I’ve written this month about atoning for the paths I chose last year that had some negative impact for how I mother. In this last week of January, I’d like to consider some of the paths I took that I think served me well and served my family well. So I guess I’m not atoning this week, but celebrating. Rendering glorious even.
One of the things I’m doing by purposeful choice is aging gracefully. I don’t mean that in the way that the makeup industry means it, or the way that the “skin rejuvenation” or cosmetic surgery industries mean it, which is to resist mightily any sign of aging, to celebrate preceding life stages thus diverting our gaze from future ones, to work frantically and with much effort and cost at disguising the life space you actually do occupy. I mean moving lithely along with the flow of your life, allowing the glorious effects of aging to season you. I really loved being 16, and 25, and 34. But being older than that is cool. I just feel more centered, feel positioned at a better vantage point that allows me to see what I couldn’t see before and to make things matter differently. How to not assign all of life’s complexities equal weight is a skill that emerges across years and through experience. So I think I’m doing a pretty good job of seeing my own and my children’s ages do nice things to me and for me. I don’t have the babies anymore (even though I refer to them as my babies, like when I’m texting them) and that can be melancholy every once in a while, but mostly it’s lovely and good and right to have arrived here.
Relatedly, I am finding myself to be more forgiving of me. About my ability to earn supermom points, for example—these are imaginary points that I assume my children are chalking up or the culture that surrounds me is chalking up when I manage to meet a few of the typically impossible demands that mothers confront—dreadfully unrealistic expectations that we are taught are necessary and in children’s best interests (though we have little convincing proof it). I try hard to eschew any loyalty to these standards and expectations but they exert a troubling influence on my thinking anyway. So I am better at feeling good when I’m able to accomplish what I’m taught to wish I could in terms of mothering, and then conversely at feeling good about not being so singularly driven toward chalking up supermom points, the tallies of which I never actually see so I can’t really verify who is judging me, or how or when I’m losing or gaining points. And most importantly, I can’t determine how much I personally care about any of that which, of course, is the grand design of what sociologist Sharon Hays calls “intensive mothering” expectations; we’re never clear on where we stand with regard to meeting them; we always seem to be reaching for them and never basking in the success of having achieved them, so we are inclined to feel, at some level, inadequate, not good enough as mothers. These days though, I am better at doing what I can when I can and when I’m up for it—cooking meals every night for several nights straight and then, not so much. I haven’t prepared a hot sit-down dinner in days. And I’m good with that.
Finally and also relatedly, I allow myself to be pulled less forcefully between the “shoulds” of culture that tell me what a good mother should do and the “shoulds” of feminism that tell me what a good feminist should do. If I want to go to the school activity, I go. If I want to labor in the kitchen, I do. If I want to laugh at some YouTube video with my kids, one that might make me lose some of feminist stripes, I do. If I want to get my nails done, or swear in front of my children (though being mindful of its impact on my own energy, as the Veganasana writes in her recent post), or spend two days organizing my closet and arranging my clothes (and my belts on this awesome new organizing contraption I bought) or wear makeup, I do. My point is, the arbiter for deciding what’s appropriate in a given moment is me these days, and not some external judge that I’ve envisioned or that I’ve been taught to bow my head to. Don’t really do that anymore anyway, head bowing.
So despite my foibles and humanity, some of which I’ve unfolded this month in my focus on Food, Work, and Time, I’d like to end January with tipped hat to the ways in which I’ve learned to be awesome. I hope my maternal readers are inspired to sing their own praises too.