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Apologizing for Nothing

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“We’re casual today,” the mom apologized as she pulled boots onto her daughter’s bare feet. “No socks.”

I regarded her daughter, whose flouncy dress, patterned leggings and blue-dyed rabbit fur vest put my own outfit to shame.

“She looks pretty fabulous to me…” I responded.

As mom and daughter gathered their things and left the playground, I tried to figure out what would make this woman apologize to me, a total stranger. But deep down, I knew.

So many of us feel pressured to be it all for our children. We worry about how they behave in public and how they play with other kids; how they eat and whether we’re following the right feeding strategy; how they handle failure and if their weight is on track and how the hell do we know if we’re doing any of it right???

Of course parents feel judged. I can’t go a day without an email, online article, Facebook post or overheard conversation making me question the job I’m doing. I don’t need to take an online quiz to find out if I’m a “Sleep-Deprived Parent” or if I’m “Winning at Parenting.”

I’m winning at parenting in the same way someone marooned on a life raft is winning at not drowning.

Every now and then, it catches up to me: this feeling that, no, I don’t know what I’m doing. There are no evaluations, no performance reports. There’s no right way to be doing any of this vitally important work. And they need so much every. single. day.

One morning, after a night of questioning myself and feeling insecure about the job I’m doing, I found a note from my husband. There’s one line in particular I’ve repeated to myself over and over since I first read it:

Be as patient and positive with yourself as you are with the kids.

I’ve always believed my kids will learn more from my actions than my words. I model kindness and respect for others in the hope that they’ll follow my example. Yet, until I read those words, it didn’t occur to me that my kids are also learning from how much I love and respect myself.

The past 4 ½ years as a stay-at-home mom have been a journey. I’m still trying to find my balance. I’ve been working so hard to be all the things my family needs me to be —mom and wife and finder of lost things — I’ve lost sight of who I need to be the most: me.

Since reading my husband’s wise words, I’m trying to give myself a break. It’s a process, but I’m working to change the narrative in my head from criticism to praise, from snark to positivity.

In addition to seeing me falter, my kids need to watch me soar.

Fellow moms: join me. Let’s open the windows, let’s sing out loud; let’s buy ourselves flowers and do the things that make us feel healthy and strong. We need to care for ourselves in order to care for our families, and that means tending to our souls as well.

We need to stop apologizing to each other for our messy houses and sock-less children. We have to collectively realize that any mom who seems perfect is either working really hard to look that way or just having a good day. We’ve got to stop judging each other and accept our differences, so our kids will learn to do the same.

We’re setting the example. Let’s teach our kids to tune into their own inner voices; to listen to the songs of their hearts and speak kindest of all to themselves.

But first, my kids have to listen to me, singing at the top of my lungs. Because finding myself means ignoring their backseat protests and cranking up my Janis Joplin and Ben Folds. They may be embarrassed by the lady in the front of the car, crooning off-key and dancing in her seat like nobody’s watching.

But I’m not.

I’m New Here

Old friends are the best

Allow me to confess: nearly four years into being a full-time mom, I still feel like a novice.

Before I put my career on hold to stay home with my kids, I felt confident and competent in every job I held. Even when I was first trying to master school nutrition reimbursement structures, Web development jargon or nuclear power technology (seriously), I always felt fairly on top of things.

That changed when I became a mom. I’m still waiting for the day to come when I feel like I know what I’m doing.

But for a full-time parent, does that day ever come?

We’ve all had that feeling: the dizzy uneasiness that comes with being new at something. You wonder just how long you can get away with saying those lovely words that instantly excuse you from judgment: Sorry, I’m new here.

In the workplace, you eventually stop saying those words. And little by little, you stop feeling like you need to. You get used to the rhythm of the office and the demands of your job and you learn what’s expected of you. You go home at the end of the day feeling like you’ve done your best.

In parenting? Hardly.

At some point of nearly every day I want to shout, “I’m new here! I have no idea what I’m doing!” And the funny thing is, it’s true. As the mom to two small children, I wake up every day to an entirely new job.

What they happily devoured last week they refuse to eat this week. What launched them into hysterics yesterday elicits blank stares today. And as for the strategies I employ to help them get along? Those have to change by the hour.

I’m constantly asking myself, when will this get easier? When will I feel like I know what I’m doing? But, secretly, I know the answer.

It never gets easier. I’ll never feel like I have all the answers. I’ll never truly master the art of parenting, because it’s not something that’s supposed to be mastered. Like many things in life, it’s a journey.

Too often, I compare myself to other moms and allow little seeds of self-doubt to take root. I find myself tallying other mothers’ kids and thinking, how does she make it look so easy? I look for any sign that this vocation is as relentlessly challenging for other parents as it is for me.

At some point in nearly every day, I let myself feel inadequate. It’s such a pointless exercise. And yet, I do it regularly.

Maybe you do too.

What I know is this: tomorrow, my little ones will be a little older. What’s moving quickly today will only move faster as time goes on. I can embrace the chaos and enjoy these moments or I can spend my time thinking about what I should be doing better.

It’s my life. I get to choose.

I can see the dirty dishes as proof of my insufficient housekeeping skills or evidence of kids well fed.

I can hear the blood-curdling screams they let out as they chase each other through the house as nerve-jangling noise or the music of happy kids who are comfortable and wild and free.

I can look around my house and see perpetually sticky floors, clutter on every surface and a fine layer of dog hair over everything in the room.

Or, I can see the house where my family lives.

I just came back from an annual girls’ trip I take with my 10 college roommates, some of whom I’ve known now for 20 years. After all these years, I’m proud to say we can still commandeer a dance floor and make our party bus driver blush.

We do our fair share of vacation activities, but most of our time is spent simply enjoying each other’s company, reminiscing about the embarrassing things we did in our college days and talking about our families.

This year, I realized what is so special about our group. While we fondly remember the silly college girls we used to be, we’re able to see each other as someone new, as more than we were back then. We’ve matured into career women, wives, mothers and daughters of aging parents. We’ve come a long way from the class-skipping, day-drinking, I-won’t-mention-what-else kids we were when we first met each other.

If I can see what capable and competent women my friends have grown into, I certainly ought to be able to do the same for myself.

Tomorrow will bring a crop of new challenges. My kids will amaze and confound me anew and something will undoubtedly knock me off balance. But I believe in my ability to handle whatever it is like a boss.

And if not, well, give me a break. I’m new here.

My Machine Wash Life

John Paul Gaultier quote

Wise words from a fashion guru

Help me: I’m in a closet-induced funk.

The quaint little walk-in closet was the first room I painted when we moved into this house and my husband kindly granted me the space unshared. I coated the walls in an airy shade of blue and hung a little shelf with framed quotes by Coco Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier. It’s the girliest place in my entire house and I love being in there.

Or I used to, anyway.

Nowadays, my closet is a reminder of the life I no longer have; of the uselessness of dry-clean-only clothes and platform heels.

I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity to care for my son. But, after doing the stay-at-home mom thing for 14 months, I have days when I feel like I’m losing touch with who I used to be.

On those days, my closet sings to me like a siren. The strappy heels, the silk blouses, the chic little dresses: they make me sigh and long for an occasion to wear them. And, on a day like today, they make me unsure of what to do.

A few times a year, I go through my closet and rotate my clothes based on the current season, packing away the summer clothes at the beginning of autumn and stowing the winter items at the first hint of spring. During this time, I purge my closet of clothes and shoes I can do without, and I usually feel lighter and freer after having doing so. But this year, I’m in a crisis over it.

I’ve already been through my closet several times since the birth of my son. Each time, I confidently passed over my suits and business woman heels, thinking I’ll wear these things again someday. But today, I find myself wondering if I should just cut a swath through my little blue room and give these clothes to someone who may actually wear them.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I talked with another mom about how changed we feel since the birth of our kids. We both laughed about how it no longer seems appropriate to wear slinky dresses and revealing tops, and that it’s not just the fact that our stomachs aren’t as firm as they used to be. It’s as if I believe I have the word, “MOM” tattooed on my forehead. I guess I think people see me as a mother before they see me as a woman.

In actuality, I feel more womanly than ever after having borne a child. But sexy? Young? Vibrant? Not so much.

I know I’m feeling this way mostly because my son and I have both been sick for the past few days — again  — and the walls are starting to close in on me. I haven’t followed my own advice about getting out of the house, and I’m paying the price for it. But still, my clothes remain strewn all over the bed, abandoned after my crisis over what to do with them.

Perhaps for today, I’ll simply put them back on their hangers and save the organizing for another, better day. I’ll read the framed quotes on my shelf and remember why I love my little blue room. And I’ll ponder the wise words of John Paul Gaultier:

“Elegance is a question of personality, more than one’s clothing.”

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