"Are we doing something wrong?" my husband asked me.
We were hanging in our friends' backyard, where we came to celebrate the loss of Donald Trump in the 2020 election. On a macro level, we were cautiously ecstatic. On a micro level, our six-year-old was being a severe hemmorhoid. I'm not shocked or appalled by your standard hemmorhoid-kid behavior. This ain't my first rodeo. But that question--ARE WE DOING SOMETHING WRONG?-- has haunted me as a parent.
Sometimes I think it's because I'm not a kid-person. I'm doing something wrong because I'm not a kid person, I knew it in my heart, and I had one anyway.
In my endless quest to find work I don't hate for which I might also get paid, I have tried to be a kid-person. I'm enchanted by those who say, "I love kids!" Kids are a great genre of person to love. I have tutored them, taught them art and poetry, even trained to be a kids yoga teacher for a spell. I did all those things because I admire these things about children: imagination, lack of inhibition, honesty.
But I one-hundred-percent understand why people don't have kids. They end life as you know it. With their gross little mouths they suck out everything about you that makes you interesting. I'm kidding (but only partially). My daughter came into my life one-month early and I've resented her for it ever since. Kidding again (or am I???) Anyway, I didn't take to that change easily, and seven years later--even with all of the ways she's changed me for the better-- I still resist it. "It" being change. The awesome, mammoth change of becoming a mother.
Becoming a mother hasn't magically made me into a kid-person. I was sort of hoping it would? Oh, well! My husband is more of a natural. He can play pretend first thing in the morning, pre-caffeine, while I would much rather pretend that neither of them existed. That I am 24, single, and living with extravagant credit card debt but exactly on my own terms.
I'm kidding. (You are beginning to doubt that I'm ever actually kidding, aren't you?) I love my husband and my kid; they are my unit. My team. My home. But you know, a girl's gotta have her fantasies.
Sometimes I think I'm doing something wrong because my daughter has an insatiable appetite.
Since Kid was around two, we've called her The Bottomless Pit. Even as a baby she was huuuuungry. In her first year, I had to supplement with formula. I was never a Lactating Queen with voluptuous breasts and nipples like pacifiers. My nipples were always kind of pale and not in the mood, frigid, more like the Queen of England. Like a mediocre cow I squeezed out a decent amount of milk. But it wasn't enough.
So I pumped for my daughter, saw a lactation consultant for her, took pills made out of my own placenta for her, and yet...
I'm hungry, she says.
During IVF, you get *lots* of ultrasounds, and while I was in the early stages of pregnancy, our doctor spotted the empty sack of a failed pregnancy near the thriving one. I was grateful that second one hadn't worked out (I bow down to anyone with multiples), but it was surprising that had even been a possibility; my body had taken to fertility drugs like a shade plant takes to the sun. I produced exactly TWO viable eggs, and both of them fertilized. Shockingly, we had eked out two determined little life-seeds. One of them made it, the other didn't. Because in-utero Kid ate it. (Now that she's old enough to appreciate it, she really likes that joke.)
As a seven-year old, Kid eats two breakfasts, two to three snacks, a full lunch plus dessert, two to three more snacks, a full dinner, fruit, and then maybe, probably, a little more dinner after that. She sees no value in delayed gratification, which clearly means she will have no success as an adult. I wonder, Should I make her stop eating so much? The other kids don't eat so much. Do I give in too easily to her demands for food? Am I teaching her to eat her feelings? AM I GIVING HER AN EATING DISORDER?
Once, when she was two, I found her hiding in the closet with her Halloween candy. Now, she will tell you that her favorite class at school is lunch. Eating disorder, for sure.
Sometimes I think I'm doing something wrong because my daughter will choose me over other kids, clinging like ketchup on fries.
So if she chooses me, aren't I doing something right? A kid-person might think so. A kid-person would be like the mom in the migraine commercial who's so grateful for Cymbalta or whatever because now she can finally play dress-up with her daughter. I'm the mom who wishes she had the migraine because it would give me a free pass. What's wrong with Kid that she doesn't want to play with other kids? Isn't playing with other kids what she's supposed to do? Why, on the playground, does every other mom get to sit on the sidelines and stare at her phone while I'm forced to co-ride the slide? Did we pay too much attention to her as a baby? Is this only-child rebellion? Should I have given her a sibling? Have I not socialized her enough? WHAT (JUST TELL ME ALREADY) AM I DOING WRONG?
I have sweated these-- and other, oh lord, there are more-- aspects of my "motherhood journey" hard. I fear-joked to myself that because of how she is now, she will become a walking-talking limbic system , demanding food, drink, drugs and mommy everywhere she goes. Even when she's 43.
Except, believe it or not, I do have some wiser, calmer voices in my head. I know those fears are just trying to get me to pay attention, they're just being a pain in the ass about it. I know that *in all likelihood* she's going to be fine, or at least a normal person with joys and sorrows and everything in between. She's going to love me and hate me for something. She will simultaneously think I'm the best and the worst and for a long time she won't think of me at all.
The wiser, calmer me remembers that when I was a kid, I was shy around other kids, too. In time, she'll learn how to turn strangers into friends, and if she's lucky like I've been, she'll find some great ones. And the truth is, Kid eats like an adult male athlete but Kid plays like a goddamned ninja warrior. She rules the monkey bars, climbs anything remotely climbable (including walls), wrestles shirtless with her dad every night after dinner, and will do consecutive cartwheels around a race track. She has a six-pack and admirable biceps. Also, she's a ballerina. She needs the calories.
When I was a kid, I would eat an entire can of Chef Boyardee ravioli before dinner. I helped myself to bowl after bowl of Breyer's Neopolitan WHILE watching TV (gasp!). After school every day, my husband would get a Snickers and a Coke. Eating entire boxes of things was definitely in his repertoire. To this day, his appetite is Chicago-famous. No, these are not healthy habits that should be encouraged. But when I think back on my childhood and then teenage years, I know shit's going to get worse. Way worse.
Top 5 personal, classic youthful transgressions to remind me of what's to come:
Clipping hood ornaments from cars in the church parking lot (true story)
Stealing money from my dad's wallet
Fake ID-ing and drinking waaaaay under age
Do I have issues? Hell yes. Could my parents have done better and did they do their best? Sure!
This I have come to learn: The real reason why I feel like I'm doing something wrong is because I'm human. And Kid is human. And she reminds me of that-- that we're both human-- all. the. time.
I said to a wise friend, "I think eating is my kid's favorite activity". Her response was, "I think it's most people's favorite activity." It reminded me that my daughter is human. How did she end up so human? How did I turn into a person so shocked and offended every time she acted like a human?
I think it's like this: You have this perfect, innocent baby. And you get used to thinking of them this way. It can be difficult to stop thinking of them this way. They start growing and changing from perfect infant to imperfect person. You know this is going to happen, but you still can't believe it. It's like you have to stop and ask them who they are, who they have become, on this particular day, day after day. It's awesome to witness. It's exhausting, too.
Plus, there's so much stupid pressure. There's so many tips and techniques and ideas about HOW TO DO IT RIGHT that it can really fuck you up if you buy into it. I have maybe ten parenting books on my shelf right now, mostly given to me by other people. I read them and feel bad about myself. They're all basically like, listen: YOUR KID IS A PURE, ENLIGHTENED, SELF-EXPRESSING ORGANISM WHO FOLLOWS HER INSTINCTS BEAUTIFULLY AND YOU....WELL, SADLY, YOU ARE THE OPPOSITE OF THAT.
I stopped reading those books.
Here's where I am at now: My kid is hungry. She is insatiable. For what tastes and feels good. That includes love and attention. I have so much love for her it's insane. The attention part I struggle with, because I'm an introvert and I get energy from pulling it in, not putting it out. So I do my best. She is Child, Child is She. But I am Mama, and Mama is Me.
That's right. MAMA IS ME. Meaning, I'm realllly trying to stop bending myself to fit into this role anymore, I'm bending it to fit me. And I'm pledging to myself to quiet that fear of "doing something wrong." Because the answer to my husband's question, of course, is yes. Yes, we are doing something wrong. WE ARE ALL DOING SOMETHING WRONG. And, barring more serious traumas, it's going to be (mostly) okay.
That night in the backyard, as we watched Kamala Harris become our first female POC Vice President, I was trying to get the obligatory shot of little-girl-watching role-model-woman on the projector screen-- Oh, the beautiful hope for the next generation of girls! But there was Kid, pounding sliders and shooting heroin. Kidding again.
In actuality, she was the only kid there not glued to the screen. She was hopping around, one second seeking comfort from an uncomfortable lawn chair, the next seeking leftovers, next the warmth from my body, burrowing into my lap like the horny little gerbil she is. YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG, the voice in my head says. WHY CAN'T SHE BE GOOD LIKE THE OTHER KIDS?
Well, Fear and Anxiety, my friends, she is not the other kids. She never will be. And I am not the other moms, and I never will be. And I don't want us to be any other way-- even when I really, really want us to be another way. Realizing that, I think, is doing something right.