In our pre-Stella existence, with all our disposable income and endless free time, most of which was spent dining out, Cody and I faithfully attended Bumbershoot. My favorite performance by far was Public Enemy, though we saw a lot of big names along with some fabulous unknowns and rising stars. To us, the festival was not just about catching bands but also comedians like Patton Oswalt, who remains a favorite of ours. During one particular show, he spent quite a bit of time interacting and improvising with the audience. He saw that someone brandishing an inflatable sword and, of course, engaged him. The dude answered Patton’s question, then launched into some rambling tangent (similar to this blog post) about medieval history and how he has studied it for years, yada yada yada. Patton listened for a minute or two, clearly amused, and then perfectly delivered one of the best lines I’d heard in a long time, “Save it for your blog, man.”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t even really miss Bumbershoot. It got too crowded and annoying. Or maybe we got too old. Either way, we’re not hankering for the music festival experience. Not at all. Though, I hope to someday we’ll attend such events, as appropriate, with Stella when she’s old enough to get something out of it. These days, I’m home with Stella every day. I tackle freelance writing projects during her naps and after she goes to bed. In the little spare time that I have, I don’t really know what to do with myself. So, usually, I waste it online. Brilliant, I know. I bet you wish you thought of that! Really though, I’m used to sitting at a computer for ten hours a day. That’s what I did at work for the ten years before Stella made her grand entrance into the world and our lives. So, I try to cut myself some slack and think of it as a process of breaking old habits. Slowly, I’m spending less and less time on the computer. And it feels good.
Blogging is also an online spare-time activity, but I’ve been reluctant to do it lately. Blogging started out as a way to celebrate and find humor in our parenting journey, and to share milestones and memories with family members, all of whom live so far away. Then Stella had her feeding issues and the blog mainly became a form of therapy for me and a way of possibly helping others going through the same thing. And I enjoy writing. It’s my profession, and how I am best able to express myself.
Then I saw this National Post article by Christine Rosen, a scathing indictment of the mommy bloggers and so-called “hipster parents” of today. Rosen claims that many parents today are hipsters, permanently stuck in adolescence. She observes that coolness and self are our top priorities rather than the needs and development of our children. Rosen blames this on the fact that we were the first generation to be bombarded as children by well-intentioned commentary about our uniqueness, how special we are. (Praise without actual achievement, she reminds us, has been shown to undermine self-esteem.) And so, today’s parents dedicate our lives to proving that point right. Our children are left by the wayside, merely pawns in our efforts to feel good about ourselves.
Now, I could hardly be called a hipster. Hey, I’ve only bought TWO (or five or six) things on Etsy.com. I drive a tan Ford Focus. I’ve never, ever been considered “cool” and working at an ad agency confirmed that beyond a shadow of a doubt (though I know am good at what I do). Sure, I’ve made attempts to be stylish–I even wear not-too-tight skinny jeans sometimes–but I’m pretty freaking mainstream in my Banana Republic cardigan. I “given up” Bumbershoot (though, as I said, very voluntarily) and many other activities from my pre-parenting days. Yet, I felt a sting when I read Rosen’s article and couldn’t help but feel it was at least partially directed at me and other moms who find mothering challenging, even painfully difficult at times, and aren’t afraid to say it.
After seeing, in that article and elsewhere, harsh attacks on the most famous mommy blogger (I know, I hate that term, too!), the bold and hilarious and honest Heather Armstrong of Dooce, I began to feel more self-conscious about blogging. Even a sense of dread. I’d worried about posting our names and pictures online, because you just never know who’s looking. It’s scary. I wish I’d never posted my last name–a mistake made in the fog of new parenthood, I suppose. At times, I noted that I was writing more about my own feelings than Stella’s experiences. I was aware of this, but conflicted–maybe it was best not to share too much of Stella’s life with the world? Maybe I should stick more to my own stuff? With all of this swirling in my mind, I thought about taking the blog down, and did a bit of soul searching. Was there any truth in Rosen’s article? I had to investigate. And I realized something.
I was not a grown-up until Stella arrived. That much is true, Rosen. But I that’s about it.
This will sound familiar, perhaps. Three or four times a day, I get down on my hands and knees and clean up the five square feet of food debris that was left behind by Stella, as if a miniature pasta squall hit that area of the kitchen, and then I wipe down the high chair tray. Then the table in front of her chair, because the edible storm inevitably spills over. This act is one small example of the million little chores/rituals a parent comes to know. And I have to admit, that until recently, I really only thought of it as a drag. A pain in the ass that I would often put off for a little while. That’s not really true anymore. Something has shifted. And I think it had something to do with an episode of Oprah, the one featuring Stephanie of NieNie Dialogues.
Stephanie is a wonderfully positive, sweet, talented, and popular mommy blogger who, about a year ago, suffered severe burns on 80 percent of her body when the small plane her husband was co-piloting crashed. As viewers, we got a glimpse into her daily life, how she struggles with intense pain and can’t pick up and embrace her children, yet she continues to enjoy, relish, and appreciate the big and small tasks of motherhood. My revelation crystallized when Oprah said, to a mother who’d been feeling really resentful and bored by her role as a stay-at-home mom, that making lunch for your child, along with all the other duties of motherhood, is sacred work.
It hit me. I saw the frustration, complaining and, yes, boredom I’ve experienced over the last year in a new way. I’m evolving, slowly and, in my typical style, awkwardly. I am becoming a much less selfish person. I look back at some of my behavior from the days of Stella’s tube feeding, and I feel so sad. I was so worried about her, I couldn’t see straight. Mostly, my love for her and desire for her to be healthy and at her best drove my emotion and reactions. But I think there was a small part of me, I’m ashamed to say, that also saw it as an inconvenience and as a way in which Stella was “not right.” Man, I’m having a hard time holding myself together right now. I think my panic was somewhat to blame on immaturity and impatience, and because I was unaccustomed to real sacrifice–certainly not the level of sacrifice that our situation demanded. I made the sacrifices. In fact, I went over the top. But I suppose I didn’t handle it very well at times. I’ve just begun to reassess that time in Stella’s life and my own, and there is still more to learn. It’s eye-opening, to say the least.
I saw meal time, until recently, mainly as a source of stress, instead of the privilege that it is. The fact is, I get to be with, eat with, and play with Stella every day, all day. Yes, I need a break now and then to re-charge. And some major financial sacrifice was made in order to achieve this arrangement. But we are *just* fortunate enough to make it work, mainly because before Stella’s birth, we paid down all our debt and saved most of a down payment for our first home (still renting at the moment). Many mothers have absolutely no choice about whether to stay home with their children. I had a choice. So I get to make all of her meals, clean up after her to make sure she lives in a safe, tidy and pleasant environment, read to her endlessly, and see her smile a hundred times a day. (Her smile is a heat source, I swear. We no longer need to use our fireplace.)
Side note: Self-consciousness is kicking in again. This entire post, especially what follows, may come across as cheesy. I know I have a tendency to do that but I can’t help it! I’m not looking for sympathy or anything like that, just expressing myself. God, look what the haters have done to even us unknown mommy bloggers. We can’t say anything without over-analyzing and second-guessing our feelings and writing.
Last week I began to say to myself, whenever I felt reluctant to do my big clean-up during Stella’s long mid-day nap, “This is sacred work.” I said it again and again, and it took root. Bouncing her to sleep until our backs ached, inserting her NG tube, blogging about her adventures, the tough but ultimately necessary switch to formula, making her favorite pasta and beans, wiping smashed banana off her car seat, changing her poopy diapers… all the work I’ve done for Stella has been sacred. My life isn’t all about me, anymore, and frankly, it’s refreshing. Of course, there are still times when I think I’m going to go mad. I’m not a monk. (Stephanie, though Mormon, may secretly be one, however.) But I look back on all of these experiences with such fondness and from a whole new perspective. I am very lucky. I knew it all along. But now I really feel fullness of this truth. And yes, I’ll save some of it for my blog.