I’ll never forget the day one of my closest friends brought her son over to my house to apologize to my son for some minor transgression. While I don’t recall what her son had done to offend, I remember it was a Sunday morning and my son was wearing plaid madras shorts and a Polo shirt. The reason that particular detail is etched so vividly in my brain is because my girlfriend took one look at my son and gasped in surprise.
“Oh Honey…You’re dressed?!”
My 4-year-old son gazed back at her, innocently oblivious to the fact that he—well actually his mother—had just been sort’ve dissed.
This might be a good time to admit that my boys ran around without clothing quite a bit when they were little. (If you’re trying to conjure a visual, you might want to go with the character Mowgli from Disney’s A Jungle Book.)
The reason I think it was a Sunday is because that’s the only day I actually forced my boys to wear clothes. My standards were still partially intact at that point and even I knew they had to wear more than Spider Man underpants to church.
You see, my boys are my 4th and 5th children. My first three children were girls. They were not only dressed, they were dressed in outfits Paris Hilton would kill for.
We moved around a lot back then, due to my husband’s career, and I often found myself wistfully wishing that each new group of neighborhood moms I associated with in those latter days had known me back when I first started raising kids. They might’ve even been impressed. I was firing on every cylinder with my first two children.
Because I cared so very much what other mothers thought about me…
Like most women, I entered the Motherhood Arena swingin’. I was pregnant with my first child my last semester of college, so naturally I wrote my Senior Thesis on The Benefits of Breastfeeding. I designed and sewed my babies’ nursery bedding. I made my own baby food. I had my babies’ pictures made at Olan Mills once a month to capture each and every developmental milestone. I was out to win motherhood.
To borrow a trendy expression from my 21-year-old, I was quite “savage.”
And what’s all this malarkey I’m hearing lately about “napping while the baby naps?” While my girls napped, I was productive. I made hair bows. I made 232 hair bows in 1991 alone. And, I was diligent about keeping those bows clipped in my little girls’ hair. If they reached up and tried to pull their hair bow out, I gave them a sharp little pop on the hand. I wasn’t going to have other mothers thinking I didn’t love my baby girls enough to keep a coordinated hair bow on their head.
One Christmas, my oldest daughter and I were invited to a Mother/Daughter Cookie Decorating Party. I dressed my firstborn in an adorable new Christmas frock, snapped in a matching hair bow and off we went.
At the party, our hostess provided sugar cookies baked in various holiday shapes, with an assortment of colored frostings, sprinkles etc. A little kid’s dream! My daughter daintily selected a Christmas tree from the tray and proceeded to make a god-awful mess decorating the thing. I was mortified. But when she selected a tube of blue for the star on top, when there was a perfectly fine tube of yellow available, I snapped. I’d had enough of her 5-year-old shenanigans. I snatched the cookie from her hands and finished decorating it my-damn-self.
I was 27, I had two kids and I had motherhood by the giblets.
That is, until I birthed another kid or two and ran out of steam and standards. That’s when the tail started wagging the dog, so to speak. The wheels came off the mini-van. Priorities got tweaked.
I just didn’t care anymore. Because I couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong. I cared plenty about my kids. The naked ones AND the Fashion Plates. I just couldn’t care anymore what other mothers or even my own mother thought. It was just me and the kids in the trenches—all day every day.
It slowly dawned on me that my legacy as a mother would not be defined by what other mothers remember about me. It would be defined by what my kids remembered about me. So I made a commitment (as much out of necessity as anything) to focus only on what mattered to them and to me.
My new philosophy liberated me and opened us up to an environment where clothing was wildly creative, blue was the color of choice and hair ran amok. But by the time I got there, it mostly benefited my younger kids.
At the time of this writing, all five of my kids seem to be doing just fine. However, my oldest two daughters are both attorneys who, I’m pretty sure, are preparing to file a joint class action suit against me.
Who could blame them? Mea Culpa ladies. I think that means “My Bad” in Latin.
My youngest making blue cupcakes with Mommy!
About the Author: Everyone from Leslie’s husband of 33 years, to her five children squirm in discomfort a little bit when she uses everyday family experiences as fodder for her blog, “A Ginger Snapped.” They can routinely be heard complaining as she tattles on them with what they now commonly refer to as “Pandora’s iPad!”
She has been featured on BonBon Break, Faithit Today’s Parent, Ten-to-Twenty Parenting, Mid-Life Boulevard, BlogHer, Your Teen Magazine, Scary Mommy, and NPR. She is also proud to be liberally splashed about The Huffington Post in the United States, as well as France, Spain, Japan, Quebec and Germany, as she comes to realize this may be the only way she ever travels abroad.