There is already an overlarge shelf in the bookstore about parenting styles, pitting the Tiger Mom (the standard to aspire to, or to vilify) against the Attached Parent (to applaud, or to mock). The world cannot possibly need even another slim pamphlet about raising children. But my dear friend Nancy (a real writer) insists that it must be interesting how we’ve muddled along. That’s probably because she hasn’t spent an extended period of time with my boys. Rather, she gets the cute snippets that make my boys seem more perfect than they are. And their endearingly sage Cancer sound bites might point to sublimely good parenting instead of just an innocent reaction to some really bad luck.
But I won’t deny it. My boys are tops. Brodie, now 8, has always been one of those “old soul” kids. He is a gorgeous, Eurasian mix and has this deep, cool voice but absolutely infectious giggle. Teddy, my seven year old, is really really really funny, honestly the cutest kid I’ve ever seen, and he dances and sings without effort or embarrassment. Both of them are whip smart and near clones of the fabulous man I married. Quite often I wonder how much my DNA is holding them back. However, they hit the jackpot as far as Moms go. I’m kind of awesome at this.
I harbor no delusions that others may not be so quick to award me the Mommy Blue Ribbon. I don’t even particularly like kids. I was a horrible, bedtime story-refusing, impatient babysitter who couldn’t wait to raid the pantry and watch cable. Even now, I avoid play-dates. I don’t want my kid over at your house any more than I want your little germ carriers at mine. Unless the child is unusually entertaining or the spawn of someone I really like (who also enjoys a bit of play-date wine), we’re busy. Even when my own boys were babies, I’ll admit to a smidge of bored resentment with them. They were just so needy and always hungry in ways that required a lot of chopping.
Now that they are older, whether they are delighting me with their Bernie-ness or annoying me with all of the wrestling and subsequent tears, I just adore them. All moms love their kids, and many are probably as absurdly (but not as exasperatingly) boastful of them as I am. But after many years of discussing mommy-hood with family, friends, countless sleep-deprived women, and society-at-large, I find that not many moms are fully confident in their job. And the most competent, responsible women I know are the ones wondering if they couldn’t be doing more. Meanwhile, I harbor a bigheaded belief that my boys are wicked lucky to have me: I’m fun and silly, I bake cookies, I’m quick to hug and pepper them with kisses, I say yes more than no, I’m un-moody and don’t yell. Yay, Mommy! These are the things they are going to remember on countless Mother’s Days, and they are the things that are inherently me, cannot be improved nor stifled, and don’t require a battery of books to learn.
April, as you know from these Pages, is a banner friend. She is one of those people whose loyalty springs from a strong sense of self: she knows what is good and right, and then steadfastly honors that with others. In addition to her inherent virtue, she is also smarter than the average crust-cutter. And her ability to chat up even the stodgiest New Englander, and eagerness pour you a cocktail, makes her super fun at a party. April’s polite, smart, athletically gifted, adorable children reflect her unfailing, and yet loving, efforts to improve them. She is one of those moms I aspire to be, except for all of that running around driving them to myriad sports. (If this is required for great parenting, my kids are screwed.) But in spite of the hours she logs printing extra math problems, reading aloud, chopping healthy foods, and finagling spots on teams, April still wonders if she’s “mom enough” and always has an article or book in the queue about how to do it better– even though she is the one who should be writing them. Her oldest, Bryan, said this to me recently: “Mrs. Lee! I’ve been waiting so long to HUG you!” Obviously, April doesn’t need the best-selling guidance of a self-congratulatory Tiger Mom or a relentlessly breast-feeding helicopter parent.
With all of the external messages about how we’re doing it wrong, or just never as well as the Asians, I think we should all be helping each other make the mommy job easier and more enjoyable. Call me lazy, but there are really only two areas where I’m a total pedant: manners and bedtime. If your kid isn’t an overtired whiny ***hole and sounds cute asking for stuff, you’ve already done a bang up job of parenting. It will come as no surprise that, especially now with the brilliant Cancer excuse, I’m too pooped to fuss over anything that isn’t important. My boys have to practice their spelling words. They have to go to Sunday school. They have to say please and thank you and I’m sorry. But they don’t have to finish their milk, or pick up their clothes, or put away their toys, or practice piano, or say “hi” to grandma on the phone. Of course I make them do all sorts of extra work so they can beat yours at the Math Minutes. But that’s because after 11 years of Lee marriage, I’m practically Asian.
Especially now in Life After Cancer, I believe parenting should be painless enough so that a 4pm glass of wine is more social than necessary. It’s a time-consuming job, and by whittling out entirely futile nagging over unimportant things, I may have more enjoyment at the workplace than other (better) moms. Occasionally I will encounter a rule of etiquette I probably should have been a bit more rigid about. Teddy has a really annoying habit of getting out of his seat at meals at least seventeen times (to dance, or to see if he’s taller than yesterday, or to poop, or to imitate Bugs Bunny if there are raw carrots on that evening’s menu). But this doesn’t make him any less awesome as a little person. His handwriting is perfect. He’s earned more stars than anyone in his class. He reads encyclopedias! His smartypants cuteness reminds me that I’m doing a better than average job at this. And frankly, the Bugs Bunny imitation hasn’t gotten old yet.
When the whole Tiger Mom sensation hit the media, my father-in-law was deeply disturbed. A-Gong thought Amy Chua’s approach was decidedly lacking in one area: Faith. In addition to being appalled by her stereotypical generalization of American Parents, he felt sorry for her children who, in spite of an expensively arranged Bat Mitzvah, were growing up without God. And maybe what we were all feeling, in addition to annoyance with this woman and her arguably brag-worthy children, was that the Tiger Mom had no Faith in herself. All of this parental one-upmanship was to fill a void. Darling Joe Burke, who is wise, funny, and has faith in my well-intentioned ways, recently told me I might be trying too hard, too. As I worried about the quality or frequency or (I’ll admit it) usefulness of my prayers, he reminded me that my Faith in God could be as effortless as His in me. To him, it’s all in the noticing. Beauty and Goodness are everywhere, but sorely lacking when we beat up each other and ourselves about how to be better moms, wives, Christians. God is in that sweet greeting from bed-headed Bryan to this tired, bald mommy. And what better Mother’s Day gift than to know you encouraged this Divine kind of goodness? It’s all in the noticing.