Monday, August 25, 2008

of shared badnesses

I've handed in my last draft (for now), and it's in the hands of the scary, scary anonymous reviewer people. So, I'm bloghopping to distract myself.

I found this kind note at DovBear, and this fascinating one at Juggling Frogs. The question of good or bad mothering is pretty near and dear, as you can imagine, mostly because when I want to wail about being an awful mum, any number of people tell me this: well, but you have so much going on, it's so hard!

This may be true, but as Carolyn points out, the wail itself is important. And, inevitable. No matter how hard we supermommies work, badness is unavoidable. Mostly, of course, because good mommydom is only partly based on our terms. My kids don't care how much I've got going on. To them, I'm operating on normal terms - we work hard to make their normal seem manageable and dull - so, say the children, why can't I get my ass in gear and oh, stop screeching? It might be hard, but they couldn't care less.

Kids are kind of ruthless that way, when you think about it. They need what they need (I'm thirsty, mum) - and they don't care if you've got the flu. You can browbeat them into accepting less (hold on a sec, kid, I'm busy), you can talk them into awareness of the other person (you look awful, Mum, can I help?), but none of this changes the basic need.

And when you have kids who need more, well that's just the deal, mom. So pony up. And so we do. But honestly, people, there are limits.

I appear to be a little tricky to talk to on the 'bad mommy' front. I tried to play the other day, and someone stopped me cold. What you do is heroic, she said, and I stared at her. She's no slouch herself as a medico-parent, and yet. Hunh? Why can't I be a bad mom, too? I took a shot: Whatever you think of what my kids demand of me, I claim the right to be as lousy as anyone else. Just the other day, I screeched bloody murder at the wee horrors for.... - and yet, end of conversation. New subject.

So, no bad mommy playtime for me. Partly because people like to pop me up on the Hero Mom pedestal (let me tell you, it's chilly up there and slightly two-dimensional), and partly because if my kids wailed over me not making it to their soccer game, I'd snort at them. It's a soccer game, I'm sorry I missed it, but there will be more. 'kay?

End up with a bleed or need me to yank soy out of the diet, and I'm there for you. Need a hug, and I'm happy to cuddle. Need any number of things that I can provide, and I will. But if you want something and it's just not going to happen, then I fully expect that we'll have a calm, caring conversation - and then you will deal, o child of mine. This isn't the smugness of a mum who has it all figured out, this is the can't be bothered-ness of a mum who knows she's only just got her nose about water. I get that, and so do my kids. Perspective is crucial. I bet Rix knows that.

Need vs want, I tell the kids. We can really want that which we don't need, and that's okay. Can't have the ice cream, can need a treat to replace it. Must trust me - and yourself - to do your best. Work with me, people.

(come to think of it, this ruthlessness may have something to do with the pedestal. Still. Brr.)

"It's just that complacency and smugness are incompatible with the authenticity and flexibility required for any important relationship," says Carolyn, and I wouldn't disagree. Thus the lack of parenting gurus in my life. Even Dr. Sears had to make it up at some point, so why not me? But I think that there's a certain degree of smugness in bad mommyhood - telling the bad mom story gives you an in to an intriguing social function: the anti-perfection patrol.

Martha bad, FlyLady good? Where do you draw the line on perfection? Individually, we can be amazingly harsh on ourselves, no matter how much we sneer at Martha. (and I'll admit here to having made one of her recipes for dinner. Yum) But watch how the discourse works in groups.

Try this. Note how the bad mom invites others to be bad, also? She creates a new normal, in which any number of relatively sane-sounding women are bad, too. It's okay to be imperfect, the women tell each other, and then reset their common denominator a few, socially sanctioned notches down from the pedestal. (again, I note: brr) This has the equivalent function of slugging back a nice cold beer - the women now relax and actually begin to talk to each other.

Bad mommying creates a connection, and sets a boundary in which more honest conversation is possible. It's a pretty good deal, when you think about it.

if you find yourself lacking in bad mommy inspiration - I, alas, am my own personal source - the parentblogger blog (say that three times fast? six times fast?) suggested this for bad mothering with trailer park style. Got to get me a copy...

The feast of comfort food continues over at Chez Imperfect, and I can feel my skirts tightening. Looks like with comfort, comes padding. Alas for the slimmer version of me, and oh, well. But mmmm. Good.

Today, we reinvented a dish of my childhood. My mum used to make this for me, I told the boys. They dumped crisp, fresh blueberries on top and chewed thoughtfully, considering the gustatory virtues of their mum's mum. Finally, the Eldest swallowed. And when is she going to come and visit? he asked, and filled his spoon. Oh, I said, working it through. So you like this dessert?

Mouth full, he nodded. Right. Gotcha, kid.

Childhood Chocolate Pudding
serves 4

1 cup gluten-free self raising flour mix (recipe from Living Without magazine, below
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 soup spoonful of cocoa/carob powder (for the Aussies and English, this is actually a dessert spoon)
2 Tb melted butter/margarine
1/2 cup soy milk/dairy milk

Mix ingredients together, and pour into a 8x8 pan. Heat oven to 375 F.

1 c brown sugar
2 soup spoonfuls (or dessert spoonfuls, for the Anglophilic) of cocoa or carob
1 and 1/2 c water

Heat and mix together until sugar has melted. Pour on top (no, really) of the batter.
Bake at 375F for approximately 45 minutes. Serve with a cold, crisp-flavored fruit, like blueberries or raspberries. Or, if you aren't dairy allergic (or vegan), serve with whipped cream.
GF self-raising flour, by Living Without magazine:
1 and 1/4 c sorghum flour
1 and 1/4 c rice flour
1/2 c tapioca flour
2 tsp xantham/guar gum
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

....and the Imperfectly virtuous, Martha-made-us-make-it dinner: leftover watercress, a handful of olives (although we like this also with pickles), a teaspoon of child-despised capers (see, they don't eat everything), a can of well-rinsed chickpeas, and a cookie sheet of wonderfully garlicky fresh croutons. Tossed with olive oil (4 Tb) and red wine vinegar (2 Tb). Ahh.

Oh, yes. The croutons: I cut shabbat bread/challah into bite sized chunks, tossed with about six smashed, peeled cloves of garlic, a 1/4 cup or so of olive oil, salt, coarse black pepper and 1 Tb cumin seeds. Then we baked the croutons at 425 for about 15 minutes, and finished them off with a minute or three under the broiler. Then I chased small bums out of my kitchen when they ate too many pre-dinner croutons.

bah. Eat the bad mommy's croutons, will they?


dykewife said...

you want to be a bad mom?

ok. you're a bad mom! bad! bad!

however, i think that your kids still love you despite yelling at them, despite the periodic meltdowns that nearly every mom has.

you're human. i think you're an exceptional mom because of the issues you have to deal with. that doesn't take your humanity away nor does it gloss over any flaws.

besides, we see what you write about. i know with absolute certainty that i wouldn't be able to parent children with the health issues yours have. i don't now, nor have i ever had the energy that would take. you not only do that but you do so with dietary restrictions that Judaism demands.

maybe you set your bar too high. i mean, you already have an enormous amount to deal with. it's ok to have flaws.

purplemommy said...

What I hate is when you are telling another Mom something you let your kids do and she says "Oh, I'm a terrible mother I would NEVER let my child do that." Implying that because you DID let them do it then YOU are really the bad Mom. Case in point, last St. Patrick's day I let my son paint leprechon footprints on our hardwoods floor. The rules were not on the furniture or walls and he had to clean it up the next day. When I relayed it to a friend she repeatedly said how she would never let her children paint on the floor, so what a "good" Mom I must be and what a "bad" Mom she must be.

Juggling Frogs said...

Thank you! You're one of the "worst" that I had in mind, as one of the best.

Just keep that pedestal in the basement, in case you need something to lean on someday. (I hear they make good park benches, when toppled & held horizontally.)

(I thought I left a comment when you first published this post, but it must have been eaten by pantry moths.

Then I came here looking for Boston-area frum Mommy bloggers, but couldn't remember where you're based.

THEN I realized that I need your blog today for practical reasons, as we're hosting a friend whose child is on the SC diet this shabbat, and need ideas for GF goodies!

So, thank you on a number of fronts!)

Juggling Frogs said...


I hear you, and agree that the "bad mommy" is often used in the way you describe.

But, maybe, (I hope) sometimes, some of the people who say that, are *really* trying to compliment you on your flexibility. *Some* of them might mean that they realize that their own rigidity causes them to sacrifice spontaneity and joyful messiness in favor of housekeeping.

I remember one rainy afternoon, a friend and I let our kids play in a big mud puddle in the park, and the look on the other mothers' faces. Some were disapproving, for sure, but others were wistful.

If there is any doubt, I'd actively assume the "bad" mother meant it this way (and maybe even despite a bit of evidence to the contrary, just because I can be ornery).

Do you have that "bad" non-painting mom's e-mail address? If so, it's not too late to forward to her the YouTube of Randy Pausch's Last Lecture, in which he mentions letting the kids paint their walls. That might shut her up... um, I mean... help her better understand your perspective.

Miryam (mama o' the matrices) said...


I definitely set my bar high. I aim to be a good mom, and to have the other stuff just be details that need to be managed. I think, though, that as far as the kids are concerned, the bar is about right: I need to meet thier needs with love, food, shelter and the kinds of things that nourish a growing spirit.

It's my problem, really, that that stuff is just harder when you've got details - or, let's be less coy about it: baggage. Baggage doesn't change the kids' needs, but perhaps you are right, and it means I should be kinder to myself. While meeting their needs.

purplemommy, oh, sheesh. I've done that to someone. She lets her kids run rampant (and joyous) through the house, bashing each other with foam swords. She set firm boundaries, and even got to play herself. It was wonderful to watch, but I wouldn't be comfortable with it. And so I did exactly to her, what that other mom did to you! And then felt silly about it. Sheesh. I coulda kept my mouth shut, y'know?

Carolyn, I am in the Boston area. Whazzup? And I love, love, love the muddy puddle story. I squished my neat-freakiness once and splashed with the kid in muddly puddles during a light rain. It was wonderful.

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