Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fake it 'Til You Make it

So I want to be lighthearted and funny for you. I want to be edgy and insightful and simple and honest. I’d like to turn a phrase that is efficient and illuminating all in one. I want to be the blog post that you need right now. But I’m tired.

I’m not talking about physically tired (again), that’s a given. I am bone-crushingly psychologically and emotionally tired. It’s not just the one step forward two steps back marathon of getting somewhere as if you are walking up the down escalator. That does crush the will to stay on the path of parental fortitude as prescribed by therapists, books and common sense, but there is something that makes that journey even more exhausting.

Pretending everything is okay.


Pretending everything is going to be okay.

Yes in the grand scheme of disaster and tyranny, everything is okay and will be. But in the microcosm of my self-importance, in the galaxy of my tiny existence everything is not okay. It is what it is, and I‘m tired of spinning that as extraordinary and unique and quirky and modern. I’m ready for the hard work to pay off and I’m not entirely sure that phrase is based in any kind of truth beyond farming.

So putting all spin aside, here’s what’s left: I’m not sure I have what it takes to be a parent. I know it’s kind of late in the game for that epiphany, and it’s certainly not helpful on any level, but I can’t pretend it’s not true. Some things I do work, many things I try don’t and the only barometer I have is the kids in front of me. And I am terrified of failing them. They don’t deserve that.

Fake it ‘til you make it. There’s another aphorism that has gotten me through more than one potential catastrophe. So I will pretend to be strong when I want to crumble. I will be okay with being hated when it serves a greater purpose. I will smile at work as if my life is an Emmy winning sitcom. I will tell my terror to take a seat in the waiting room until it is dulled into a coma by back-dated People magazines.

And I will whisper to you on occasion that I have no idea what I’m doing because they say the truth will set you free. And some day I would like to talk to whomever “they” is to see the data that supports their claims.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Alpha Spouse & The Martyr

So spouses, partners, significant others…there’s a can of worms for you. They are the one person in the world that can make you believe in your heart of hearts that you are not alone. And they are the one person in the world who can make you feel in your heart of hearts that you are completely alone.

And I have a good one. A really good one. He’s truly a good man. A prosecutor with the DA in one of the most horrifying units, not a big drinker, not a philanderer, very funny, not an asshole, he’s a good man. I know he’s got my back, and I have his. I love him, and yet…sometimes he’s just wrong. When there’s something to be wrong about, it’s him who is wrong. Which means, that from his perspective I am just wrong. And of course he’s wrong about that too.

So how do you parent with someone when you disagree? When, really, he’s just wrong.

Seriously, I’m asking the question.

So let’s figure this out. There’s this whole united front theory. You have to present a united front when parenting. Otherwise your clever clever children will quickly divide and conquer. (Why my children can’t employ their velociraptor cleverness to actually do the thing for which we are desperately trying to present a united front for is another post.) This means, that when you disagree with your co-parent someone has to compromise. And let’s face it the alpha spouse wins that rock paper scissors nine times out of ten.

Yes, the alpha spouse. Even the most evolved marriages have them. Most marriages are in fact made up of an Alpha Spouse and a Martyr. Sometimes you switch roles, but that’s usually when the alpha spouse really just wants to win again and beat you at martyring.

I am not the alpha spouse. And, as mentioned before, my husband is a good man. He is also a lawyer. He is paid to persuade. And win. On the other hand, I am an actress. I study human nature and their objectives and tactics. So, I (sometimes) get paid to play a part. So when I have to be part of a united front in which I do not fully believe, I play the part of a believer. And, sometimes, when we are deciding on our united front, I play the part of the alpha spouse.

It ain’t a perfect system. It’s not always like this though, often we agree. And when that happens, it is a miraculous blending of two into one and I am not alone. And when it doesn’t happen…well it sucks to feel so alone in a crowded room.

And yes, we talk about it. I express what I feel in brave moments, he tells me how he’s feeling in sensitive guy moments. And sometimes we both do it in delightfully passive aggressive ways. But yes, we communicate. We try to hear and adapt and hope that we are inching ever closer to a consistent balance. Yes, balance, not equality, because I’m not sure total equality is possible. At least not in marriage. Because when the scales are tipped one way, as can happen when one of you gets a promotion, or is fired, or has a shitty day, or the best day of your life, there needs to be counter balance or else the see-saw slams to the ground and someone’s butt gets bruised.

But often things are left unsaid. Not because we are cowards, or not reflecting on our marriage, but because we’re tired and Teenager #2 has wrestling practice and Teenager #1 has a chemistry exam, and there’s nothing for dinner, and we can’t afford another pizza, and someone’s toothbrush fell in the toilet and we don’t have time to be united and sensitive and balanced. We don’t even have time to be married.

And suddenly love looks entirely different than before kids. Love looks like a dishwasher full of clean dishes, or a gas tank re-filled, or a bed made, or underwear actually making it to the hamper. And you realize, they really do listen sometimes, and you remember you are not alone.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Showing our Parental Cellulite

With the Olympics coming up, it feels right to talk about the oft overlooked, yet perhaps most competitive of sports...Parenting.

It happens from the moment we give birth and compare our choices to that of the parent in the bed next to us. From the unspoken understanding that our child is in fact cuter than any of the others in the nursery to every single benchmark in our children’s’ lives we measure our success based on the degree of success or perceived failure of our fellow parents. We breathe a sigh of relief that our child spoke their first word and stepped their first step before the “So and So’s” across the street. And we lament and fret sleeplessly over the fact that “Mr. & Mrs. Perfect’s” son is reading chapter books at age 3 ½ while our child is playing with an empty box.

We do it. We do it consciously, we do it unconsciously, it soothes us and tortures us and drives us to say and think ridiculous things. It justifies our actions and paralyzes our instincts and it has nothing to do with our children and everything to do with the reality that we feel desperately unequipped to parent.

I would like to say that I have found a solution to such practices; that my obvious wisdom as gleaned through the arrogance of having a blog on parenting has shed light on this unspoken yet rampant plague of parental competition. I would love to say that if I wasn’t so relieved that someone else’s child got a worse grade than mine on that last English assignment.

And I truly believe with my whole heart that the entire issue can be summed up, as in all things, with how we communicate on Facebook. You’ve seen it, you’ve done it, You’ve posted that picture or video that shows your child’s excellence and superiority to the average bear. They got into college, they burped their first burp, they scored the game winning shot, they said something disarmingly precocious and advanced for their young years, they told you they loved you in a better than Hallmark way. They achieved, they succeeded, you obviously did something right while graciously claiming none of the credit except in your own soul which writhes and twists every day with the fear of screwing your kid up.

And those victories are great, and they should be celebrated and liked and shared. They absolutely should. But what would the world look like if we shared our failures as well? Not for sympathy, not for bucking up, not for fishing for compliments. What if we shared our failures or struggles simply to erase the shame of them.  The other day, one of my Facebook friends posted that her child had a massive tantrum over something the rest of the world would surely consider trivial, and I was so happy. Not at her child’s suffering, but at the bravery to say, “Hey this is not all unicorns and the Brady Bunch. Sometimes the rainbow gets graffiti-ed.”

“But Mary, if we erase the shame, aren’t we just justifying bad choices and behavior and issuing a guilt free get out of jail free card.” Sure, that could happen, if we weren’t moral humans who torture ourselves at every misstep. Just as our children know that getting a D isn’t great and they feel horrible about it, we know when we’ve blown it as a parent and whatever torture we deal ourselves is a hundred times worse than what others may think or say. Just as sharing our victories gives us and them hope, sharing our screw-ups may bring an end to all the suffering in silence. Surely I can’t admit that I gave my child no vegetables with dinner last night and that, in fact we ate a sodium filled frozen dinner, for then it would be known that I am an imperfect parent.

Well, you are. We all are. And we want to be better. So we read books and blogs and go to seminars and compare ourselves to others because we are responsible for this human being whom we love more than, well, every other thing ever, and in order to wake up tomorrow and try again we have to feel we’ve done something right. So we post a post that proves that “I got this.” And we need to keep doing that and…we need to sometimes let the world know “I don’t got this.” Because parenting is so hard, brutally unforeseeably hard and perpetuating the myth of unicorns and the Brady Bunch creates an unrealistic ideal that distracts us from our real job: seeing our kid for who they truly are and helping them learn how to stand on their own two wobbly flawed and fabulous feet.

So keep posting the good stuff, by all means. But let’s occasionally show our parental cellulite as well. I’ll start.

I can’t get my kids to brush their teeth and I’ve stopped trying.