Okay, ya ya ya, Casey Anthony got off. Yes, all of my mommy instincts think she mostly likely killed her daughter. I also think it was more likely some form of criminal neglect and immaturity rather than intentional murder – though it’s not like that makes it any better. However, I’m much more interested in everybody else’s response to this than in the case itself. Casey and her dead baby are nothing more than a symptom, and all the crap that people are saying now is most of the cause (layered on top of the real cause, which is always fear.)
I’m sitting here watching the Today Show, drinking my latte and watching my garden wake up to blinding Seattle summer sun. Some woman is on the Today Show telling us about the pressures of mommy-hood. In my mind, I reach through the flat screen and plop myself down on the couch next to her and engage in a compelling interview. My portion of the interview consists entirely of my saying, in a kind and wise manner, perfectly articulated, “While I think that’s a good point, we need to look at why we put these pressures on mommys, indeed on people in general. Perfection is such a myth. Happiness comes and goes like the tide. But the judgement of others who think we’re not doing it right drives people to destruction. This should be a wake-up call for all of us.”
Then the dog barks and I’m back in my kitchen. The woman talks about the “horrible” moments we all have as parents, when we hate ourselves for saying or doing the wrong thing to the little humans who have dropped into our lives. When we wonder why we did it, wish we could undo it. Are sure we’re not good enough to do it at all. I wonder if I’m a sociopath. I’ve never felt that. Or maybe I’m totally zen? But it has never occurred to me that I was going to do this mommy thing either right or wrong. I was just going to do it, the best I could. Further, that my “best” was going to be a moving target that changes with how much sleep I got, how much money is in the bank, how loved I feel by the world around me and how engaged I feel in the creative process that is my own personal life.
I’ve had some fine mommy moments that maybe would cause a “better” mommy to question her fitness:
There was the fact that when our daughter was old enough to toddle into our bedroom in the morning, we put a TV in her room, set it to ONLY get PBS, told her to turn it on when she woke up and she could come in when Elmo was over. (We needed both sleep and sex if we were going to be functional humans, and a toddler in bed makes both of those things difficult.)
There was the time that I took my 5 year-old daughter, who had just declared that she hated me and didn’t want to live with me any more, to the park to pick out a new mommy. That’s easily good for a month of future therapy. (But, really, she seems perfectly happy here with me.)
There was the time that I left my crying 8 year-old daughter at the top of a ski hill when she was freaking out. I had spent half an hour explaining all the various ways she could get down the hill, as well as taking all of the negative outcomes into consideration and talking through all of them to find the rational, and not-so-horrible-after-all outcomes. Then I left her there, crying, and told her I’d meet her at the bottom. (She walked down, and now seems to have a pretty firm grasp on the fact that life is full of scary obstacles, and she can come up with her own way to work through them, face them, and go on)
Just a few day ago I walked through the door at noon with mascara on my cheekbones and she said, “you look like you just woke up.” I said, “ya, I guess I did, sort of.” That, my friends, is all class.
All of which is to say, a “good mommy” may never have created any of those situations. But I am not a “good mommy,” because that title is given by others. And I am me, just me. I am the best me on the planet.
The problem with the myth of the Good Mommy is that it is fabricated on external expectations, fed with fear and based on the idea that there is a singular right way to do things. It is a standard with check-marks for every minute decision that you make, and is a sure-fire way to make you feel like a failure at every turn. So this woman is sitting on the Today Show saying that Casey Anthony was probably overwhelmed by all of the challenges of parenting that she wasn’t prepared for.
DUH! Ya think so? Who the fuck isn’t? Those little parasites come out and turn into sycophants. Sure, they’re cute, but cute don’t give you sleep at night and your taught bod back.
But how ’bout this, rather than blaming Casey Anthony for not being able to handle it, how ’bout we take a collective look at the pressure we put on new parents in general. To get their kids the right gadgets, right clothes, into the right schools, create a bubble world in which they face no hazards, and still be nice and horny. It’s great to say “she couldn’t handle the pressure,” but it’s asinine not to say, “how can we change the pressure?”
Look, I’d be willing to bet that girl has serious psychological issues that most of us don’t have. And that her family is fucked up in fairly criminal ways. Most of us had imperfect childhoods, but manage to rise to the occasion of parenthood, even if we do so in a way that others deem graceless. That said, there are millions of babies being raised in pressure-cookers of our own creation. And those who are being ignored, neglected and abused. While none of those parents are off the hook for the damaging decisions they are making, we are not off the hook either.
It’s time to stop telling ourselves stories with Prince Charming and Happily Ever After, and time to get real with the shit that is life. Beause when you embrace the shit, water it and put it in the sun, things bloom. That princess has stubble on her legs, the Prince is afraid people will find out he wishes he had been a painter, the castle is a mess. The baby is crying in the crib while they Prince and Princess have a glass of wine and make out because, ya know what, the baby needs to learn to calm herself and the parents need a fucking glass of wine to relax, and they need to remember what they loved about life in the first place, which is what got them here. And after they chill, they’ll remember all that, and be happy to snuggle the baby.
It’s time to stop judging and competing. It’s time to admit that life and parenting are hard. It’s time to help each other rather than knock each other down so that we appear better than others. Jeeeesooos people, this is not rocket science. Were you raised by wolves?
My daughter is almost 13. She’s amazing, and she and I both feel like I am an awesome mother. I am not “good,” or “perfect” and I may not even be doing it “right.” But I do it with complete love and gusto. I never second-guess the decisions I’ve made, big or small. I do reflect, and sometimes course-correct on the fly. But she and I talk openly about the decisions I’ve made and how they impacted her. I don’t buy the notion that I should know what I’m doing and be able to do it on my own. We’re in this together, and we’re an awesome team.
I’m also raising her to be a real human in the real world. She’s seeing “imperfection” as normal and human. She’s seeing things not go as planned, and learning to adjust and deal. She’s seeing people be weak, afraid, clumsy and flustered, and knowing that is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. She’s learning that all you can do is the best you can do, and be the best you that you can be. If the only thing I achieve as a mother is to raise a human who is comfortable in the fertile shit that is life, I will have accomplished something amazing. (So far, she’s seriously amazing.)