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)
Read about why it would be a really bad idea to put me into a witness-protection program
So many people have been mentioning this book. Then, I saw the bookstore downtown has it sitting at the front of the bestsellers. Mothering gets put into perspective when your kids have kids and your kids finally understand. You have that to look forward to …
Too funny, Ruth. You sound like *most* mothers I know!
Whew! I feel better about my parenting now. Slacker Moms unite.
I never enjoyed the mom stuff at school and so avoided it whenever possible. It felt like junior high to me.
Me too. Except for the cupcakes. I feel kind of sorry for kids nowadays when they aren’t allowed to take sweets to school. Are the room mother’s peeling carrots instead?
And your kids turned out OK ? That’s the litmus test 🙂
Your kids did survive and are thriving so you passed with flying colors! I’m glad to know how you felt about childhood things. I never liked cartoons and couldn’t (still can’t) stand to shop for toys! Now, clothes/shoe shopping is another thing–I love it!
Finally, mothering that makes sense! I did do the room mother thing, but no one enjoyed it–least of all the kids who had to eat my cupcakes.
Odyssey of the Mind! My kids did Destination Imagination, a (controversial) “spin off” of OM.
You are so funny, Ruth. I am devouring this book. I feel like there’s a bit of Bernadette in many of us. Thank goodness for that. I’m guilty as charged. No room mother duties for me. But my kids do, I think, forgive me. The other mothers? Not so sure.
Having grown up in the 70s-80s where the whole “helicopter” parenting style was NOT normal, I find it an abomination. Hip-hip-hurrah, for Laissez-Faire!
Plus it was really awesome that occasionally, I got to have an Oatmeal Raisin Little Debbie for breakfast.
Well, you’ve pretty much just mapped out my entire mom-hood to date. We did recently acquire a minivan, but that’s only because a friend gave it to us. The kids are teenagers now, so no one wants to ride with us anyway.
This is too funny! Today’s kids would be a lot better off with Laissez-Faire moms. I sheepishly admit to driving a blue Dodge minivan nicknamed The Blue Mule by teenage boys driving it far too fast. And, although I hated being room mother, I held about every other PTA office. Now I understand it was my subconscious acting out the desire to be a small business owner/travel blogger. The training has come in handy after all.
Ha! I killed our minivan. You know, I think it’s time for one of your kids to do a guest post–I’d love to read some of their reactions to the “sins” you’ve shared.