Last week was Audrey’s 1st kindergarten music performance...Arrrrrgh. As much as I want to be ‘into’ my children‘s school programs I’m just so over the stuffy, crowded gymnasium thing these days. Don’t get me wrong, I mean, I still gush watching my kids show off and all. That night was no exception, Audrey delivered as usual, animated as ever in her lavender chiffon dress and gaudy plastic hi-heels. You couldn’t miss her distinct bellow above all four combined classes of kindergartners. She was the one flailing her arms flashing her red food-color stained jazz hands at every inappropriate moment. Entertaining as it was, after fifteen years of these multi-annual school functions, I've become disenchanted.
Once upon about seven years ago I used to be one of ‘those’ moms, you know, the kind that drives a mini van and chauffeurs her kids to soccer games. Except I rocked a station wagon and drove the runts to little league. For the better part of my first twelve years as a mom, I tried to replicate the domestic bliss I saw my peers institute within their families. As former wardrobe Gestapo and a recovering food Nazi that lorded over my children, back in the day, I had the stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) thing figured out. I had rule boards, chore charts, weekly menu plans, and our monthly budget on Excel spreadsheets. I rewarded the kids with gold stars and allowance and punished them with a wooden spoon and time-outs. I used a pay scale for good grades and packed their sack lunches with nutritious goodies and handwritten love notes. I taxied to piano, dance lessons and church twice a week and saw to it my bubbies had proper clothes and shoes for whatever or whomever needed impressing. Gathering the family at our table for four-course dinners every night was our mainstay. I did the whole T-ball, cub-scout routine, chaperoned field trips, hosted umpteen birthday parties, brought cupcakes to the kids’ classroom, paid my dues at Chucky Cheese, clocked serious hours at the park, on play dates and pulled through multiple slumber parties with vim and vigor. I even ran a small in-home baby daycare for extra cash. For social time, I sang in the church choir and hosted dinners for our small group every Friday night. By the time our fourth child was a year old, we had built and moved into our second home, sold the station wagon for an SUV and had very little debt. Call me Suzie or Martha, or Supermom, I was the shizzle. Go me!
And then I got my real estate license. Shortly after that, tragedy struck my tight little ship and everything went to crap.
Funny thing how the twists and turns of life will do an overhaul on people. The demands of my new career coupled with having to deal with devastating loss, literally turned all of us into hamburger for a while. By the time little Audrey was born, she was welcomed into a completely remodeled family. Our oldest, Alley and Elih, moved out before she could remember they lived here. And after all the blood, sweat, tears, threats and ‘creative’ discipline we used on those two guinea pigs, they ended up being their own freewheeling selves anyway. Both of them were barely legal when they went in directions we didn’t anticipate and as gut wrenching as their autonomous decisions were, it didn't kill us! I think what surprised Jeff and I the most was how little we had to do with how awesome they actually turned out. Now they protest how 'unfair' it is the other kids don't have to suffer like they did...hee hee.
I've since taken off my cape, hung the proverbial white flag from my front porch and chalked my efforts up to a lesson learned: Don't pretend to be someone you're not, Lisa. However, most of my SAHM friends still do stuff like home school, churn butter, can fish, scrapbook and make jam. They’re into fancy things like organics, gardening, and drinking raw milk. My SAHM's friends are still good influences on me. Some are so organized I have to bribe them with lattes to come over and fix my piles. Others have taught me how to pinch pennies hard enough to make Abe Lincoln cry. A couple of them go to the gym like it’s church and their dedication and unrelenting invites sometimes guilt me in to going with them. I've been tricked more than once into debasing myself during a hip-hop or cardio class that (unbeknownst to me) demanded my physical coordination. They knew balance and rhythm were not my thing! I'm convinced sometimes my friends set me up just to laugh at me. But in all fairness, these women are masters of their craft, out of my league, and I've never been able to attain their Utopian grasp on SAHMhood. Probably because I was trying too hard, but more probably because I had to try so hard.
The honest truth was, I just didn't like home economics. You never would have guessed it though, I didn't complain or drudge through the motions. I was grateful and am still grateful to be privileged to stay home with my babies. I just assumed the ‘fun’ of it would eventually kick in as I plowed the course. What I discovered on the course though, is that my favorite parts of parenting are the baby and teenage years, it's where I shine! But to my chagrin, Jeff turned out to be the better 'mom' to our offspring aged four to thirteen. So we’ve adjusted, exchanged some roles and the way I do SAHM stuff now looks nothing like my first twelve years of parenting. I don’t think that whipper-snapper was any ‘better’at it than I am today, we just don’t see eye to eye anymore. Now that I've raised two full-grown children and have three left in my nest, I’m sitting on a different branch of the tree with a broader perspective of how this mother hen thing works and I've become more confident, less persnickety, this is especially true when it comes to domestic engineering.
These days our 'other' kids eat one or maybe two-course meals at the kitchen counter, with or without their siblings. Their dad doesn't get off work until after seven and we don’t believe making them starve till he gets home is such a practical idea (anymore). Once a week we have FFY for dinner, it means ‘fend for yourself.’ Frankly, I just don’t care if Audrey eats clam chowder for breakfast or has an occasional cup of coffee, she's six, she knows what she likes and if mashed potatoes make Jamey gag, I won’t make him eat them...not after watching more than one of my kids throw up on their plate. Some battles aren't worth winning. I’ve even become a fan of bribing the kids with soda and candy once in a while. Gone are the chore charts and menu plans, our kids consult a white board now. The rules are pretty general: 1. Don't be an idiot. 2. You get one (or three) warning(s). 3. If I get quiet it means you're in deep ****. The excel spreadsheets became obsolete by way of the pile of bills that linger on my desk. I allow the younger kids to ride their bikes to school now. In fact, I made Jared ride his bike to Karate lessons during his last two years until he retired a brown belt last summer. I've virtually eliminated spankings in favor of giving my children lots of liberty and gadgets. I let them have cell phones so I can track them on GPS and call them home or text them from the bathroom whenever I want something. It's like having room service. Toys make for much better persuasion when I threaten to snatch them from their sticky, clenched fingers. If they’re especially naughty I’ll just take their bedroom doors off the hinges or ground them from their favorite clothes. Their privacy and whatever they value is all fair game.
Perfection isn't the standard I aim to set any longer because sometimes I’m the jerk that has to apologize. I've decided it’s OK to let them see me trip once in a while. I’m more concerned about setting a good example, showing them what genuineness, integrity and living by faith looks like…which means I've got to behave and that’s a lot of pressure. So I've lowered the bar and given myself some grace. I let a lot of things go that I didn’t used to and changed my mind on just about every parenting philosophy I would at one time have vehemently defended. I've humbly learned never to say never and that having children is God's big scheme to teach us all, kids and parents, an unquantifiable lesson in people skills, forgiveness and tolerance. My priorities now are making sure I spend lots of one-on-one time with each child, whether that’s a trip to the grocery store or a getaway to somewhere on an airplane. After nineteen+ years of parenting I've come to grips with the reality that I live in the land of "everything nice I own gets broken, where ‘Nobody’ does it". I’d probably get a C+ if Mommery were graded. But all things considered, I like my life better this way. I like me better this way. And I’m enjoying my little people more than ever.