When people ask what qualifies me to be a parenting editor, I rattle off bits of my resume that explain why The Huffington Post might have entrusted this section to me. What they really want to know, though, is do I have kids and how old are they?
I have one. A daughter. She's two.
In other words, my experience is more limited, in terms of sheer years and big events, than other parents. My personal milestones include: pregnancy, colic, going back to work after a too-short maternity leave and, at the moment, feeling massive angst about potty training. What I don't have any firsthand knowledge of is actual potty training "techniques," sibling rivalry, homework, afterschool activities, what kids do on Facebook, why parents stalk their kids on Facebook, crazy acronyms kids use while texting, kids stumbling onto Internet porn, the sex talk, the drugs talk, the piercings talk, soccer practice, anything to do with raising a boy ...
It's not the first time I've been in this position. I have a habit of writing about subjects I need to learn more about. Right out of college, I was hired to cover work, having never had a job. Then, I moved on to be a relationships editor while I was very, very single.
What's great about this pattern is that I get to learn about the life stage I'm in in a unique way. While I was writing about sex and love, I met a guy, married him, and subsequently quit the job. That might have had more to do with me being in my mid-twenties than the tips in any of the dating stories I ran ... But if you read enough about any one topic, you have to develop some mastery, right? My role as a parenting editor could be turning me into the most expert mom on the planet, or this is what I tell myself, at least.
I am going to raise the perfect child. I am never going to feel bad about my own mothering. Work-life balance is my bitch.
Yeah, not so much. But, I have learned a few important lessons about motherhood over the course of the past ten months...
Be the big doggie.
I was working from home one evening, emailing with child development specialist Betsy Brown Braun about a post she was working on. My daughter, who was in the room with me and my computer, started running in circles and yelling "Big doggie, big doggie, big doggie. Where is BIG DOGGIE?" She was referring to an oversized stuffed animal she loves. I told Betsy what was going on in my apartment and said, "So I'm going to need to get back to you on this tomorrow."
"Well, I hope you got down on all fours and said 'Woof!'" Betsy replied.
I hadn't. It hadn't occurred to me. I just looked around for the toy. But, little kids love to play. And, play is fun. I should listen for the cues to be silly. I am never too busy to amuse. I am also, it turns out, very good at crawling and howling with a toddler sitting on my back.
Pay attention to the jokes you don't get.
Blogger Rhiana Maidenberg often jokes about how her girls like to wear their pajamas outside. While I usually laugh out loud at Rhiana's posts, these anecdotes never got me. I liked the imagery -- aw, cute little people in footsie pajamas. But, I didn't really get it, because my daughter never minded taking her pajamas off. Then, last week, Zadie insisted on wearing this:
Don't expect to be the cool mom.
At the park today, a group of 20-something hipsters were sitting next to me and my diaper bag. One of them asked me (not her friends) if she was getting sunburnt. She said I'd be able to tell because I am a mom.
The ramifications of my transition from a fellow young person who might forget the sunscreen to a seemingly responsible adult should have been obvious to me earlier. (Everyone already makes fun of mom jeans. And mom hair and moms who text.) But it wasn't until I started thinking about news stories from the perspective of all parents that I realized becoming a mother means becoming a grown-up. I am now the person who cares if another person leaves the house without brushing her hair. More seriously, I hear about a young person dealing with bullying and wonder, What can parents do to protect their kids? I fear that they probably can't do enough. Parents are not allowed deep enough into kids' worlds to make the difference. These things weigh on me now.
As for the girl in the park, I told her her skin looked okay, but she should reapply sunscreen anyway.
Do expect to feel slightly insane most of the time.
At first, I thought it was just mothers of babies. If you are not sleeping, talking to a tiny creature who can't talk back all day, doing calisthenics to make nap-time happen... That is all crazy-making. But then my infant grew into a toddler who, today, demanded "the blue cup!" followed by, "No, the green cup!" and "Don't want the green cup!" and "Share your cheese Mommy! PICK ME UPPIE." I eventually realized I had poured water in three different sippy cups and taken a piece of cheese out of my own mouth to give to the little person I was holding on my hip.
So, I am discovering that the insanity doesn't end. A person who is much younger than me will forever control what I do next. Also, many of our readers liked this quote from J.D. Salinger -- a noted recluse, mind you.
Brené Brown recently told an audience of mothers at Mom 2.0 that "the best part of being crazy is ... I'm not alone." She wasn't referring to sippy cups. Brown had just spoken about the feeling she gets right after being consumed by overwhelming love for her daughter. A sense of dread that something terrible will happen to her child. It's true. My baby has my heart. I love her so much that I am terrified.
Know that you are remarkable.
Over the course of my tenure here, I have spoken (sometimes in person, more often virtually) to all kinds of moms. I often find myself saying something like, "Oh my god, how do you do it?" I have said this to a woman raising six kids who owns her own business. A single mom who has a child with special needs. A mom of triplets. The mother who got pregnant with her second kid even though she was previously scared to. Another who is impressively sure she doesn't want a second. One mom who works outside the home and finds time to go to yoga as well as blog for The Huffington Post. The mother who, ahem, founded The Huffington Post. When it comes down to it, there is not one mother I've met who I am not flat-out awed by. Which means only one thing. You all deserve to be worshipped.
We need to stop the worst kind of mom-judging.
Just because all of you are amazing does not mean I suck. And yet, whenever I talk to impressive moms, I have two thoughts: Whoa, you are remarkable. And, I am a bad mom. I know I'm not alone in this. Especially not online. It's time to stop turning other moms' accomplishments into our own deficiencies. We can learn from the mothers who impress us. We can emulate their amazing qualities. We can reject them for ourselves too. Whatever it takes, we have to stop comparing, because we all measure up.