Tag Archives: imperfect parenting

My (Almost) Perfect Son

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I didn’t really feel like writing this week. I had the idea for the post early on, but the week has gotten away from me and here I sit in front of a blank page wishing I could transfer thoughts into words much more efficiently than with the clackity clack of my computer keyboard. Also, this stuff is hard to write about. Because it’s about me, and my need to control everything in my life and have everything be just…right…

Here’s what happened. I was hanging out at church, rehearsing for singing the next day in service, when a friend casually said to me, “[Your son]’s a grumpier baby than average.”

Everything came to a grinding halt.

My head was full of a million thoughts. The obvious, strongest thought being: “Shut your mouth, you don’t know anything.”

I try not to say things like that out loud, because they are rarely ever helpful, even if they are momentarily satisfying. The clean up from that is rarely fun, and usually involves having to apologize and losing the upper (smug) hand in any given situation. Instead I go for the long game. I blog about it.

OK, snarkety snark. Everyone will be happy to know that my friend and I are reconciled and we send each other funny text messages again and all is well and good and I promise I am not holding a grudge.

But the salient issue here is not whether or not my son is grumpier than average (though he isn’t, I swear it). The issue is that my instantaneous reaction was to reject any and every idea that my son is anything but perfect. My brain went to fifteen separate examples of compliments we’ve been given by random strangers, without bias, about our perfect child. Or even better, it went to thinking about all the examples of other babies who are much, much fussier than my son.

Because comparison always helps every situation.

And it isn’t that any of those things are untrue, but I was so violently angry and defensive. “How dare you!” was much faster to the front of my mind than I would have ever expected. I remember being told about the Mama Bear syndrome, but I didn’t expect the paw swipe to be so instinctual.

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My son isn’t perfect. I say this with no conviction, more because logically it makes sense. I’m not perfect, nor is anyone I know. And since I don’t remember an angel coming to me to tell me that I was giving birth to God, then there’s a pretty good chance my son isn’t perfect, either.

So as I sit and clackity clack on this keyboard of mine, forcing a reflection I don’t really want to have, I think my desire for him to be perfect is something I need to think about long and had. Because what happens when I get the first phone call from a teacher at the daycare telling me he hit another child? Will I stand adamantly on the fact that there is no way MY child would do such a thing?

Or will I allow my child to make mistakes, to fall down, to not be the best (a word my friend says is loaded and should be removed from my vocabulary.) Will I allow him to make mistakes and even better, to come alongside and help him learn from those mistakes?

Perhaps more important, will I allow my son to be himself? Even if that means he is grumpier than the average baby? (But seriously, he isn’t.) I thought that giving my son the freedom and space to be who he is would be a lot easier than it is, and I certainly didn’t expect these feelings to arise in me only ten months into parenting.

But I have this wiggling, nagging feeling that allowing my son to be who he is means letting go of my expectations of how things should be, and accepting how things actually are. It may just look a lot less than a raised bear claw and a lot more like open hands, willing to receive feedback, willing to learn from all of it. It may even mean (sigh) starting to say with conviction that my son is not perfect. (Which is easier to do when he’s arching his back in protest or waking up multiple times at night. Can I get an amen?)

The truth is that I don’t really know who my son is yet. I know so much about him, like the smell of the top of his head and the way his pinky toes curl I know how to tickle him in just the right place to make him laugh until he can’t breathe. I know that putting him in a swing on the playground will bring endless joy, and trying to feed him bananas will bring endless pain.

But there’s so much I don’t know yet. And the miracle of watching him explore and discover the world around him more often than not leaves me breathless.

I don’t want my desire for a perfect son to get in the way of loving and appreciating the son I have.

A son who is not perfect. But also not grumpy.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

The Brutal Honesty of a Photograph

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My dad recently posted some photos from our family’s time together at Easter. They are beautiful. They all show our smiling, happy faces, many surrounded by the lush and rich foliage from the nature conservatory we visited. I loved them all.

All except one. There was one I didn’t love. It was the one of my dad, my son, and me. Actually, it was the only one of me. And let me be clear, my dad and my son look great. But I look like a total bummer.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Like, the intensive sleep deficit my husband and I were rocking, due to our choice to drive through the night to get to my family’s house. We got there in record time, without the requisite hourly stops made when my son is awake. We also got there at three in the morning, and two weeks later I think it is safe to say we haven’t fully made up the sleep gap.

Also, my family has this thing about using local and organic and natural (the real natural, not the natural stamped onto Cheetos so you can fool yourself into thinking you’re being healthy) products. I am in favor of this completely. Except when it comes to shampoo. Natural shampoo is the equivalent of rubbing Aquaphor by the handfuls into my fine and oily-prone hair. So besides the bags under my eyes, my hair looks like an Italian mobster’s toupee.

But the biggest bummer of all, perhaps, is the fact that the picture is breathtakingly honest. That’s pretty much what I look like these days. Even without long distant late night drives and lotion shampoo, I generally have bags under my eyes and greasy, sloppy hair. This is what my life has become.

When I saw the picture I started down a shame spiral. How in the world had I become one of those women? You know the ones. They find a guy, settle down, and let themselves go. Also, everyone else looks put together in the photographs. Why couldn’t I at least have brushed my hair? Was that sweatshirt really necessary? Why so baggy and dirty? Is my face always so splotchy? Oy vey. You get the idea.

I started making resolutions about what I wouldn’t eat and what I would buy to make my hair shiny. I thought about the manicures and pedicures and hair cuts and wardrobes necessary to return me to my pre-baby, pre-“letting myself go” glory. I even wrote a full ending to this blog about taking care of myself and prioritizing mommy’s needs. Which I think is important.

But the more I have thought about it, the more I have been remembering the day. The day that the photo was taken.

That day, after months of waiting, I woke up in my parents’ house and got to have breakfast with my dad. I watched my son play with his cousins. I had lunch with my mom. My dad and I took the dogs to the dog park and met really enthusiastic dog owners. (Are there any other kind?)

Then we went to the conservatory and looked at the flowers. A hush fell over my son the moment his stroller entered the fern room. He was mesmerized by the plants, often close enough to rip off chunks and immediately eat them. We took the mandatory family photos by the fountain with the naked girl and my mom got her grandma/grandson snapshot. We breathed deep the rich, oxygenated air, filling up on the green we’ve been missing for the past six months.

We went home and twelve of us squeezed around a table growing too small in a kitchen growing too small to hold the abundance of new members, married and birthed in over the past three years. While eating bowls of lentil soup we laughed until we couldn’t breathe. Because that’s what my family does. Then we played games and laughed some more. And ate some more, of course, because that’s also what my family does.

All of this I accomplished with greasy hair and baggy, out of date clothes. All of this, with the food stains and the glasses that are askew from being grabbed by my curious son too many times. All of this with the fatigue that is my familiar blanket. All of this.

I want so badly to be the person who can do it all. I want to have the career. And I do. I want the perfect house. And I (mostly) do. I have the husband and the kid, the car and the memberships. But I want to do it all with nice nails, long hair that wasn’t poorly cut during a disastrous Groupon mistake. Oh, and clean, trendy clothes. Maybe even a little make-up.

And those are things that I feel like I could have if I just tried a little bit harder. If I just bought the right cream or took the time to blow dry my hair.

But remembering that day makes me feel foolish.

Could I spend more time on my hair? Of course. Will I ever? Probably not. Because frankly, my dear, I just don’t give a damn. Or at least, not enough of a damn. There’s just too many other things that I care about too much more than whether or not my hair is washed with Vaseline, or if it is washed with Aveda.

Hear me out, I’m still going to buy the Aveda shampoo, mind you, next time I go to the salon (which should be soon because honestly, the Groupon hair disaster is still haunting me). I still like to pretend that there will come a day when I will buy the magic soap that will transform my skin in a single use. Or the super shampoo that will erase the need for blow drying, styling, and productifying. (I told you, I don’t do those things. I don’t even know the appropriate words for them.)

But in case I never do, and because I know I won’t (at least for not any meaningful length of time), I have to remind myself that a picture is just a picture. Sure, it will scroll across the computer screen at my parents’ home forever and ever amen. But it is just a picture.

And I choose the moment and memory. Even with the greasy hair.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel