Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'm Not Perfect...

An imperfect mother in her imperfect PJ's giving her daughter an evil plastic toy for her birthday!

Stella and I are huge fans of The Laurie Berkner Band. Actually, I think I'm the bigger fan of them than Stella, as she's content to listen to alt-country or punk music. But I prefer Laurie's message of "cleaning up can be fun" to alt-country's message that "life sucks" or punk's message that "your parents suck."

My new favorite LBB song goes like this: "I'm not perfect. No I'm not. I'm not perfect, but I got what I got. I do my very best, do my very best, do my very best each day. But I'm not perfect, and I hope you like me that way."

What a great message for kids! As a teacher, you'd be surprised how many perfectionists I've taught and how much more difficult they can be than other kids. They're not the teacher's fantasy that you'd imagine, because they can be moody when things don't go their way and they can be so hard on themselves that trying new things can be treacherous.

I know a lot about perfectionist tendancies because I was a perfectionist kid. I made straight A's from K - 12, had a room so neat that forensic scientists would have had trouble getting a hair sample from it, and was called a "goody two-shoes" by too many folks (who are now all Facebook friends, of course). I was hospitalized at age 16 with stress-induced stomach problems, went stag to the prom (hey -- at least I went), didn't have a real boyfriend until college, and literally sobbed each and every time I made less than an A on any paper, test, project, whatever.

Then I went away to college (which I was able to afford due to scholarships awarded to neurotic, socially-inept perfectionists), and I cut loose. I was surrounded by folks who were all heads of the class at their schools, folks who were frankly smarter than me, and I felt the pressure lift immediately. I made good grades in college, don't get me wrong, but I certainly didn't make straight A's and I no longer beat myself up for my lack of perfection. It was a wonderful time for me in so many ways.

Unfortunately, it didn't stick.

I was 31 when I got pregnant. It took some work to get there. When I finally saw the two little lines on my little pee-soaked stick, I was intensely grateful, intensely joyful, intensely dedicated to being the perfect mom.

I think this is a pattern of thought that is quite common among us older moms. We waited for this. We planned for this. Sometimes, it didn't come easily to us. But, regardless, we have decided that we are going to be the best parents this world has ever seen and we will never, ever, not in a million years reproduce the mistakes of our parents nor the mistakes of any parents we have ever known.


That's great. It's wonderful to be dedicated to raising your child to the best of your ability. But, for me at least, trying to be perfect comes at a cost.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several instances where I tried to be the perfect mom: Exclusive breastfeeding -- no bottles (not even with pumped milk) in sight -- for the first few months. No TV played in the presence of my daughter. Only homemade, organic food prepared by yours truly for her system six months or later after her birth. Tummy time for the required amount of time. Fresh air -- each and every day -- despite the weather.

The list goes on and on. Had I been able to fulfill all my goals, I really could have been as close to perfect as my yuppy Brooklyn culture acknowledges. But when you have a daughter who is a troubled sleeper, rarely naps, and doesn't play by herself for any amount of time, that list is a bit lofty.

I soon found that I really wanted a break from nursing, as much as I loved it, but was disheartened to find that we waited too long to introduce a bottle. I didn't want Stella to become a TV addict, but I find that if I don't turn on Jack's Music Show at least once a day (but never more than two), housework rarely gets done on days she doesn't nap. I broke down and bought jarred baby food when my lack of spare time made it hard for me to steam and puree the squash, sweet potatoes and string beans I bought at the store. Stella screamed bloody murder during tummy time, so I gave up on it for a while, and I still think that might be why she didn't really get crawling until she was ten months old. And finally, since my daughter fought me putting her coat on with a vengeance, we tended to stay in when the temperature was below 20 degrees Farenheit.

I think a lot of people would probably have rolled with the punches, telling themselves that this is how life goes, that we'll try to do better tomorrow, etc. Not me. I got very depressed, very down on myself. I began to feel like the UBERCRAPPYPARENTEXTRAORDINAIRE.

It doesn't help that I've always had an unhealthy tendancy to compare myself to others. And I am literally surrounded, both online and in real life, by amazing new mothers. Mothers whose babies eat swiss chard and sauteed salmon while Stella sometimes will only eat yogurt and cheerios. Moms who have not a single plastic, battery-operated toy in sight while I pull down the loudest, flashiest toys I can find in an attempt to keep Stella occupied long enough for me to pee. Moms who don't even own a TV while I hum the theme song to Jack's Music Show to get Stella out of the toilet and into the living room.

These moms are wonderful people. These moms are nice friends and great parents. These moms have done nothing wrong.

And these moms are not perfect. No matter how it looks on the outside, somewhere, deep within their peaceful home where their child sleeps through the night and has never had a pesticide in her system, something is awry. Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly dark, I talk to Dave (or Stella if Dave is not home) about the flaws I think might be there. Sinister, terrible, deliciously detailed flaws...

Lately, I've started to give myself a break. If I have to put Stella down while she's screaming so I can walk away and breathe, I congratulate myself on my ability to calm down. If I feed Stella whole wheat pasta with frozen organic veggies and tomato sauce for the 15th night in a row, I pat myself on the back that my daughter is eating better than most Americans. If I lie on the floor to take a break while Stella pulls out her toys or literally crawls over my belly, I tell myself that a well-rested mom is a happier mom.

The funniest part about this is that now that I'm being easier on myself, Stella's being easier on me, too. I didn't realize it, but all the stress I was putting on myself to be perfect was causing me to be short-tempered and bad-natured. Of course Stella picked up on it. Kids are sponges. (Can I tell you how my 4th grade class behaved when I was cranky and pregnant?)

So, no, my daughter doesn't have the most well-balanced diet, isn't sheltered from society's evil, has probably ingested chemicals from her plastic toys, and still isn't walking at 12.5 months. Her mom isn't perfect, and neither is she.

But we do our very best each day.


Jason said...

If you want to feel better about your parenting skills, feel free to ask me what Benjamin eats (likes: chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, pizza. dislikes: anything remotely green, which will be spit out immediately) and how much TV he watches (it's mostly educational, but he has a disturbing habit of repeating EVERYTHING, including commercials).

But you know what? Benjamin's growing up to be an incredibly smart, healthy, sweet, well-adjusted kid. Just like Stella will be.

Kristy Hope said...

Must be a Sonora Elem thing. I was always a perfectionist too! YOU were always cool though and a good friend. I will always remember all the good chats at East in the mornings with you and Amy Rucker. GLAD WE RECONNECTED!!!

Kristy Hope said...

AND...I can so relate to the being called good two shoes...I used to get asked if i spent summer break reading the ENCYCLOPEDIA.

Tiffanie said...

i could totally write a dissertation on my feelings about this, but i'll spare you and keep it short. i think most parents these days feel as if they're totally flying blindly, as i certainly do. our culture leaves us doubly unequipped ~ by giving us no experience beforehand of being around moms and/or children, and then isolating us to do a job alone that was meant to be done as a group. a couple months ago i was petrified and frozen with fear; i wanted *so bad* to be a perfect mom, but had no *frickin* clue. i stayed up at night feeling inadequate and down on myself for the damage i was sure to do to my daughter, and the unhappy, unsuccessful adult she was sure to become. i was sooo tense that i would just burst into crying at the slightest provocation. (oh geez this is getting too long)
also ~ those of us who might happen to cook our children swiss chard might just envy you, Randi, for ways in which you are cool that we feel we are not. we all have strengths and weaknesses. it's good to have friends and associates who inspire and challenge you. being head of the class in every subject could get boring (though i'll admit that i liked that seat just fine myself).