Sunday, May 10, 2015

Give Mom a Break

I signed up for motherhood in April 1993 when I went off the Pill. At age 24, I had readied myself for this task by spending the summer rereading all the Little House on the Prairie books, this time seeing the stories through Ma's eyes. Pretty much, that was my preparation. That and reading  the still viable What to Expect When You're Expecting. We did not supplement that manual with anything from the Internet. We had no Internet. My first pregnancy test did not involve peeing on a stick; I had to construct a chemistry lab and use droppers, test tubes, and magic crystals to complete the test. I think pee-on-the-stick kinds were just beginning to be available, but they were expensive and as I had gotten an A in High School Chemistry,  I went cheap.

Here is where I confess my delusion about motherhood. Mark and I had been married three years, and he was going to night school to finish his college degree while working full time. I, too was working full time on second shift as a fabric designer. I wanted to get my MFA in Fine Arts, but it was idiocy to think we could both be in school at the same time. I would wait until Mark was done. And while I was waiting, I would fulfill my biological imperative. Do the thing that Mark couldn't do for us: I would gestate the next generation. Then, person created and husband graduated, it would be my turn to go back to school. Claire Huxtable was a lawyer with five kids. I could do it, too.

But NBC had changed its Thursday night lineup. My son was born on September 24, 1994, two days after the TV show Friends premiered. Here were six people my age living it up in their twenties while I had just essentially shut it all down. I had grown up on the family sitcom where mothers of teenagers were youthful--so they must have had kids when they were younger than I was. Who changed the rules? And that is just the thing. The rules of motherhood have been changing ever since.

Nobody told me that the norm of a working mother in the 21st century would be to log more time with her kids than a stay-at-home mom did when I was a kid. Nobody explained that the Internet would be coming and that we would be expected to save our kids from new terrors and not just the predators. What our kids could see at the touch of a button made Tipper Gore's campaign for album labels and Nancy Reagan's Just Say No seem as helpful as a couple of windbreakers in a hurricane.

As a young girl, I had the choices of cheerleading, swim team, and basketball as group athletic activities. They were free--or close to it. Now parents have to pay thousands of dollars so their kids can play any number of different club sports. And they have to spend weekends in other states (hotels, cha-ching) so their kids can play in tournaments--hours, sometimes days between games. And who cares if the games are over Mother's Day Weekend? Our moms didn't have the almost debilitating influence of Pinterest. Pin the Tail on the Donkey, some punch, some balloons, and a cake. Done.  And if they had a party for you when you were seven, don't expect another one until you were sixteen. Theme? Tell me one person my age who had a themed birthday party. Sure, if your parents could afford it, you might have your party at the roller rink, and when you were sixteen, they might hire a kid to DJ, but that was the height of it. I wasn't competing with the parent who got their kid a DJ, I was competing with the parents who travelled the country for fencing tournaments or who booked month-long stays in L.A. so their kids could audition for pilot season.

And did you know that now the twenties are now considered the new teen years? Adulthood has been delayed. You can now cover your kids on insurance until they are twenty-six. Yippee! But what has prolonged childhood done for motherhood? I got married at 21. I took on the adult world early. I was a young mother, but in that was the hope that I'd also be young enough to enjoy life when my kids were on their own. I know the drill--that mothers never stop worrying about their kids. I get that.

My point is that when I signed up to be a mother, it was a different world, a simpler time. I was aiming to be a mix of Caroline Ingalls and Clair Huxtable, with an MFA. I cannot honestly say if I would have taken on the task of mothering if I knew some of the modern challenges and increased societal assumptions that would come with it. I love my kids. I love the people they are. They surprise me at every turn and are my best teachers. I know I am far from a perfect mother. I like to say I tried hard, but some days, I know I just gave up, the sea of expectation being too vast. I hope they will forgive me my foibles as I, too, am trying to navigate this ever-changing world.

I realize, too, that this isn't unique to my generation. Nobody planning to have a baby dreams of what it will be like to parent in the world of the future, or can even imagine what the world will be five, ten, fifteen years away. Parents of yesteryear didn't account for space travel or the Columbian drug trade or the Vietnam War or the invention of the television or Elvis. They just did what they could with the information they had at hand and went blindly into parenthood with that information. Maybe the best thing we can all do on Mother's Day, is give our moms a break.

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