For my ten pages of mandatory reading before I fall asleep at the salon (“I’m so sorry to wake you. It’s time to shampoo your hair.”), I opened up Bringing Up Bebe again and read a rather hilarious account of how a parade of upper middle class mothers in New York follow their toddlers around a little tot lot loudly narrating everything the children are doing. “You’re going down the slide!” “You’re on the seesaw!” “You’re stepping!” And if the child should ever waste a moment staring at the grass or in some other non-intellectually-stimulating fashion, his mother swoops in to toss Junior in the air or turn him upside down chirping, “You’re in the air!” or “You’re upside down!”
The author Pamela Druckerman says in addition to the obvious neurotic helicopter parenting, the moms were broadcasting everything they were doing because they wanted the other chirping mothers as well as those moms sitting French-style on the perimeter to notice their excellent and pro-active parenting. “Totally!” I thought. I could picture the whole scene perfectly. I could hear the mother’s broadcasting voice clear as day. Only, the mother I pictured…was me. The voice I heard? Mine. “You’re upside down!” I was chirping. Noooo!! Dun, dun, dun.
And then I recalled a particularly intense playdate the memory of which makes me want to curl into the fetal position and rock. Fluffy and I had invited over her dear little buddy from preschool–and the mom was coming, too. Having the mom over is only fun if it’s your own friend so it’s really your playdate. I like Mad Men style playdates where the moms gossip and smoke in the kitchen (or whatever the new millennial equivalent of smoking is) while the kids wrap themselves in plastic dry cleaning covers in the other room. But this was a kid and mother I did not know well, so I brought out the big guns. I forced them to play Fluffy’s most intellectually challenging board game, then I ran them through her pre-tennis drills with balls and bean bags, then I chopped up organic strawberries. It was a three ring circus all for Lucas’s mom’s benefit. After she thanked us and promised to have us over for the next one, does it surprise you to learn I never heard from her again?
I was now too embarrassed to sleep which totally killed my me-time at the salon.
By the time I paid my bill, though, I had had a revelation. I have a few things to say in response to the sniggering of Pamela Druckerman. Well to both her and Michael Cohen, a French pediatrician in New York who tells moms to cut out chatter since kids need periods of peace and quiet.
First, parental narration is essential to a child’s acquisition of language. It is well documented that children whose parents narrate daily activities to them acquire vocabulary and language skills faster. So, nuh. Whether or not you’re hoping to narrate your toddlers into the Ivy League, you at least want them to learn as soon as possible to tell you that their tummy hurts or they prefer the blue balloon, rather than screaming generically while you offer them toy after toy and take their temperature and rock them and offer sustenance trying to figure out what the heck is their current problem.
Second, I’m sure the kids do get plenty of periods of rest and quiet time when they are at home. It takes rather a lot of effort to get kids to the park, and when we’re there we’re trying to get our money’s worth. Also, ever hear of exercise? We may be pushing the kid down the slide and making him climb the stairs over and over in an effort to tire him out, draining the life force that would otherwise be channeled into the witching hour.
Third, and this is the main one: okay, fine. You’re right, sometimes moms put their parenting on display. Why is that? I think it’s primarily because moms need to feel like they are doing a good job. This need is right up there with more sleep. We work so hard to learn what will help our kids the most and even harder to implement some fraction of it. We push ourselves to be the best mothers we can be, but for years there is precious little validation of our efforts. We work ourselves to the bone, but at our job, there are no raises. There are no promotions. There are no employees of the month. There is no real career advancement, and as much as we sometimes try to turn our kids’ well-check visits into yearly evaluations of our job performance, they aren’t.
When Kent tells me, as he often does (bless him), that I’m doing a good job as a mother, it’s like manna to the achievement addict wandering in the wilderness of ungraded, unvalidated stay-at-home parenting.
Yes, I’ve been guilty of broadcasting my narration to ears beyond those of my off-spring once or twice. (Though from now on I’m going to whisper my narration, “You’re going down the slide, Peppers. Weee!”) But I have also sometimes caught the eye of another chirping mother and given her an encouraging smile. “That’s right, sistah. You’re working hard. Good job narrating. You’re a good mom.”
Blogging may seem like broadcasting, too, but there’s much more too it than that. I blog because I love writing, I want to share my life with my family and friends, and because I want to keep a full and–somewhat–honest photographic and written record of this experience. Moreover, I want to turn in a report of what I’m doing to someone, anyone! I want to document the myriad outings and lessons and whatnot that I undertake as part of my job. These posts are work product. Believe it or not, I feel more productive if I blog our comings and goings like calculating my billable hours. And if that makes Druckerman snigger as well, then, snigger away, honey.
That night, I took my salon hair to a dinner party. Near the end a friend was talking about what a difficult time she’s having with her youngest of four who makes everything in their lives more stressful for everyone in the family. “I’ve realized this isn’t a phase. That’s just his personality, and it’s always going to be this way,” she laments. “You’re a good mom,” I reply. We all laugh a little because it’s the wrong response, but I don’t mind. It’s the truth, and she needs to hear it.
So to all the broadcasting narrators, and the mommy bloggers, and the boot camp playdate makers, the too-many-times-down-the-sliders out there: You’re doing great. To the American-style over-parenters, and all the moms attempting to employ the latest parenting findings and fads: I can tell you really love your kids because you’re working so hard. You’re a good mom.
You deserve a promotion.