On Motherhood & the Impossible, Yet Inevitable, Pursuit of Perfection

I’ve been told many times over the course of my almost-seven-year (I say this with all of the vim and vigor of my six year old telling you she isn’t six, but six-and-a-half) career as a mother, that I am both #momgoals and also a source of ire. I’ve heard from both friends and strangers alike that I am the kind of mom they aspire to be, yet with those aspirations come a certain level of resentment because I embody the ideal of the mother you can never be: fun, seemingly tireless, put-together (ha!) and beautiful, brimming with delicious recipes and creative activities and spontaneous weekend trips and all the things they tell you die with the mundane and tiring aspects of motherhood.

Well, to all the parents- mothers, fathers, and everything in between- out there struggling to make it through another day, plagued with guilt that you aren’t enough, or just trying to find the joy in something you’re expected to love whether it was your plan or not… know this: I do not exist. Or, rather, the part of me that inspires envy or resentment or feelings of inadequacy, does not exist. That person, that version of me, is nothing more than the best parts of you projected onto the side of a building in Times Square. It’s nothing more than a well-timed photo among a Camera Roll of unused outtakes. I’m absolutely certain you have an instagram-worthy gem right this very second and if you don’t, I’d be more than happy to give you a few tips and tricks to help you get one because let me tell you, presenting a perfect life to the masses isn’t a matter of living the right reality; it’s a matter of acquiring the right skillset.

Maybe it’s a sign of my generation to care about social media at all, but I have to admit that I take pride in the fact that everything I post online is authentic to me as a person and the life that I live. Like everyone else, I post the best-looking snapshots of my life- whether out of vanity or the desire to embody a life better than my own, I don’t know. Like everyone else, I want my photo stream to be comprised of artfully captured loveliness. But because I know I have friends and potential friends and strangers who see my (fairly prolific) output and weigh their own value against it, I try really hard to paint a whole image: tantrums, bad behavior reports, and anger over self-administered haircuts among the laughs and kisses and lazy afternoons at the park.

Still, I’ve noticed that my earnest attempts at painting the picture in its entirety have made more than a few people even more uncomfortable than they would’ve been if my feed were nothing but impractical, unattainable images of perfection and I can only guess that’s because of an immense amount of privilege I experience as a person and as a parent. So, this is my attempt to acknowledge that privilege in the hopes that it’ll put all of this in perspective and end this ridiculous battle we all seem to fight in the hopes of perfection.

I’ll spare you the “I’m just like you!” BS in favor of a bit of honesty:

I’m the mom whose kid hurriedly shuffles into the classroom as the bell is ringing, slightly embarrassed because they’re technically late but the teacher is kind so it isn’t held against them. This isn’t because we spent our morning laughing at mommy’s funny faces and assembling adorably quirky outfits. It’s because I am both not a “morning person” and thus, set my alarm too late to begin with, and also someone who struggles with depression that makes it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, so I waste precious minutes doing the math of how many days I’ve let my kindergartener stay home from school and figuring whether we can afford another “sick day.”

I’m the mom who chaperones every field trip and brings thoughtful crafts and homemade treats to every class party, but could never ever be “room mom” because I’m unreliable and inconsistent, for reasons I haven’t yet ascertained. I show up to every school event with a perfect face of makeup (too much makeup, some would say) and a carefully selected outfit, but it’s all a feeble attempt to feel less out-of-place among the moms who didn’t have their first kid at 22 and don’t have to try to *look* put together because their lives aren’t a millisecond away from crumbling the way I feel mine is everyday.

I’m the mom who cooks five course meals on a daily basis, but doesn’t know what color her kid’s supposed to wear to her kindergarten graduation because I don’t check her weekly folder until the morning before it’s due, hastily signing behavior sheets with a colored pencil I found in the bottom of her backpack as we pull up for drop off. And it’s not because I was busy doing other important things; it’s because I’m a wishy washy person in the general sense.

All of this isn’t to get sympathy for my plight as a mother or to make anyone relate to me more. I am extremely privileged: I chaperone every field trip because I don’t have to work right now. (Make no mistake: we’re broke. But we’re surviving, which is privilege in  and of itself.) I cook five course meals when I should be making two simple meals with the same ingredients to make our money stretch farther (but then how would I feel accomplished?). My daughter goes to an incredible school and my son attends a ridiculously expensive daycare that is already setting him up for a lifetime of elite education. I have the ability to decide what I want to do with my career to choose between fulfillment or more money, and either choice will work out just fine for my family. I am blessed beyond measure.

This is all to say one thing: we are all doing our best, but please don’t for a second think that doing your best means doing what other people would define as “the best,” because that shit doesn’t exist.

Sometimes, your best means getting out of bed and walking your kid into school in your pajamas 45 minutes after the bell rang, riddled with guilt and embarrassment because you don’t even have a good excuse. Sometimes your best means working another series of night shifts that leave you exhausted and feeling guilty because you want to do more with your kid but you just can’t muster the energy. Sometimes your best means taking joy in your child as they flourish because you didn’t even want to be a mom in the first place. Sometimes your best means staying alive to love your baby another day as you struggle with mental health issues.”Best” is subjective, but the cool thing about that is that you get to define what it means. Please don’t ever forget that.

So, keep on keeping on. You’re not the only one who wonders whether you’re good enough. Constant self-doubt and relentless guilt are part and parcel of loving another human more than you love yourself because it’s natural to feel that your best will never be good enough. But please, try to treat yourself as kindly as you’d treat another parent who came to you wondering if they’re doing a good job. Chances are you’re doing a hell of a lot better than you give yourself credit for, and if you ever forget that but find yourself wondering how I manage to do it all, just remember that my kid was probably tardy to school today, but I held my head high as I marched her into school in my paint-splattered pajama pants and knockoff birkenstocks. Hold your head high, too. You’ve got this.

 

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The DIY that started it all

John asked me to move in with him at IKEA. It probably doesn’t sound very romantic to anyone but me, but we were there picking up a few items that any functioning human being should have in their home which, of course, Bachelor John did not have. I don’t remember if he said he’d ever been there or not.  Possibly not. We were walking around the showroom when he casually mentioned that since my lease was about to expire and I didn’t want to renew at my current apartment, Ellie and I could move in with him– y’know, if we wanted to. To me, this nonchalant suggestion in the midst of all of those reasonably priced, stylish yet functional housewares was aptly romantic. My daughter and I spent a considerable amount of time at his house anyway. He and I were spending pretty much all of our free time together. It was practical and yet romantic because it meant he wanted me around all the time and he was okay with the fact that my daughter was part of the package deal. I was totally okay with waking up to his face every morning.

Glidden “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” from Home Depot something like $25 per gallon

We moved into his three bedroom, two bathroom house. In true bachelor pad fashion, he had the two areas where he did his living burrowed out and the rest of the house was essentially a big storage unit. After clearing out one of the two spare bedrooms, I started setting up a nursery for Ellie, my then-18 month old daughter. I used a color called “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” for the walls that I had used in the living room of my old apartment, which had a bamboo tree in front of the windows that kept the room shaded and made the wall color look like a gorgeous jewel-toned chartreuse. I loved that color so much in my old apartment, but thanks to the big window that let lots of natural light into her new nursery, it looked like a bright banana yellow and drove me insane. It didn’t help that the accent wall I painted that looked like a nice shade of tan while wet in the can dried into the ugliest, weird shade of light brown that I’ve ever seen. Her nursery reminded me of a soft pretzel with mustard on it. The jungle safari-themed decor she had from her last nursery went with it, though, so I just went along with it. (Mainly because I didn’t want to buy paint and start over right after moving in and doing all that.) So, yellow and brown the nursery remained. (Because apparently I’m Yoda now.)

Ellie lived in the yellow and brown nursery for about six months before I decided to redo it. By that time, I was pregnant with her little brother and getting into nesting mode. John and I had decided to combine both kids into one nursery, turn the den into a nice, spacious dining room, and turn the small dining room into a playroom so we could keep the third bedroom for guests and his drum set. That meant that I got to design and decorate these new rooms completely from scratch, which is more than fine with me. I set about making the nursery first. As an avid lover follower of Apartment Therapy, I went there first for inspiration. I love looking at the nurseries and playrooms that readers have shared and found what ended up influencing the direction of our nursery’s decor. I wanted this chest of drawers. I loved contrast of the dark wood and the white, the clean lines, and the way it all looked against the light tan wallpaper. It would be the perfect opportunity to makeover a “Rast” from IKEA. Those things are $35, real pine, and begging to be someone’s next DIY project. They’re so easily customizable that I’m surprised I haven’t hacked one for every room of the house. As it is, I’m already planning to do another in the exact same style so each of the kids can have their own.

So, I bought my “Rast,” a gallon of white paint, and a quart of walnut stain, cleared out space in my garage, and got to work. I painted the outer frame crisp, ultra white. It was a flat paint, which wasn’t the best idea. Whenever I make the second one, I plan on doing them both with a semi-gloss to make it easier to wipe down for the inevitable tiny fingerprints that will end up all over them. I painted the insides of the drawers with orange paint as a little surprise when you open them. I stained the drawers with walnut Minwax, front and back. It was a pretty simple project. I think the most difficult part was waiting for it to dry so I could get it in the room. I was so excited to have a project to work on that brought the room one step closer to being the fun space I had envisioned.

I added bigger wood knobs than the ones that came with it, which I spray painted silver. I’m still not completely in love with the knobs, but I haven’t found anything that I like better. Once the chest had a place in the room, I got so inspired. I really started to figure out exactly how I was going to piece together the nursery and it jumpstarted a ton of projects that I am really proud of. I’ve always liked DIY projects. My mom spent the first five years of her marriage to my pop renovating and decorating the house we moved into, so I grew up watching her roll up her sleeves and create an amazing, well decorated, well loved home on her own. She really instilled that same spirit in me. Having an amazing living space is as simple as figuring out how to make what you want and doing it. The toughest part for me is reigning myself in when I start working on twenty projects at once. I’d love to hear about some reader DIY projects in the comments!

A birth story: Little lady edition

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to listen to women share their birthing battle stories [read: a man], turn back now because this post is about to get all kinds of birthy. I’m going to share what it was like to give birth to my daughter.

Elliott had no name until the day after she was born. Her dad and I were in agreement that we’d wait to see what she looked like before trying to name her. I have this philosophy about how naming someone is the first step in assigning them an identity that they will cultivate with your gentle guiding hand and, later, finish off on their own. How on earth can you assign an identity to someone you’ve never met before, let alone seen? Well, in my opinion, you can’t. So I didn’t name either of my children until I saw them, held them, smelled them, et cetera. But I digress.

Elliott had no name until the day after she was born. We were armed with a mental list of names that we kinda sorta agreed on when we drove to the hospital that November afternoon. I recall specifically that it was not cold during the day– Ellie’s dad was wearing a t-shirt and jeans– but that it got colder that night. My parents did not pack properly, so the memory of my sliver of a mom swimming in my pop’s big jacket when she went outside to smoke a cigarette sticks out in my mind. I don’t remember what I was wearing, aside from the fact that it must’ve been black slacks and a t-shirt with my name embroidered on it and the logo of the preschool where I taught.

We’d gone to the doctor for a checkup. We were ticking off the weekly checkups until my due date, but when we got there, the doctor couldn’t believe that I didn’t have any pain or pressure in my lady regions because I was five centimeters dilated– like a boss. When she told me to go to the hospital, the doctor laughed at me because I wanted to go back to work and finish the last three hours of my work day before heading to the hospital. She also told me not to stop anywhere because I could go into labor at any moment. Because I was taking an extended lunch break to have the checkup, I hadn’t had a thing to eat yet. I think we were planning to stop at Chipotle after the doctor’s office. So, no freaking food for me. It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

I called a bunch of people during the four mile drive to the hospital. My mom and pop live in Louisiana and were waiting on pins and needles for my call. My mom had already told her boss that I could call at any moment and that she would have to walk out of the office whenever that call came and that is exactly what she did. She and my pop made the four hour drive in five (because they’re old people) and they didn’t miss a single second of the good stuff.

My best friend of ten plus years made the three hour drive to Houston from Austin. My best friend since my senior year of high school made the 45 minute schlep from the city out to the ‘burbs where I lived at the time. My ex’s family all showed up. At one point, there were maybe a dozen people just hanging out in my delivery room as we all waited for something- anything- to happen. They ate Schlotzky’s while I ate ice chips from a styrofoam cup. That part sucked. I was so hungry!

Finally around 10 p.m. or so, my doctor came rushing into the room and seemed genuinely surprised that I hadn’t gone into labor. No broken water, no contractions, no nothing. Just sitting around at 5 centimeters dilated– like a boss. Hungry, tired, glad to have my parents there with me, and probably a little cranky.

The doctor broke my water with what looked like a comically oversized crochet needle and within a few minutes, the contractions started rolling in. [Editor’s note: This is the part of the story where my mother would interject and tell you that the way I remember it is inaccurate. Apparently, I remember the whole birthing process as being way smoother than it actually was. I’ve always said that I had a pretty easy delivery but according to my mom, it was a total bloodbath.] The whole shebang- from induction to the baby on the table- took somewhere between two and three hours. I was induced some time between 10:30 and 11 and my daughter popped out at 1:50 a.m. The exact timeline is a little hazy for me because I had a shot of demerol when I started contracting since I skipped the part where they give you an epidural, but I remember it a little like this:

  • The doctor broke my bag
  • Contractions started and, after writhing around for a little while, I asked for and received a shot of demerol
  • About two hours or so passed and I asked for another shot
  • The doctor had to check my progress before giving me another shot and BOOM! the baby was crowning (so no shot for me)
  • I pushed for around twenty minutes or so
  • My daughter popped out. Easy peasy.

This is where my mom would jump in. She doesn’t agree with my general timeline of two hours, but the timeline she offered up doesn’t make mathematical sense, so I still go with my sequence of events. My mom somehow squeezes like, six hours into the wedge of time between 10:30 p.m and 1:50 a.m. No ma’am. That may be how it felt to her in that room, but that’s just not how time works. We had a very gentle argument about this in the delivery room when I gave birth to my son.

Another thing she’d interject about is the “easy peasy” part. According to my mother who, admittedly, had a different vantage point for the whole thing– namely, she could see my lady parts and I could only see the backs of my eyelids because my eyes were shut so tight that I’m surprised my eyeballs didn’t invert into my skull permanently– it was a total massacre down there. She says there was tons of blood everywhere and that as the baby came out, her umbilical cord was pretty tightly coiled around her neck. If my mom was telling this story, she’d tell you about how I didn’t see the doctor’s face so I couldn’t possibly know how real it got. Apparently, it got super real. Personally, I think that if it wasn’t life-threatening enough for me to be aware of it, that works for me. However, I’d be remiss to not share that tidbit. Also, my mom would note the severity of the fissures all across my most sensitive of organs. I refused to have an episiotomy, preferring instead to tear naturally. According to my mom, I had twentysomething stitches dotted across my lady region, which I never saw. I do vaguely remember seeing the doctor stitching me up sometime after I birthed what had to have been the world’s largest placenta. I’d never seen placenta in person before and imagined it was more of a liquid than the big, raw porterhouse steak-looking thing that the doctor held up to the light for me to check out.

Once we moved into the postpartum room, we set about agreeing on a name. We had this long, lean little girl with dark hair and dark eyes and I wanted to name her Marlowe Olivia, but he dad wasn’t feeling that name. While teaching at the preschool, I had the sweetest little blonde haired girl in my class named Ellie, and I loved that name. We both agreed on Ellie as a nickname, but wanted something more substantial for her first name. That’s how we decided on Elliott. I chose the spelling because I loved the way the name looked when I wrote it down in cursive. The Ls and the Ts are nice and scrolly and look feminine to me, which is a nice contrast to the traditionally masculine name. Since her dad had so much input on the first name, I didn’t compromise on Olivia as the middle name.

So, Elliott Olivia was introduced to the world.