Modern mothering

So here we are, another Mother’s Day around the corner, and it’s apparent that once again, I was passed by for the National Mother of the Year Award. In fact, I suspect I wasn’t even nominated. So what if I don’t work 12 hours a day finding a cure for cancer while putting six kids through college, writing the great American novel and training for the Hawaiian Ironwoman? And maybe I can’t balance a checkbook, cook a pot roast, start a gas grill or sew a straight line to save my life. Isn’t it enough just to put my children’s shoes on the right feet, keep the knives in a safe place and put edible food on the table (not to be confused with the inedible dried remnants stuck to the table or smeared on the couch cushions)? I’ll tell you one thing, those frozen pizzas don’t just magically appear in the freezer. Sure, the modern woman has some advantages over her hunting and gathering ancestral sistren, but I don’t think there’s a mother out there worth her weight in Goldfish Crackers who hasn’t experienced the savage jungle of City Market on a Saturday afternoon. Add two small children in that unmanageable barge of a shopping cart masquerading as a “race car,” and we’re talking full-on urban warfare. And god forbid you should ever get the urgent call from the “poop deck” while deep at sea in say, the produce section. May as well send up the white flag and pray someone will hear heed the distress call: “clean up in Aisle 3.”

Alas, before I piss off those over-achieving Betty Crocker types by suggesting they stick their bundts where their cakes don’t rise, allow me to digress. See, up until, well, right now, I’ve never taken this whole Mother’s Day thing too seriously. Breakfast in bed only leads to crumbs in the sheets and flowers would just serve as convenient target practice. Maybe my ambivalence also stems from the fact that, although I have two children, I’ve never fully come to embrace the whole “M” word. In the rare instances the word does escape my lips, it sounds completely tinny and foreign, as if I’ve just announced myself as an astronaut or bathing suit model or something equally ludicrous.

I’ll admit for the first few years of so-called parenthood, I half-expected my kids’ real parents to return to pick them up. You know, parents who adhere to strict bedtimes, never swear or lose their patience in public, keep informed on all the latest parenting practices and vacuum under the couch on a regular basis. But let’s face it – it’s easier to have a kid in this day and age than it is to get a library card. I mean, shouldn’t there at least be a written test, license or brain scan, at the very least? Somehow it just seems wrong that there are people out there who believe reality TV is actually real but are still allowed to populate the world with their spawn.

Anyway, my own issues aside, I think there’s yet another, underlying excuse at work here. See, for several of my formative years, I was the one writing the mushy poems and crafting the hand-print ashtrays. So
how is it that all of a sudden, I – the perpetually immature, completely irresponsible, chronically late, “please-don’t-call-me-ma’am,” I-can-still-squeeze-into-my-high-school-prom-dress girl that I am – have become the recipient of the peanut butter-covered pine cone bird feeders and paper plate dream catchers? Could it be that, in some bizarre twist of fate, I am turning into my … (gulp) … mother?

Please, dear god, don’t take that the wrong way. I, like most people, love my mother not only for birthing me but bringing me soundly to adulthood with all my real teeth and enough sense to look both ways before crossing the street. It’s no easy feat raising four children with only two trips to the emergency room, no felonies and just a handful of mystery car dents (the truth of which were painfully extracted under the glaring light of the kitchen/interrogation chamber by a father who cross-examined like Perry Mason.) Plus, through it all, she remained relatively sane and peaceful, although I do vaguely recall something about a giant wooden spoon.

I know, it happens to us all eventually. I just didn’t expect it to sneak up on me so fast. One moment, I’m completely in charge of my destiny and on top of the world, and the next, I’m saying things like “cruising for a bruising,” burning the fourth frozen waffle of the morning or walking into rooms for no apparent reason. One day, I’m thumbing my nose at authority and the next I sound like a broken, nagging record: “clean up your toys,” “eat your dinner,” “close the refrigerator door,” “don’t draw on the walls/floor/each other,” “stop hitting/punching/tormenting your brother/sister” and the mother of them all, “because I said so.” (OK, I’ll admit “get your hands out of your pants” is another one I wasn’t quite prepared for, but that’s a topic for another day.)

All I can say is, if I develop a serious “American Idol” addiction, lock me up and throw away the remote.

Perhaps this is all so alarming not because I’ve realized my memory capacity is roughly equivalent to that of a toadstool, but because I can vaguely recall those exact same actions and phrases, down to the exasperated intonation, happening somewhere in my not too distant past. The same phrases I swore, up and down on my Hello Kitty diary, that I’d never repeat.

Alas, here I am, yelling at my kids not to spit milk on the floor, run in the street or play with scissors. And strangely enough, the response I get is also vaguely familiar. A sheepish look followed by immediate resumption of said objectionable behavior as soon as I turn my head.

I will say this, the motherly harping, while deadening some formerly valued functions has resulted in the honing of heretofore unseen sixth senses: namely the eyes in the back of the head and ability to hear up-to-no-good silence from several hundred feet away.

So, maybe motherhood isn’t all that bad after all. And if things go as planned, some day, I’ll be the one sitting back and watching American Idol while my kids implore their own offspring to “use their words” and please tell mommy why they unraveled the entire roll of toilet paper.

-Missy Votel