Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Motherhood: Lowering the Bar and Being Awesome

           Our job is a cruelly ironic one:  We love, nurture, and teach our children to go out into the world so that they can live, function, and thrive without us.  So they don’t need us.  Don’t need our nest.  It’s cruel.  It’s a job that is revered and honored and, conversely, an easy target for the crudest of comedians:  Sure we get flowers and sweet homemade cards once a year, but there’s also “Yo Mamma insults” and never ending jokes about our jeans.
It seems that we all agree that our objectives as mothers are overwhelming, but so is the advice we give one another. The big dilemia of modern motherhood is the need to categorize each other, emphasizing our differences.  Ultimately, we’re told it’s not enough to raise happy kids, we need to show it to everyone, displaying it, and telling everyone else how to do it, too.
I think one of the reasons it’s overwhelming is because we are asking the wrong questions when we get to talking in real life or online. Different media outlets in order to sell stories, bloggers to get comments and page views, parents to make themselves feel better and validate their own choices, want to pit mother against mother with antiquated, oversimplified frameworks:  working vs. stay at home, breastfeeding vs. bottle, organic vs. FDA standard, public school vs. homeschool and so on.  These overused “hot” topics are used to “test” other parents to see if we’re alike or not and to validate our own choices as mothers.  After all, how can we prove we’re a good mom unless we’re better than someone else?  It’s mean, judgey and not at all helpful.  In fact, it’s hurtful to our mothering community because it divides us and further separates us from each other in an already isolating, overwheming job where the stakes are high.
It comes with a price, but we haven’t even had this technology long enough to really know what that price is, we can all guess:  an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction that you’re not doing enough, that you should do more, or do better, comparing ourselves to an unrealistic portrayal that isn’t real, and then anger, dissatisfaction, disillusionment.  Haven’t we all had that moment where we’ve thought:  Hey, I didn’t get a cute baby shower for my third child, with diaper shaped cake pops?! Or So now we have to put an elf all over our shelves staged in suspicious, menacing positions to delight our children?!  That’s a thing now?  Or  “Oh, okay, they went to lunch together without me.  Awesome, I didn’t want to go.  Took a lot of pictures of themselves, huh?  I don’t even like Zupas.”
What my mother, who didn’t live through this era, taught me about motherhood that applies here:  Motherhood is enough and now I believe in “Lowering the bar and being awesome”.  Not in a discouraged way, but in a realistic, individual, positive way.  I don’t want to regret this time raising my children, but only I can determine what that means to me and my kids. “Lowering the bar” is my commitment to reject the “tests” others try to put on me and it may mean that I appear less accomplished than other moms.  Maybe less put together or even generous.  It might mean that I appear flaky or disorganized, but it always means that I am responding to my kids’ changing needs all of the time.  And the last part, “being awesome” means just that, that I am happy about it because I’m living without regrets and “should-could-would haves.” I’m fully aware that I’m not cool, I don’t win , and that’s awesome.
My own mother holds a radical religious belief that is not considered doctrine in my Church, but she and I believe it.  It’s this:  She would tell us as children, that before we came to the Earth, as spirits in the premortal realm, when it was time to be organized into families (again, not doctrine), that she jumped up and down and said, “Please, please let me be Lisa’s mom!  Oh please—pick me!”  That was how my mom felt about being my mother.  And that was the first and lasting dialogue I have in my head about what being a mom means.
You should feel a little sorry for me because I have the perfect mother, but you won’t.  You’ll be suspicious of me and that statement and you’ll reason, “No one can get it right.”  To which I’ll reply, Hey, as mom’s let’s take back our idea of perfect or, the aforementioned “lowering the bar and being awesome,” not as an apathetic “there’s only one ideal and I’ll never meet it,” and not the illusive, “good enough,” but a third definition “fit for a specific need.” Take back the word “perfect”  “awesome.” Not the meaning:  “without flaws or shortcomings,” not the assumption “beyond improvement, “ but the third meaning, “exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose.”
So why do I want sympathy from you?  Because every day, in raising and caring for five children, I know better.  I know what I should be doing.  It’s not elusive and I can’t pretend it’s not possible to do a good job. My mother taught me that I am enough for my kids.  They want me:  my time and attention, my energy, love, silliness, education, etc.  I don’t get caught up in competition because I want to be the best for my kids:  perfect for them.  That’s another reason why my mom is perfect—she prepared me for this environment of mothering before it even existed by showing me what were the most important elements of mothering. 
Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for all the neighborhood kids to congregate at our house.  Regularly, they would come before school, after school and it became apparent to me that my mother was being taken advantage of. I confronted her about this and say, “Doesn’t it kill you that these people are taking advantage of you?  They’re totally using you for free babysitting.”
“I’m fully aware of the situation,” she would explain, “But if they’re not here, at our home, they’re home alone.  It’s the kid who suffers, not the parent if I turn the kid away.  Besides, I get to spend all this time with these great kids.  I’m the lucky one.” Not only did she not care that the other parents, or society at large, might think, specifically that she was weak and foolish, but she did the right thing for a lot of kids who, as you can imagine, still love her. 
My mom doesn’t expect me to be like her or agree with her on all things and certainly isn’t threatened by our differences. I don’t sew like she did, but I paint, and I make funny faces and make up stories like she did, and so much of how I mother is influenced by her.  But we’re different, too, and these things aren’t important elements to motherhood.  They’re individual quirks that are slightly interesting personality traits.  For example, my mom irons her sheets and pillowcases.  I do not.  My mother doesn’t do this out of obligation or appearances or for any other reason than she wants to do it.  She likes having ironed sheets.  Her idea of motherhood isn’t tied up with housekeeping.  She doesn’t care if I iron my sheets or not.  She never insisted I do it to be a good mother.  Mothering means more than that.  And yet, she doesn’t stop doing it, something she personally likes, for fear of being mocked or being seen as old-fashioned.  She does it.  She’s awesome.  
Modern mothering does not need more advice giving or tests that will, once and for all, give us a definitive answer at who is doing it best.  It does need a call to retire the jokes about our jeans.  We get it,--Mom’s used to wear elastic banded jeans that made their torsos look really nonexistent and their backsides really big.  That was funny.  Ha ha.  It’s not a thing anymore. How do we do “our job?”  How do we fully prepare for our children to live and thrive without us? By lowering the bar and. . . just kidding.  I’m not giving you advice. I'm not your mom.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

new project, same awkwardness

I have started a new project and have been deep in the middle of it for about a month now. It's been really challenging for me, creative, and exciting. I'm really excited about it and I will talk all about it here soon, but right now it's still new and I'm still in the creating it phase, so it feels like a helpless newborn who is relentlessly demanding, but full of possibilities and wonder. I am trying something new. This is a new phase of life for me (trying something new professionally), and like most new phases, it has me feeling uncomfortable and stupid. Dorky is the word that keeps coming to mind.

I identify with Kacy's post The Mechanics of Becoming Lame a lot. I've been a mom for a long time and it's a really good excuse to say that's why I sometimes say too much (I'm at home with the kids all day!), talk too long (I've got to get it all out while I can!), don't know how to use technology very well (I'm out of the loop!), and inappropriately speak loudly to strangers (Will you be my friend?), but I know that even if I weren't a mom, I would still do/be those things. Motherhood just encourages me to accentuate those things. She gives me a free pass to be who I really am.

This new project also brings home the point that I mark time marching along from one awkward experience to the other. But, thanks to Topher, I have come to realize that whenever I have that nervous/excited feeling about a project, I'm always glad I said yes even if I don't know what I'm doing. Growing up, if we ever asked our dad a question and he didn't know the answer, he would go on and on as if he did. He'd make a big speech about it. My sister, Gina, is really good at this. She can speak authoritatively about something she knows nothing about. Early on in her marriage, her husband called her out on it and she confessed: "Yeah, I do that. I talk like I'm an authority on any subject. And I'm really good at it." In fact, when I started doing improv about 17 years ago one of the first games I learned was "Speeches," where you basically make up a speech about a random word. When they told me this was the game I said, "Oh, so you mean 'Sunday dinner?' "

Being a mom has made me seem like an authority on a number of subjects like sleep schedules, potty-training, and toddler negotiations among my small group of growing humans (children can smell weakness), but any self-respecting mother will confess, in secret, that they're making it up as they're going along, too. So, when I'm working on this project and I don't know how to do something or make it work, I just imagine I'm at parent-teacher conferences talking to the teacher about speech therapy while my toddler takes off his pants and runs down the hall screaming, and I just keep on talking. I just keep on talking.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I sweat the small stuff (literally)

One very distinct memory I have growing up is my dad sweating profusely. Like, I was really worried that something was wrong with him. Big sweaters, those Valentines. He'd joke about it as he'd run marathons or work in the yard, but it was a very distinct indication that he was (still is) a hard worker, but it was really gross. Soaked headbands and t-shirts, gross. I cannot emphasize how much sweat he sweat enough.

I hated sweating. I avoided it at all costs growing up. Whether it was trying to dab my forehead with a paper towel under my high Aqua-netted bangs during the ridiculously humid Nebraska summers, or avoiding strenuous activity during high school "toning" class, I thought I had inherited my mother's ability to "glisten," and not sweat like my Dad.

Then, six months ago, I joined the gym. I haven't always been inactive, it's just when I started running 2 years ago, I ran outside and somehow that made it seem like I sweat less. Maybe I just didn't notice what was going on because I was too busy crying at how tired I was. Or maybe there just aren't any mirrors outside, I don't know. But being inside the gym, fans a'blazing, entering this "new world," I discovered that I'm a Valentine after all.

I now know that my condition requires specialized clothing. If I wear a cotton t-shirt or pant, and not that GoDry, DryLux, KeepYouDry material, I literally soak it in an interesting and embarrassing pattern (I'm not going to expand on this point--super gross). My hair--my entire ponytail-- is soaking wet. I'm sorry I have to be so specific here, but it is pretty freeing: I sweat as much as a grown human can possibly sweat and not be studied for medical purposes!

I know people have all these theories about "sweating out toxins" and whatnot. I don't know if that's true--I'm not an expert. But I like to think that it's melted fat. I know, this post is getting grosser and grosser. But one thing I've learned from my family-doctor-brother Chris is that even if something's NOT true, but you really believe it, it can have positive physical benefits (please don't read too much into the plasebo effect reaching out into other areas of my life). Now I love to sweat--I embrace is as a physical manifestation of my family history and melting fat (disgusting, but effective).

Which lead me to think about, and now embarrass myself about, another "self-discovery" I've made due to the sweating: A woman who has given birth several times should be compressed when exercising. I naively thought that when I lost a bunch of weight, my stomach would look better. Silly me! It has been a harsh and humbling lesson to learn that no matter how much I weigh or tone my muscles, my stomach will always tell the tale of Miles, Owen, Phoebe, Hugh, and Margaret. Which is not really a big deal because I wear good pants. As I should.

Please believe me when I say I know which fabrics I need to wear when I exercise as to embarrass myself the least amount possible (according to my delusional perspective).

Josh, one of my favorite people, is the manager of the Old Navy store in American Fork, and I was laughing about my new found love of sweating and he asked me if I wanted to blog about their sale on Active Wear and their new "compression line," which of course I wanted to because I was really, in actuality, going to go to the sale and buy some sassy pants. (I like to be upfront about these things). A couple of months ago I bought their compression yoga pants and long running pants when they went on sale and they're my favorites and I can actually afford them (I won't spend more than $30 on exercise pants. I was just born that way.) They have a deal going on right now where their new compression pants and tanks --everything ActiveWear--adults and kids--is on sale. Each store is doing a different promotion, but I got these super GoDry compression pants (with fold-over tummy sucking capability!) for a steal. And a tank. And a shirt. And I might go back and get some more pants tomorrow.

Kacy waiting for me to try on everything on sale. It took a while. . .Take a look at her journey HERE.
American Fork Manager, Josh Bingham. Super helpful and friendly!
I can run in these pants and my stomach will stay put!
The back of this shirt has a air-dry panel in the back like it was MADE FOR ME~!
Kacy tries on some GoDry ActiveWear and immediately gains "street cred."

We were so hot and tired after trying on all those clothes that it took Route 44's to cool us down! (I'm not exaggerating about the sweat)

Still Livin' the Dream

My neglected blog is a product of three things:

1. mothering five children (this reason makes me appear saintly)
2. a preoccupation with wanting to write exclusively about things that make me mad (this reason makes me appear grumpy and full of ingratitude)
3. just trying to keep it all together (I'm easily prone to guilt and worrying about expectations is my specialty)

During my hiatus, I realize that writing about angry issues is cathartic, but publishing them would be silly for so many reasons. My children do and say really funny things and as much as I knew I'd miss the newborn/innocent toddler age, this stage of my family is really the best and I wish I could freeze us all these ages forever. And "Lowering the bar and being awesome," my unofficial official motto, has turned out to be more true than ever.

And I like writing things in lists of three.

I am, in fact, still "almost famous" and the title of this blog still makes me laugh (cry) on the inside. My little brother James and his cute little band continue to dominate the awards ceremonies and are sure to win an award on days when I've had a particularly pointed disappointment that day (losing a job, having a dream project cancelled, having a sick kid, etc--see above #2) But he's still cute and grounded (as much as a rockstar can be, let's be honest), and the other famous people in my life (bloggers, actors, whatnot) are all just doing the best they can under the circumstances. I would say, "Aren't we all? Aren't we all just doing the best we can?" But we all know the answer is, "No, not everyone is." (too grumpy? I'm trying to do better. It's cold and January. . . baby steps.)

And 6 months ago I joined a gym, thereby finding a socially appropriate way to deal with my anxiety/anger/general malaise with society and the number of jobs my husband currently has.

So, that's what's new. What's new with you?