Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Textbooks are for higher education

My second guest post is by my other dearest bloggy friend ZoeyJane. I don't know what I would have done with myself one night if it wasn't for her. She listened to me, provided information and advice, and let me cry for hours late into the night and has been there for me every day since then. If you haven't read her blog I recommend starting with this post. When I read it I wanted to jump through my laptop and give her and her darling daughter the biggest hug to thank them for reminding me that life is beautiful even on the rainiest of days. She writes from the heart openly and honestly. (And, Princess D loves to watch the video of Isobel over and over and over.) I am honored to call her my friend.


For the first year of my daughter's life, I was aiming to be a textbook perfect parent.

Despite a messy break-up with her father shortly before her birthday, severe post-partum depression, colic and nearly complete self-imposed isolation from peers, I was completely self-sacrificing. The baby cried, so I nursed her and then rocked her to sleep. She didn't like the stroller, so I wore a carrier until she was nine months old. I worked part-time from home, but only when she was sleeping - which was a feat, considering that her first six months' worth of naps could only take place in a vertical position against my chest, and it would take hours to get to her sleep at night, only to wake up every two for a feeding. I swear my arms were always full because I barely put her down, for her first six months.

It was tough work and I didn't sleep a lot. But I always spoke with a soft, respectful tone and often bilingually while I was serving her balanced meals in her sparkling clean, sanitized high chair. This was between the three or more walks we'd take each day and the multitudes of board books we'd read.

I rocked perfect parenting, even if I was a little mental.

The only place that I let out exactly how little mental I was, was on my blog. There, I unleashed my resentment towards this role and her father, her crying and my lack of irresponsibility. I talked about what a mistake I'd made, how there was no way that I could do this parenting thing well enough to not screw up her life and how, at times, I disliked my life and daughter so much as to use the word hate. No where else did this come out, not in public, not behind closed doors, only on the Internet.

And then someone called Child Services.

Long story short, I was angry, because here I was, being this perfect parent. Crying only with the water running, while Isobel slept. Going nights on an hour of sleep, just so that everything could look good enough, be clean enough, be completed enough. Getting out of bed and walking in the pouring rain, when all I wanted to do was sleep. I was doing everything right. But because I didn't feel right and blogged about it, it meant I was dangerous.

Textbook perfect parenting worked out in my favour, with social workers laughing at my concern over their presence. And because they said I was an excellent parent, it meant it, right?

I became even more vigilant. I was even more ideal and became closed mouthed about my thoughts and feelings, and nearly simultaneously, she got easier and PPD lifted it's veil. That's not all that lifted.

See, I came to realize that like everything else in my life, I was measuring my parenting success against other people's perceptions and compliments. I had no real faith in my own abilities - just in how well I played the role.

There was something wrong with that.

I stopped acting. The next time I got sick, I put on movies for my daughter and tried to nap. I learned how to work, while she played. I started cleaning, washing dishes, scrubbing the toilet, mopping the floor while she was awake. I began to cook, when there wasn't anyone else around to hold her and she wasn't napping.

I learned how to ignore her, honestly - something I'd never done before because I thought that all of my time should be devoted to her, exclusively. That is what my textbook said, after all.

In doing so, in actively not engaging her, allowing a television to babysit her and stray plastic containers to entertain for upwards of an hour, I learned to take time for me, our home, our life and us. And she's learned too: become an independent, imaginative and helpful little creature who is able to recognize when Mommy's otherwise indisposed.

Sure, I still can't pee with the door shut, but I can take a bath while she plays at the side of the tub. Yes, I am still the person who loses the most sleep when she has a bad cold, but it's okay because then I get to cuddle with her. She may always be talking - even in her sleep - which is a distraction from working, but now I can tune out Dora the Explorer when she's not.

There's so many heavy things about being a parent, so many sacrifices that we have to make. Most impressive to me is knowing that I don't always have to be self-sacrificing, at the risk of not appearing good enough.

Hi, my name is Zoeyjane and I don't want to be a perfect parent anymore. I just want to be me, better, with her (a little less hyper).

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  1. The honour, truly, is all mine. I miss you!

  2. Makes you wonder who writes those darn textbooks, anyhow?!?!

  3. Goodness.. this post screams exactly how I feel.. I tried for a really long time to be text book.. and just kept failing and failing.. and not to say I have it down today..(this parenting thing) but I no longer care that my kids do no speak a billion languages at four. Or that my little man is not toilet trained..

    as long as they are happy. And I am happy. AND I have my ME time.. life is good.

  4. You. Are. FABULOUS. All around. ;-)


  5. I hate those dang textbooks...no wonder we always feel like failures. geez

  6. I am king of ignoring! haha... drives Coral crazy, she is like, "don't you hear her?"

  7. Oh! I can relate even at my age! RLM was a colicky baby, allergic to "pampers" and rejected milk. She was on solids and pureed food at less than 3 months. She screamed when she felt confined to the car seat, crib, playpen. I was always at my wits end and cried along with her. Many gave well meaning advice; even Dr. B. Spock textbook on child care didn't cut it. Some nearly compromised her life and health, until our pediatrician told me to "stop and only listen to my child and my instincts."

    I was wracked with guilt handing her over to a nanny when I went back to work. In the end I felt better about myself and spent quality time instead of being exhausted and trying to be a perfect mom.

    Our children are a permanent commitment. At any age there will be challenges. We do the best we can and hope the mistakes we make do not leave permanent damage.

    BTW...RLM thinks the world of you along with Miss. I admire the veracity and intelligence reflected in your writing.

  8. Well, I've already told you that I think you're a great mom, over and over. So I won't say it again.

    But you're a great mom.

  9. Good for you, ZJ. Do it your way. Isobel is safe and loved. In the end, that's all that matters.

  10. Wow, ZJ. Heavy and intense and beautiful. Great writing, palpable emotion.