it comes to my roles and relationships, I hope that as Sam grows older I will continue to always feel my role as his mother before being an employee. I can’t imagine it any other way: life as a full-time mother for perhaps the next twenty years. That is the ride I happily signed on for!
On a side note—I haven’t posted on this blog in several months. The job training was time consuming. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had blog post ideas swirling around in my crowded brain jostling up against tidbits and fragments like the forgotten location of Sam’s Mets pajamas and the date of this year’s charity auction and I really must make that dentist appointment. Some ideas to write about include the love of step-parents, my hatred of Rosemond, and sex after having children (does such a thing exist?) So be on the lookout for more posts from this Crunchy Munchy (full-time!) Mama!
Tomorrow will be my first Mother’s Day from the mom end of the day. As a new mom I’m wondering what is Mother’s Day for exactly? I’m getting conflicted messages. Is it a day to spend cherishing some quality time with your kids? Or am I justified in kicking my family out of the house, taking a leisurely and uninterrupted shower (nearly unheard of these days!), getting myself a drink and putting my feet up with a good book? If I negotiate for some peaceful and quiet Me time, will I feel guilty?
At times I find myself feeling guilty, sometimes for mediocrity when I know Sam deserves the best, sometimes for bigger failures like yelling in frustration during one especially sleep-deprived night. I’m aware of the myth of the “perfect mother” and the guilt that can result from never measuring up to the mythic ideal. Nevertheless, there can be so many small instances that trigger pings of guilt. But I try to banish mother’s guilt whenever I feel it creeping alongside me. And I try to remember not to sacrifice so much that I’m no longer allowing myself to have a life outside of being Sam’s mother or taking care of myself. The myth of the perfect mother reminds me of the Angel in the House. Virginia Woolf wrote about killing the Angel in the House in order to make room for personal growth in creativity and writing. The Angel in the House refers to the perfect family woman who is endlessly selfless and sacrificing herself. “She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it—in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.” (from Professions for Women, 1931). Trying to live up to the ideal of the Angel in the House can be not only guilt-inducing, but stifling in terms of personal growth and leading a full satisfying life.
So what about my Mother’s Day wishes? Shall I be vocal and forthright about my desires for the day? Why, yes, I think I will. Sam is eleven months old. He’s mastered the art of throwing blocks. Playing peekaboo is his specialty. Peeing on me during diaper changes? Yeah, he’s got that down, too. (Just check out the photo and try to imagine that I was once voted best dressed in my college dorm). But, I’m betting that he can’t whip up a special yummy Mother’s Day breakfast. Does that mean that my husband is obligated to cook my blueberry pancakes and bacon? What do you think?
I’ve also asked for some improvements to the back patio. I figured that I was more likely to see results if I made it a Mother’s Day gift wish. I’m not sure that Sam will be able to handle planting the hydrangea and irises I chose, although he is getting quite adept at sneakily moving several feet from where I placed him when my eyes are averted. He can’t crawl yet so I don’t know how he manages this maneuver. Come to think of it though, playing in dirt might be right up his alley. Still, landscaping may be beyond his toddler capabilities just now. What do you think? Should Jack get roped into this Mother’s Day wish as well?
I’m curious about how other mothers are spending their special day. For me, I think I’ll attempt the perfect day for a not-so-perfect mom. Me time + some playing with Sam + Jack smoothing the way = Every day should be so perfect.