"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

May 04, 2009

Newsflash: I Am Not That Crunchy a Mommy

(N.B.: This was posted earlier under a different title, and I unposted it after some speculation that it might offend. Now that five women have told me that they've not only read and loved this post but sent it to other women/moms, I resurrect it in the hopes that everyone can remain calm and open-minded.)

While I was pregnant, a good friend--who happens to be a father--suggested I march right into the nearest corporate bookstore and pick up a copy of Perfect Madness: Mothering in the Age of Anxiety(2005). So as to ward off the guilt of spending what I could sock away into my embryo's future college fund, I found the book in my local library and promptly placed it on my nightstand among my stalwarts, What to Expect When You're Expecting and, of course, Your Pregnancy: Week by Week, as well as my birth prep books by the Mother Superior of Natural Birth, Ina May Gaskin. (It is no great shock that I still confuse her surname with Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, The Mother Superior of Homemade Gourmet; it is obvious to those who know my passion for food which Mother I revere more.)

Perfect Madness introduced me to what I suppose I'd already intuited since the day my pregnancy test came up with two little pink lines: that to be a Mother in modern (American) times is the truest test of self-confidence and self-trust a woman might face in her life. In her book, Judith Warner describes "the choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret" many modern moms swallow; she first describes her happy, carefree ride as a new mom in France, and then what changed when she moved her family to D.C.: as she says, "that caught-by-the-throat feeling so many mothers have today of always doing something wrong."

What I concluded from Warner's book, to memory, is that ALL MOMS ARE OKAY, as are their instincts, and so are their very personal decisions, such as when one might want to go back to work and why one might want to stay home, and if not careful, one might easily drive oneself to the Perfect Madness, because ultimately, someone will have something judgemental and horrible to say about whatever decision you make, if you care to listen. So whenever someone asked me what I planned to do--say, stay home or return to work--I casually answered without fear of judgement (I took a 9-month leave from my job as a high school teacher).

Now, here we are on the heels of Mother's Day, and I have to admit, while I'm waiting for Dev to wake up, I find the Rachel Ray show on again: RR is hosting television's most "celebrated" mothers, Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham on Happy Days), Shirley Jones (Partridge Family mom), and Florence Henderson (the mom-est tv mom of all time on The Brady Bunch). Granted, Mrs. Brady wasn't meant to be a "perfect mom," but she sure knew what to do when someone's braces got tangled or the car got mangled--darn kids! I'm also still seeing, occassionally, those insane Kelly Ripa Electrolux ads (see this ad too) which espouse that you can be "even more amazing"--get your laundry done in record time, go to your full-time job and then come home, make dinner and entertain a house full of guests, replete with wine and hors d'oeurves, while making sure the kids and family dog are all happy--the background music of which (are you ready for this?) is the themesong to "Bewitched," a show in which the mysterious, magical Samantha could simply wiggle her nose and VOILA! dinner is served, the husband is pacified...you get the point. Television still seems to seep into our mainstream consciousness when we dream about Perfect Motherhood, and perhaps that is why, despite my having read Warner's book, I sometimes fall into a Perfect Madness myself.

One most recent opportunity to drive myself nuts has been the invitation to join a playgroup. These women are fabulous: one spins her own yarn to produce clothing for her family and to sell to others; another is a doula and yoga instructor; another makes and sells her own jewelry. There are about four or five other women in the group, and when I first met them, had no idea how the group formed; I was merely invited by a woman in my birthing class--who, like me, had planned on a natural delivery at home in a birthing pool and wound up changing the birth plan in mid-labor only to deliver with the epidural thankfully close-at-hand in a hospital. While we were all getting to know one another, Devi surreptitiously gave me that look--the "I need a new diaper RIGHT NOW unless you want trouble later" look--and so I asked if they wouldn't mind me changing her on a clean mat on the hostess's floor. I went into my diaper bag, grabbed and unfolded the pad, pulled out the Huggies--and looked up to see some fallen faces, one, downright horrified. Apparently, I was in the Cloth Diaper Playgroup, and clearly the disposable fish out of cloth water.

Channeling Warner, I gave a smile, picked up my freshly-diapered little girl, and made way to leave. I casually declined going this past week, because an email flurry relating to the playgroup's main topic--aluminum in breastmilk--left me so panicked that I immediately emailed my breastfeeding galpals to ask what the hell I'd missed and why didn't anyone tell me about this and was I supposed to get a diffuser thingy that attaches to the breastpump or should I just switch to formula and self-flagellate with the plastic breastpump tubing? Pant, pant! Oh, what I have I been doing to my baby?!
[As of this evening, the email topic has turned to whether to vaccinate or not vaccinate one's child: and due to the connection, some believe, exists between vaccination and autism, several of the moms in this group have decided not to vaccinate. Sorry, strike that--not several, but all of the moms--except for (you guessed it) me. It wouldn't bother me that I'm going the mainstream route and believing the literature that my pediatrician provided us on the subject, but one playgroup mommy actually congratulated another who decided not to vaccinate her own baby "and doing what the doctors just tell you to blindly." Apparently I'm in the wrong playgroup. Which way to the non-judgemental mommies, please?]

Okay, okay. So by simply reading the group emails that fly past my browser, I'm learning some interesting, alternative mommyisms that I wouldn't have otherwise known, such as how to wear a sling rather than a bjorn, and what natural remedies exist to help a teething infant. It's pretty cool that there are mommies groups at all, because really, in the end, the point is to help one another out--not necessarily to measure up, even if some women are steadfast to their beliefs about what is fundamentally Right and Wrong for your baby. This particular group is holding a mommy/baby yoga and massage playdate on Friday, and I plan on attending. I just hope I won't need to change any disposable diapers.

And it turns out that as long as I'm not chewing aluminum foil or licking cars, our Devi is in no danger of aluminum harm. The vaccinations Dev receives do not contain preservatives. We are doing what we think best for our baby, and doing our best to boot. And so it is with my head back on straight that I humbly and excitedly look forward to celebrating my first Mother's Day--surrounded by moms I love, who somehow, without all the bedside reading and pack-n-plays and funky baby harnesses, managed to raise some damn good stock.