In the last month of my pregnancy I watched Thomas Balmes’ documentary, Babies. This uplifting film chronicles the first year of life of four babies from different parts of the world, and helped calm my new mom jitters. Each joyful, healthy baby reached the same developmental milestones, from Namibia, to Mongolia, to Tokyo, to San Francisco, despite drastic differences in their environmental stimulations and parents’ child rearing philosophies. I breathed a sigh of relief. Of course the minute I gave birth that peace was shattered, as I found myself spiraling headlong into the often conflicting “best” parenting methodologies that would ultimately ensure my baby had the perfect start in life.
The ever-expanding list of parenting pitfalls to obsess over and ubiquitous mommy shaming is extraordinary to say the least. It’s as if having little people around is an open invitation for competitive comparisons and gratuitous warnings, creating anxiety, self-doubt, and humiliation for those just trying to raise happy, healthy, whole beings. It often feels that parental judgment is lurking around every corner, ready and waiting to slowly slip its fingers around your throat, whispering “gotcha” in your ear in your most vulnerable moments.
After my colicky daughter was born, going to the grocery store was a nightmare. Sure, the incessant screaming of my progeny made shopping difficult, but the free advice I would receive in the aisles of the Tel Aviv Teva Market didn’t make the trip any easier. Women sidled up next to me as I was trying to decipher the Hebrew labels and order, “Give her your breast.” The tired woman in my head would start screaming “I’m not a human pacifier!!!!” while the mother still clinging to a shred of sanity would quietly respond that I’d just fed her, and turning to walk away, would leave whatever item I needed behind.
Our first visit to an American pediatrician was humbling and comical. After being presented with a list of developmental milestones I panicked. There was one that I couldn’t check off – she didn’t have a favorite doll that she cuddled with. My throat constricted. I felt light-headed and dizzy. It was the end of the world as I knew it. Game over, I had failed as a mother and had ruined my little love’s life, all by the age of six months. Sure we cuddled all the time, but it had never occurred to me that my baby already needed to be nurturing a doll! We spent our days in the park crawling around in the leaves and grass, reading, eating, and spitting up. Blankets and pillows in her crib were still considered a danger, yet she was supposed to be cuddling a doll. I raced home, found a doll and placed it in her arms. To my great relief she hugged it. Vindication! I wasn’t raising a sociopath.
I look back and see the humor in those days of insecurity, although the memories are still slightly painful. They cut to the core of my deepest fear that I would somehow not be enough, that I would fail her. Over time, and through the encouragement of friends and family, I was able to filter out negative mommy gossip, intrusive advice, and click past apocalyptic articles that whittle “successful” parenting down into a tiny one-dimensional box. Of course there are days when narrow-minded parenting diatribes on Facebook enrage me, and I have moments where I catch myself judging fellow mommies, deeply regretting it moments later. There are still days where I end up tearfully crying in the bathroom, sometimes in a public bathroom, when an unintended snide remark or thoughtless comment catches me off guard and tugs at whatever lingering fears there are that somehow I’m messing this whole motherhood thing up.
Most of the time now though, those nagging doubts stay at bay. I know that God has got this, has got us, and that I don’t need to be the perfect parent, I just need to be her present and mindful mommy, mistakes and all. Deciding to let it all go, and to just do it our way has been such a blessing. Since day one of becoming her mommy, my own mother has told me to trust my gut, that I would know what is best for her. Now, I carefully choose which parenting books to read and which topics I want to research, and I try to take it all in with a grain of salt.
When we went to her four-year old well visit this summer, I was again presented with another checklist. We were doing great until I came to the questions about whether or not she cut with scissors on a straight line and colored within the lines. Rather than dissolve into panic that this clearly meant she would never go to college, I just simply wrote, “No.” I noticed her pediatrician smile as she looked over our paperwork. “What preschool does your daughter go to?” she asked me. I laughed and told her a little hippie school she had probably never heard of. She pressed me for the name, and when I told her, her eyes twinkled. “I love that school. Both of my children went there.” There is nothing better than a woman or a fellow mom that gets you. I was this close to inappropriately hugging this woman when my feisty girl decided to help the nurses by ripping the entire paper covering from the examine table.
Over the summer my little foodie and I tried out some delicious new recipes. One such recipe that we loved and will be making again soon, was William and Sonoma’s baked eggplant rolls. The creaminess of the eggplant with the fresh basil was heavenly, and the fact that they were rolled and baked made eating them that much more exciting for my joyful, sweet, and curious sous chef. As I was starting to cut hers up so that she could eat more easily with her fork, she asked to please leave it whole so that she could eat it like a burrito. I looked at her, she looked at me, and we both began giggling. Neither one of us used our fork that night.