I’m No June Cleaver

Wearing a greasy ponytail, and over-sized sweatpants, I sat at our dining room table, engaged in a staring contest with a blueberry muffin. These culinary stare-downs had become a hobby of mine as I convinced myself to eat something I would inevitably throw up.

It was a Saturday morning, and I was seven months pregnant. My to-do list was a mile long, but faced with another day of unrelenting nausea, I was already feeling defeated. Even in the wildest days of my youth, I’d never spent so much time worshipping at the porcelain alter. I’d read the nausea and vomiting would subside after the first trimester, but there I was, just a few months from delivery, and still tossing my cookies like it was my job.

Everyone I knew loved being pregnant. “Isn’t it just amazing?” They would say as they rubbed their perfectly-round bellies. Not a hair out of place, and with a noticeable lack of double-chins, they would gush about the joys of pregnancy.

That was not my experience.

I wasn’t glowing, or feeling even an ounce of motherly-euphoria. I looked like I’d been sleeping under a bridge for the past seven months. My eyes were blood-shot and rimmed with dark, sleepless circles from constant nausea and never-ending heartburn. If the old wives’ tale was true, and heartburn meant the baby would have a lot of hair, there was a strong possibility I’d be giving birth to an alpaca. Forget about my hair and make-up, my pants were being held in place with an elastic hair band.

If this pregnancy was any indication of what was to come, I had some serious concerns about motherhood.

A few months later, however, all that uncertainty vanished the moment I met my daughter. She was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, and I knew nothing would stop me from being the mother she deserved.

But, as it turns out, it’s not quite that easy—Mary Poppins had a real gift. This job is a bit more difficult without a magical handbag, and the ability to hop into a chalk drawing at a moment’s notice. I was a much better mother when the scenarios were hypothetical, ya know, before I had kids. It was easy to make bold statements about my mothering prowess before a tiny human had thrown-up in my mouth.

Before I became a mother, I assumed bad parenting was to blame when I saw a toddler losing his shit in Target. Now, my toddler is the kid losing his shit in Target. Motherhood is a fickle beast—it will humble you.

Despite what the internet would have you believe, there’s no instruction manual when it comes to raising children, and for this reason, I regularly find myself at a loss for how to handle any number of parenting situations. I have no long-term plan, and my thoughts about how to do things change from day-to-day. So, I guess you could say, I’m winging it. Maybe that’s crazy, but hey, crazy’s gotten me this far.

When you become a mother, it’s natural to draw knowledge from those who’ve gone before you. Maybe your mother was June Cleaver, maybe she was distant and unapproachable, either way, our experiences shape us. A bad example is still an example nonetheless, and gives us a reference point to rise above, or in the case of June Cleaver, to rise to.

Without even realizing it, I began comparing myself to other mothers, and comparing my kids to other kids; only to be filled with self-doubt when we didn’t meet the standards of those around us.

Eventually these nonsensical comparisons consumed me. I was making myself, and everyone around me, crazy trying to be perfect, trying to do everything the “right” way—afraid if I went rogue I would ruin my kid. God forbid she ate food that wasn’t made from scratch, or watched the Disney channel longer than recommended. Lord knows that’s how all deviants are raised.

My decision may have been influenced by a toddler-meltdown, or an extreme lack of sleep, but one day, I’d had enough. Did it really matter when or how my kid learned to use the toilet? From what I understood, I’d be cleaning-up kid pee indefinitely, regardless.

If there is one universal truth, it’s that no two people are alike, so why was I wasting time comparing apples to oranges? Fruit is fruit. Or in this case, kids are kids, and there are a million different ways to be a good mom. I’m sure even June Cleaver served cereal for dinner every once in a while.

This decision has been one of the best I’ve made as a mother—for myself and for my family—and the best part? We’re all still alive and doing well. In fact, I would wager to say we’re all happier. I’m not a neurotic stress basket, and my kids don’t have a mother who’s a neurotic stress basket—everybody wins.

I still have moments of doubt, where I’m certain I’m doing it all wrong, but I think that just comes with the territory. Even though I make a pretty solid pan of lasagna, I’m no June Cleaver, but as it turns out, being myself is even better.

This piece was part of Listen To Your Mother, Kansas City in 2017.
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