One of the biggest challenges of mommying, for me, is that I’m never alone, now. I have had to figure out: How do I take a shower without neglecting my baby? The answer, for me, is to strap her in to some immobilizing but hopefully engaging contraption that I would never have approved of before I had a baby of my own. Once strapped in, I can safely place Sophie in the bathroom with me. Hooray for her bouncy-chair, and hooray for her exersaucer, and who knows what I’ll use once she outgrows that exersaucer. But even that isn’t enough. I’ve recently switched to showering in the guest bathroom because it has glass walls instead of a shower-curtain, and Sophie cries less if she can see me. It’s odd that my baby has this much control over me.
The showering example is just one way to explain that I used to have lots of solitude, and now I have none, and this has been a giant transition for me. And yet I still feel lonely, at times, because Sophie isn’t exactly a scintillating conversationalist. At least not yet.
There’s an even bigger parenting paradox: I have this suspicion that everything I do as a mom is simultaneously trivial & momentous. I think that Sophie will remember very little of what we do together — except I fear that the few things that she does remember may deeply affect her for life. And I have no idea which is which.
Will she remember that we went orange-picking on Monday afternoon? Someone from my Unitarian fellowship announced that he had too many oranges, so we got to visit his fascinating SoCal estate filled with hundreds of pet-birds & several dozen citrus trees & the most wonderfully-smelling flowers. Lots of things around here get called “Rancho” — it’s typical developer-speak for upscale housing development, but this particular orange-tree-surrounded house actually merited the title Rancho. Sophie seemed as delighted as I was by the whole bizarre & delicious scene, and she clutched her oranges so cutely. But maybe what she will really remember is that on the way home, I temporarily gave her my car-keys to play with (in the moment, it seemed the best way to keep her happy) but then took the keys back to drive us home & I left her crying alone in her carseat. Or maybe what she will remember is that, once home, I let her eat a segment of these amazing blood-oranges we picked, and it might have been a scary color for her, or it might have been too acidic for her little tummy — or it might have been a delightful sensory experience. Or it might mean nothing in the long run.
You see the conundrum? There’s so much I can possibly do wrong, and very little that I can confidently do right, even when what I’m doing is such a seemingly simple and sweet thing as taking my baby orange-picking.
I think I have gotten this impression from reading too many memoirs. And maybe it’s not even true. We live in a blame-your-parents culture, but my own personal belief is to take more individual responsibility for our actions & responses & patterns.
I’m thinking about this because I’ve been trying to figure out where all this mommying pressure comes from. I keep hearing moms complain about how they feel constantly judged, and I feel this myself, but then I don’t actually see many people ever actually doing this judging. It seems like a bizarre self-imposed pressure. Is it the basic problem that we feel insecure about raising kids, unsure whether we’ll successfully inculcate in them the myriad habits & traits that it takes for them to even reproduce our own class status or simply feel a sense of comfort & happiness? Is it the fact that US society expects individuals to do what most other societies do collectively (working out family flex-policies each on our own, stretching to afford childcare & find time to spend with family…)? Is it the fact that there is so little actual research about parenting, but so much seemingly at stake in every detail?
For instance, we know that breastfed children have higher i.q.s, but we don’t know if that’s only because it’s the more educated parents who choose to breastfeed, or have the time-flexibility to breastfeed, or the necessary community-support to breastfeed. Everyone I know needed someone beyond the basic lactation consultant in the hospital: that’s how hard it is, even though we had previously thought that it was natural, intuitive, and joyous. Breastfeeding IS joyous, in the long-run; I’m already regretting the not-too-distant future time when Sophie will wean herself — but it’s also complex. And breastfeeding is just one little daily act.When should my child start wearing shoes? And how do I teach my child not to lick the toilet-seat? If I feed her real foods too early, am I inadvertently starting a potential food-allergy or am I wisely ignoring the paranoid hoopla that is most parenting advice? How do I keep her safe, and healthy, and hopefully curious & joyful too? And, while doing all that, how do I also take care of myself – since of course that’s fundamental to taking care of her?
I meant to post something more cheerful. Here, I’ll try again: Sophie and I got to pick oranges this week. It was fabulous. If you live anywhere near me, stop on by, these blood-oranges are delicious. I am so grateful that I have my community, and my cultural-studies analysis, because I couldn’t do this without that.