Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Law-Abiding Citizen

I am a bundle of contradictions.  On the one hand, I am the individual who will buck any authority who ever tries to tell me what to do.  I would not do well in the military.  If I see no reason for a rule, I have no qualms about telling whatever local authority that I think the rule is stupid.  I'm not particularly polite about this information, either.  If the authority has wasted my time with a stupid rule, why should I bother with politeness?  This made for some interesting moments in high school.  (It was also proof that G-d has a sense of humor.  Why else would I be this way and then later decide to become a high school teacher?  It's my penance for being insufferable as a 16-year-old.  Mr. Furman from Owings Mills, I hope you know I've been paid back).

On the other hand, I am very much a pleaser.  I want to do well and have every box checked "excellent" on my report card of life.  For example, when I worked as a temporary tattoo artist at Six Flags (for reals--it was a true resume builder of a summer job), I was forced to go through the park orientation along with all of the other new employees.  At the time, I was 20 years old and a rising junior at Kenyon College.  I was older than the average employee by four years, and I had a much stronger work ethic than the average 16 year old.  But when the two day orientation stressed over and over again that we should always wear a smile while on the park grounds, I took it seriously.  On my first day of work, I walked through the park from the employee parking lot to the temporary tattoo booth with the most ridiculous crazy-lady smile pasted to my face.  It made my cheeks hurt.  But by golly, if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well, and I was told to always smile.  I had gotten halfway through the park by the time I realized people were giving me odd looks, and that the park owners probably didn't want me to be scaring the patrons with my glued-on Jokeresque grin.

So, this contradictory aspect of my nature has become a bit of a problem now that I am a mother.  Since I'm a gold-star achieving pleaser, anything I read in a book must be gospel passed down from on high.  I forget regularly that just like the directive from the owners of Six Flags, these suggestions are intended for the lowest common denominator.  So when I read that babies under 2 years old should watch NO television whatsoever, I struggle with the immediate mother guilt that comes roaring through when LO catches sight of whatever program J and I might be watching.  I similarly worried that I wasn't interacting with LO enough when I read advice about breastfeeding that claimed you should use the time to interact with your baby, rather than read or watch tv.  And once I read that What to Expect directed parents to limit swing time to no more than 30 minutes at a time, twice a day, I knew that my child would never sleep again because he is only willing to nap in the swing.

Obviously, I can be a good mom and ignore all of this advice.  The advice is written for non-nurturing types who will plop their child down in front of a tv, never talk to the kid at all, and will use the swing as a baby-sitter.  These are stupid rules.  I'm just not nearly confident enough in my mothering abilities yet to be able to rudely tell What to Expect what I think of their stinkin' rules.

I think it would be helpful to start a national I'm Not an Idiot program.  You would have to apply and prove that you are not, in fact, an idiot.  Once you have gone through this process, you would be issued an INAI card, which will entitle you to the real advice, rather than the crap that is cobbled together for the lowest common denominator (LCD).  (There might be a related I'm Not Going to Sue card so that you can get the straight story from a doc on things like the advisability of taking over the counter meds during pregnancy or how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy).  I think the INAI card could revolutionize the huge American complex of maternal guilt.  Because it seems like there are two camps--the LCDs and those who are trying to get the gold star for mothering.  There are certainly overlaps--I know I'm an idiot in some areas.  (Which is why there is an INAI application process.  Your card would be color coded based on what you are not an idiot about).  But overall, I'm just trying to do my best as a mother.  I've got my metaphorical Joker grin pasted to my face, when I just need to be generally approachable and friendly.  I'd like to stop sweating all the small stuff.  And it would be really nice if I could be allowed to let LO get back in his swing.


  1. A-men! Having a child with a disability no one knows anything about really has been soooooo freeing in that regard. Sometimes I thank God I have an autistic child - he's made me a better person, and I think I'm a better mother to him than I would have been to a neurotypical kid, in part because I've had to learn to trust my gut - there are no rules, not really.
    Also, could I run a similar test to people who want to take my exercise classes to see who really wants to exercise and who just wants to sign up so they feel better about themselves, but doesn't really care about exercise (I'm Not A Slacker Card?)...it would save me a lot of time.

  2. I remember you telling me about people who say they want to get in shape without sweating. That's like wanting to make an omelet while leaving the eggshells intact.

  3. You are my favorite writer, I love this stuff.

    love Dad