Columnist: The perfect mother myth
Vail CO, Colorado
WARNING: Motherhood may cause hemorrhoids, weight gain, stretch marks, exhaustion and general insanity.
Motherhood has apparently turned me in to an old hag. Case in point: My husband and I were recently in a store when the sales clerk asked for my ID to verify the check I had written. The clerk looked at the photo on my driver’s license, then at me, then down at my license again.
“When did you take this picture?” He asked me. Unlike most women, I am particularly proud of the photo on my license. My hair and make-up are flawless, my smile is beautiful. It may just be the best photo I have ever taken.
“About six years ago.” I laughed. “That’s what I looked like before I had kids.”
“Your kids must be little hellions.” The clerk looked doubtfully at the photo. “You just look real … different now.”
The thing is, I did look a lot different six years ago. (My husband and I laughingly refer to those days as “B.C.” or “Before Cade,” the name of our oldest son. Or maybe it stands for “Before Chaos.” I can’t seem to remember anymore.) In those days I would apply make-up every morning and wore sexy lingerie. I had smaller hips and no tired bags under my eyes. I had a car that wasn’t littered with empty juice boxes and broken bits of cheap Happy Meal toys. I was a completely different woman with a completely different life.
Nowadays, my standard uniform is a T-shirt (never complete without smears of dried baby food or spotty bleach stains) and tired flip-flops. My hair is usually pulled back in to a messy ponytail (I learned to do this long ago to avoid being snatched bald), and I’m lucky if I can remember to put on deodorant after my hasty shower (a few scant minutes when I ignore the howls and the fingers poking underneath the locked door). I can’t seem to lose the last 10 pounds from being pregnant with my youngest son ” who is now 13 months old. And I don’t have a clue about what’s going on in current politics, but I can tell you what hapless animal “The Wonder Pets” managed to save during that morning’s cartoons.
No one ever warned me that I would end up like this. Magazines and television and the movies always depict the PERFECT MOTHER (it should only be thought of that way, in huge neon capital letters) to be a beautifully well-groomed, diaper-bag wielding paragon who can still wear those horrifying stick-to-every-lump-of-blubber jeans and completely adore their children at all times (even during those screaming, red-faced tantrums in the middle of the grocery store). I had been fooled in to thinking that I should be one of those PERFECT MOTHERS who serve a healthy-yet-delicious home-cooked meal every night (she would never make a panicked last-minute call to Pizza Hut) and can get a stain out of anything (even a red Kool-Aid spill out of a white carpet). She knows how to handle every situation without fail, from bandaging a skinned knee to answering those sticky questions about sex. The PERFECT MOTHER never breaks a sweat when she’s in a tough circumstance. She only glows, of course.
It’s depressing, really. At the end of the day, when I’m tired and frustrated and I’ve finally managed to get the ankle-biters to bed and the house is completely destroyed, it can get downright overwhelming. I sometimes wonder if the other mothers I see at the park and at the grocery store feel the same way I do ” like I just woke up from six years of deep sleep and asked “What the hell happened to me? Why is this so hard?”
A few days ago my 4-year-old son brought me a handful of dandelions.
“These are for you.” Cade kissed me on the cheek. “You’re a good mom.”
I don’t think I’ll ever be the PERFECT MOTHER, but maybe that’s all right. I’ve decided not to kill myself trying to get the dishes done every night after dinner (which might be unhealthy), and I don’t worry about the crumbs that are always all over the floor. I going to try not to worry about those last 10 pounds, and spend less time comparing myself to every other mom I see. Instead I’ll spend more time playing swords and giving hugs and reading out loud about the adventures of a fat bear who loves honey.
Now I should go tackle that pesky red Kool-Aid stain on my living room carpet. And if I can’t get it out, no sweat. I’ll just buy a rug to throw over it.