Since the 1960s, scores of mothers in America have shared in the experience of reading P. D. Eastman's classic tale Are you My Mother? to their children. A silly and heartwarming story unfolds as a confused little bird mistakes it's mother for a cow, a car and a shovel, but the deeper meaning is that the hatchling successfully completes the imprinting process -- recognizing his mother so he can mimic her behavioral characteristics.
With the latest shots fired in the on-going Mommy Wars -- the Rosen/Romeny Brouhaha -- I am feeling very much like the little bird. I find little commonality with the au courant versions of motherhood being touted today. I don't identify with Amy Chua, French Moms, Ann Romney, Hilary Rosen or Frank Bruni's mother, who, by his recent account in the New York Times, was bathed in golden hues during every selfless act she performed in her lifetime.
Sure, I have wrestled with the tiger, issuing strict dictums fueled by politically correct parenting dogma. Determined to have my son enjoy a gender-neutral childhood, I declared his toy chest a DMZ. There would be no toy guns, no guns that turn into toys and no toys that turn into guns for my cub. I devoted evenings to removing tiny weaponry from his action figures, only to have my son turn everything from Thai noodles to our cats into armaments. I just wasn't tough enough to hold that thin blue line in a country where proponents of the second amendment have the words tattooed into their skin.
I have pas de deuxed with mon bebe, but I didn't have the je ne sais quoi to measure up to those laissez-faire frogs. I confess, I put down my cappuccino and played with my kid. I kicked balls, climbed trees and jumped on the trampoline (albeit in the dark because I failed to do enough Kegels). Like many American women my age, I waited to have kids until I was in my late thirties. I probably won't live to see grandchildren, so I got down in the sand box and dug in for some playtime. Am I the only mother who will admit to secretly envying Sarah Palin for having a pregnant teenage daughter? I've done the math; if my kid has a baby while a still teen, I'll have a grandchild while still ambulatory.
Helicopter? Sure, I've hovered over my eighth grader while he does his homework for the last nine years. I could say I was doing this to make up for the underfunding of public education in California, where in one classroom, with over 40 kids, the teacher called my son the wrong name for an entire year. But even so, I failed at Helicoptering. Due to a busy work schedule, I was unaware that a progress report had come home announcing that my kid had earned a D in a core subject. It wasn't until months later, again, due to another failure on my part, this time my poor housekeeping skill set, that I found said record of my inability to produce a straight A student, crumpled into ball behind the couch. Surely at Frank Bruni's sainted SAHM's home, the floor was kept so clean you could eat off of it, alas, my house has been generously referred to as "homey" and "lived in" which is code for chaotic mess. I was, however, able to successfully channel Amy Chua, just a little, reprimanding my errant offspring with, "That's the best you could do? Couldn't you have incinerated it, or disposed of it in a trash receptacle outside of our domicile? Really, sloppy substandard work." Thereby combining both a corrective chastising and a vocabulary lesson in one fell swoop.
That low point marked my identification as a Village Parent. As diverse in ethnicity and occupation as The Village People, but parentally guided by the vision espoused by Hillary Clinton in her book, It Takes a Village.
We Village Parents are both mothers and fathers. We don't have a book out; we're too harried to write one. We don't have a catch phrase unless you count our endless mutterings of "I'm exhausted." Our families alone can't provide enough support for us; they're also employed or looking for work. We're winging it, juggling duties with our partners and depending on the kindness of people who once were strangers but are now in the same boat, trading pick ups, drop offs -- even overnight stays when work requires it. Village Parent confession: I signed my son up for the Model U.N. after school program, not only because I thought it would be an educational experience, but because it happens to meet on our public school's money-saving early dismissal day and that program extends the school day by an hour and a half!
So if you should see me in my most recent endeavor portraying a marauding villager from the Middle Ages in a television commercial, you'll know that, in a sense, it's my dream role, one that most captures my identity as mother: Racing around madly, face smeared with dirt, outfitted in a look that could best be described as "dowdy peasant," lit torch in hand and a panicked expression on my face as I'm chased by a gigantic, green troll.
I'm not sure son my son will recognize me as his mother, but I'd like to think that I am carrying that torch in recognition of the spirit of Village Motherhood. That at its essence, trying to be even a Good Enough Mother can turn you into a raving maniac.
I wouldn't characterize a SAHM as someone who never worked a day in her life like Hilary Rosen, but at the same time, I do hope that Ann Romney can find compassion for all the mothers whose financial and familial circumstance make it impossible to share in the choice she has made. I also take issue with my friend Bill Maher's characterization of the toughness of having to get your ass out of bed at 7 am to deal with a hard-to-satisfy boss versus the stay-at-home experience. In fact, my son is my toughest critic; I have to get up even earlier when volunteering at school, and it's unlikely that Bill has ever received a public dressing down for incorrectly formatting flyer information from a mercurial PTA volunteer.
My hope is that we mothers will build a tent inclusive enough for all the varieties of motherhood in America, so we can stop using competitive and punitive labels and make it harder for politicians and pundits to define us and drive a wedge between us.
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