I started getting that sinking feeling when I read the new novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette.
The book wasn’t the problem. It was great, in fact — breezy and entertaining, the kind of reading that makes the sweaty hours on the elliptical slip past so quickly you could swear you were having fun.
The problem was me. Bernadette — the novel’s problematic, neurotic, perverse main character — reminded me too much of myself as a mother. That is, scattered, a bit slipshod, and totally lacking in the self-sacrificial ardor of today’s uber-moms.
I never ran over anybody in the school carpool line the way Bernadette did, but that was just dumb luck. I did just about everything else wrong and I might as well confess to the following egregious maternal sins before I die:
1) You know the kind of mother who spends her children’s infancy staring into their eyes and counting their tiny fingers and toes? I was not that kind of mother. I got in some eye contact on a pretty regular basis, but once I’d counted their little digits once, that was enough for me. I was, frankly, a little impatient for them to start talking and develop a personality. Good mothers, as you may know, are never impatient;
2) I never owned a minivan or drove a minivan. I did have a station wagon, though, and that was bad enough;
3) I never once served as a room mother or a deputy room mother. In fact, I lived in fear of drawing that particular black bean. When the question went out, “Well, who wants to be room mother this year?”, my eyes were fixed on a faraway object, my lids half-closed and twitchy, my affect catatonic. Nobody ever asked. Good choice for all of us!;
4) You know those mothers who slavishly emulate Martha Stewart and bring darling little cupcakes to their kid’s class for birthdays and those cupcakes are such works of art that even grimy little sugar-ravenous third-graders are reluctant to eat them, but when they do, they are in culinary heaven? I wasn’t that mother, either. In fact, I was the mother who once brought such an unattractive and unsavory offering of cupcakes to her daughter’s first-grade class that many of the children became traumatized vegans.
“You should have used a cake mix,” one of the other mothers chided me.
“I did use a mix,” I said;
5) When we were asked to participate in a school project that compiled each family’s favorite cookie recipes, my contribution consisted of directions to the local bakery;
6) Sensing our family honor was at stake, my husband took over after-school snack duties when our daughter joined an extracurricular group called Odyssey of the Mind. His contribution, known as the Odyssey of the Stomach Rebellion, became the stuff of urban legend used to frighten small children;
7) When our son was in the third grade, any parent who traveled was urged to bring along the class mascot, Travel Bear, and offer written accounts and photos of where Travel Bear had voyaged. Yes, I admit it, we did leave Travel Bear in the trunk of our car at the airport for a week. But at least we weren’t as depraved as another boy’s father, who took highly compromising photos of Travel Bear lounging around with a cigarette butt dangling out of his mouth, surrounded by crushed beer cans. That would have been sick;
8. ) I admit it. Our kids never watched Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Even when I worked at the local PBS affiliate in Dallas and would occasionally beg them to pretend they did. “But we hate PBS!” they would announce. “Nickelodeon’s a lot better!”;
9) I never wrote anybody’s college essay. I never nagged anybody about applying to college on time. I figured our kids would either sink or swim on their own — kind of like they would once they get to college. If they got to college, I mean;
10) Finally and unsurprisingly, hell, no, I was never a Tiger Mom. I preferred to think of myself as a Laissez-Faire Mom. Where’d you go, Bernadette? Nowhere, really. She’s been living at my house all along.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)