On the calendar in my kitchen, I have three sets of stickers clipped to the pages. I give myself a sticker as a reward for different daily tasks. I get a goldfish sticker every day that I write in my blog. I get a star every day that I exercise. (There have been far too few of those lately). And I get an apple sticker every day that I eat no sweets, as sweets are my dietary downfall. (If you're wondering, yes, I am 31 years old and I still love stickers. That, along with snow days and being able to buy school supplies every August, was one of my major reasons to become a teacher). Needless to say, I'm a goal-oriented type. I like being able to show my progress, and I love earning praise, even if it's self-given. So it would be fair to call me a gold star over-achiever.
The thing is that I'm a fraud. (Not that I'm faking being motivated by stickers--that can actually stop me from eating a brownie at 50 feet). I'm faking being an over-achiever. I learned very young that I was good at certain things, and not so great at others. So, I happily let myself be pigeonholed into expertise. Good at schoolwork? Yup, that's me. I'm an egghead! Like to read? Sure. I can out-read the librarian! Get along well with grownups? Absolutely. I'm the kid on the playground discussing recent movies with the teacher's aide while the rest of my classmates are running and playing. The flip side of this, of course, is how I handled things I wasn't good at. Anything I couldn't pick up quickly, I put down again even quicker before anyone noticed I'd tried it.
This would be why I don't play video games. When I was small and home video game consoles were first becoming all the rage, I quickly found that my hand-eye coordination wasn't equal to that of my sister, my cousin, my friends, etc. So, I let it be known that I preferred to watch people play video games. It was fun! I chirped. (Who the hell was I kidding?) I avoided showing frustration and my sterling reputation of being good at everything was intact. So what if I spent many boring years watching other people play games? No one could see my clay feet. (Not that being lousy at Mike Tyson's Punch Out or Zelda really represents clay feet, but I was 12 for heaven's sake). The problem is that to this day I still feel some trepidation at attempting a video game. I have a hard time jumping in with both feet and just letting myself have fun with stinking.
I have gotten much better about this in some areas. Athletics, for example. Sports and athletics were the bane of my childhood. I sucked at gym class, and boy howdy was it obvious. Our elementary gym teacher--aka the female, Jewish, 50-something Pol Pot, except instead of collective farming and executions to abuse her power, she used rope climbing and basketball drills--fit many of the stereotypes for gym teachers. She was gruff, humorless, and seemed to think the sun rose and set on the Presidential Fitness Award. She was the only adult in my elementary school whom I could not charm with my intelligence, maturity and humor. She wasn't even impressed by my lineage--for most of my early academic career, being the little sister of fellow-academic-super-star Tracie really meant something, and I certainly cashed in on that cachet. But Tracie was similarly athletically gifted (although she was better than me), and Ms. Pol Pot didn't think much of either of us.
As a result of this public outing of my lack of gym class skillz, I was in late high school before I would voluntarily join in on a friendly game of badminton or even catch. I was still unbelievably nervous about people judging me for sucking at sports in college. It took until I started teaching and badly needed a physical outlet before I took up a sport. I started running. I ran a 5K and then a half marathon. I was able to scarf down macaroni and cheese in public and tell people, "I need the carbs. I'm a runner!"
I had gotten past my fear of being bad at something--except that I hadn't, really. I picked up a sport that was not team-oriented and therefore there was no one I could disappoint but myself. And the entire point of running is to not stop. I can do that. I'm not fast, but I can stop myself from stopping. So even my triumph over fear of sucking is still somewhat conditional. The day you see me joining a soccer league or softball team will be the day you know that I have let go of my fear of failing at something. I recommend that you get comfortable while you wait.
With LO's arrival, I have finally found an endeavor that is unbelievably important to me, and which I am not immediately good at. There is no faking this one by turning it into something I am good at--which is how I handled classes that weren't English or French Literature in college. I managed to get through four years of college only writing literature-based essays, despite taking history, art history, biology and theater classes, among others. I can't become an observer on this one like I did with video games, sitting back and letting J do the heavy lifting. There will be no sitting out and claiming I simply don't like things, like I did with games and athletics for years. I finally have to acknowledge that there are things I suck at.
That's not to say that I'm not a good mom. But some things are kicking my ass and taking names and then coming back to stick their tongues out at my prone, sleep-deprived self. Despite what I believed ahead of time, breastfeeding is not completely natural for me. Not only is figuring it out difficult, it's also a constantly changing target. This means that anytime I think I've finally got it set and figured out, things change and my boobs are figuratively limping around the house on me. This has also happened with LO's puking habits, his sleep cycle, his diaper-leakage, his ability to fit into clothing, his crying, his eating schedule, his attitude toward pacifiers, etc, etc, etc... In other words, welcome to motherhood, EGB.
I know this is not really worth worrying about. So I'm not immediately good at parenting, just like the rest of the world. So what? Other people are going to judge me no matter what, and I'll be doing my best no matter what. But, now that it is more important to me than anything else I've ever cared about, I'd like to feel a little more self-assured than I do. I just hope that LO will be willing to forgive my gold star-less mothering abilities. If I want him to know that it's okay to really royally screw up sometimes, then I'll have to show him that I'm not perfect. Yikes.
Maybe I could be the BEST screw-up in the world!