It was what she said about raising daughters that grabbed me at first. And then she started to talk about spoken word poetry, which up till I watched this video was new to me, and even as a writer who never attempted poetry (and has no desire to), I couldn’t help but think: this is so cool. And then, I wonder if we could teach this in schools?
What is it about being a mum that makes us so judgmental of other mums? I think it’s a lot of things: personal history, upbringing, culture, pride and, most of all, insecurity. We judge others to “defend” our different positions, because heaven forbid we are not the perfect mum and I don’t remember who said there can only be one kind of perfect parent but I just know it to be true.
I’m pathologically non-confrontational, so you will never see me roll my eyes at someone else (unless I’m really, really pissed) or argue my position with another mum. No, pretty much all my judging takes place inside my head, which is probably worse because then I’m like some kind of hypocrite or something.
There are a lot of things I don’t believe in “arguing” about, and parenting is definitely one of them. Because people get so violently defensive that it’s really not a conversation; it’s an endurance race and the first person to recognise the futility of it and back off is the loser.
A lot of people can’t agree to disagree. They feel like they really need to convince you of the validity and rightness of their position, and some of them can be so damn persistent about it. One of the most important things I learned studying Arts in university is that people can have different opinions and that’s okay.
Seriously, why can’t people agree to disagree?!
And I end up (silently) judging the other person, not so much for their differing parenting methods or whatever it is, but for their “lack of open-mindedness”.
Which, in case it wasn’t obvious, isn’t any better.
Maybe I’m also judging myself – for backing down, for giving in, for walking away from a fight because I just cannot be bothered. (I’ve been judged by my friends for that too, by the way.)
Also not okay.
So much of it is unconscious and completely arbitrary – I judge other mums based on how they look, my past experiences, what my mood is on the day, the choices that I’ve made and the insecurities that I have, my likes and dislikes, whether the sun is shining or not. Okay not that last one but my point is, (most) mothers can be such temperamental, emotional and insecure beings when it comes to their kids. Did I mention insecure?
The good news is, as you can see from the video, all it takes is awareness and getting to know / understanding the other person to make us realise what we’re doing and how silly we’re being. To borrow a line from High School Musical, we’re all in this together.
Also, here’s the other thing about judging in silence that I’ve realised – it’s always so much better because then I’m always right and there’s no one to tell me otherwise. So who’s not being accepting of other people’s opinions now?
I don’t remember what prompted my desire for a family motto – perhaps I read something somewhere, or it might have been from a talk I heard. But coming up with a family motto had been on my mind for several weeks when the 5yo produced this one day:
Kung Fu Panda may or may not have had something to do with this, but I thank Po and his friends all the same because it’s perfect. It really is.
Last year was my Year of Kindness, and being kind is something that’s been very much on my mind. I’ve been working with the kid to encourage kindness and awareness of it, and even though I think the message is sinking in, I’ve also given her a heads-up: this is probably something I’ll keep reminding her of for the next 15 years.
Courage is a word we don’t hear very often these days, and it always reminds me of two things: the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and this from the Bible.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
For me, that has always been about braving new adventures, starting new chapters, trying new things. It’s something that really strikes close to home (heart), particularly in the last couple of years, and I guess it’s also stuck with me because I’ve always found the prospect of it exciting.
If we can learn what and how it is to live out these things, then we won’t have done too badly at all.
My 5yo met me at school pick-up with a half-eaten bird’s egg the other day. It had been given to her by a Grade 2 (I think) boy.
Years from now I’m going to tease her about this boy, whom she played with almost every day for about 2 weeks earlier this year. He started coming up to her after school and just standing around her, and then she started to look for him after school so she could wave bye. She wouldn’t say anything, just wave. It was the cutest thing ever, except she was also my baby girl and so, after a solid week of hearing about him, I told her I wanted to know his name and class. At least.
I needn’t have bothered. Like any summertime fling (okay it was more like autumn), their friendship fizzled out and they stopped playing together. In fact, the kid started ignoring him, even when he would come over to say hi. I was a little mortified by how rude she was being! (Let this be a warning to all future potential suitors.)
I told her she was not allowed to be rude to anyone, and that was that… until this episode that will henceforth be known as “The Half-eaten Bird’s Egg”. As we were walking out of school that afternoon, he ran up to make sure she still had it. I asked him if it was his lunch, and he said yes but it’s okay because he had a few of them. (I hope he didn’t give them all away to different girls because I would not be cool with that.)
This time, the kid didn’t ignore him when he said bye.
It hit me the other night. While I was reading one of those parenting/mummy blog articles or some such. I can’t find the article now, but it was essentially about how we should treasure each moment with our kids because we never know when it’ll be the last time we… (insert mundane task here). In this particular case, it was washing her daughter’s hair.
That struck a chord. It was probably 9pm. It’s amazing how open and calm and full-of-good-intentions I am when the kid is fast asleep and the house is completely QUIET AND PEACEFUL. If I were half as good a parent when my child is asleep as when she is awake, I’d be kicking motherhood’s ass.
This isn’t a novel concept of course. Neither is it anything I didn’t already know in my head. But in my heart? In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, during moments when I can’t wait to tuck the kid into bed because she’d been whinging since we walked in the door after school? Not so much.
I need to do better.
Again, not a new idea. I’ve been thinking this exact phrase for months now. And the article was a good reminder for someone who regularly expresses her wonder and amazement at how fast time goes. We’re already halfway through the third term of school pretty much, which means it won’t be long before we hit term four, and then school holidays, AND THEN MY DAUGHTER WILL BE IN GRADE 1.
I can’t slow down time, but I can make the effort to be more present. It’s kind of morbid, I know, but imagine if you died tonight. I did. And the only thing I kept thinking was: I want to be there with/for my kid as she grows up. Not: I should have worked more, or done more writing, or watched more TV, or even travelled more.
As a single mum, I cut myself a lot of slack. I don’t push myself to take on too much, I understand what’s important to me right now, but I also think there are times when I could choose not to let the kid watch another hour of cartoons on the iPad. The great thing about parenting a 5yo is that every day is a new day. The kid is quick to forgive when I mess up, but it won’t be like that forever. She’s eager to hang out and loves to chat – sometimes I even get to choose the topic – and I can only hope and pray that this will last.
Telling myself that I need to do better is not me being judgy or comparing myself to other mums. It’s not me saying I want to be the best mum in the world because I’ll be honest and say I’m really not competitive enough to give a shit about that. It’s about me wanting to give this motherhood thing my best shot (and never give up), because that’s what I tell my kid all the time, and what would I be if I didn’t follow my own advice, right?
The more I read about successful people, the more I realise that you cannot have work/life balance if you want to be extraordinary. You can have work/life balance and be comfortable, content, affluent even, but to be extraordinary? To be vastly more successful than the average worker bee on the street? There just aren’t enough hours in a day. You don’t become super successful by working the same hours as everyone else. And if you’re not willing to put in the extra hours, well, there are plenty of people out there who are.
To become very successful at anything requires dedication and hard work (read: long hours spent on that thing you do, whatever it is). For some people that might mean sacrificing family time, for others it might mean forgoing sleep, exercise and their social life. The bottom line is sacrifices have to be made, which brings me to my other realisation: I cannot have it all.
I once asked Kimora Lee Simmons what she would say to women who want to “have it all”. Her answer was essentially: yes, she appears to “have it all” but she doesn’t sleep much and she doesn’t hang out with her friends a whole lot, because her waking moments are devoted to her kids and her partner and her fashion line and her reality TV show and… In other words, she doesn’t have a lot of time to rest or have fun. Christina Soong of The Hungry Australian put it another way: you can have it all, just not all at once. Which makes sense. Because again, there just aren’t enough hours in a day.
As a writer who works from home, I have what many mums would call an ideal arrangement. I’m able to earn an income while still being a pseudo full-time mum to the 5yo. I do school drop offs and pick ups, shuttling to gymnastics and swimming, and even parent helper duty once a week. I’m available for special events and occasions at school, and I’m also available for special events and occasions with my mostly stay-at-home-mum girlfriends. Do I love it? Absolutely, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But as a former entertainment journo, to say that I’m focused on my career at this point would be a gross exaggeration.
Penelope Trunk, whom I love and frequently link to, recently wrote about giving up her career for her kids. Early this year, I had a conversation with a girlfriend about pursuing a career in media, and we agreed that we just didn’t want it badly enough. I know I’m not willing to sacrifice being here for the kid, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure I want to give up sleep, exercise and my vibrant social life that, most days, only takes place between the hours of 9 and 6. That’s 9am and 6pm in case you’re wondering, not the other way around.
I’m immensely grateful for all that I have and for this season in my life, but I am neither successful in my career nor do I have it all. Even better, I don’t care to pretend that I am, I do or I want to be. Like all seasons, this will pass and there will come a time when I might make a different choice or even do something else, but for now, this is totally okay by me. And it’s totally okay to say that.
“Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.” – Clementine Paddleford
Never play the princess when you can
be the queen:
rule the kingdom, swing a scepter,
wear a crown of gold.
Don’t dance in glass slippers,
crystal carving up your toes —
be a barefoot Amazon instead,
for those shoes will surely shatter on your feet.
Never wear only pink
when you can strut in crimson red,
sweat in heather grey, and
shimmer in sky blue,
claim the golden sun upon your hair.
Colors are for everyone,
boys and girls, men and women —
be a verdant garden, the landscape of Versailles,
not a pale primrose blindly pushed aside.
Chase green dragons and one-eyed zombies,
fierce and fiery toothy monsters,
not merely lazy butterflies,
sweet and slow on summer days.
For you can tame the most brutish beasts
with your wily wits and charm,
and lizard scales feel just as smooth
as gossamer insect wings.
Tramp muddy through the house in
a purple tutu and cowboy boots.
Have a tea party in your overalls.
Build a fort of birch branches,
a zoo of Legos, a rocketship of
Queen Anne chairs and coverlets,
first stop on the moon.
Dream of dinosaurs and baby dolls,
bold brontosaurus and bookish Belle,
not Barbie on the runway or
Disney damsels in distress —
you are much too strong to play
the simpering waif.
Don a baseball cap, dance with Daddy,
paint your toenails, climb a cottonwood.
Learn to speak with both your mind and heart.
For the ground beneath will hold you, dear —
know that you are free.
And never grow a wishbone, daughter,
where your backbone ought to be.
It’s also Generation Z, demarked by the end of the alphabet as we know it, that’s calling for the end of generational segmentation. It doesn’t ring true any more, [Adora] Svitak says: “It ignores a lot of the things that shape personalities and collective thinking.” It also ignores the fact characteristics are fluid throughout life. “Understanding shared Baby Boomer traits is easy because most of their lives has passed,” she says. “But anyone making generalizations about me will have to realize I will change many, many times.”
Research, though still in beta, points to the emergence of a stellar generation: educated, industrious, collaborative and eager to build a better planet—the very qualities exemplified by [Ann] Makosinski. In fact, in a manner typical of the need to neatly compartmentalize generations, Gen Z is already being branded as a welcome foil to the Millennials, born between 1980 and the mid- or late 1990s, who have been typecast as tolerant but also overconfident, narcissistic and entitled. Those characteristics weren’t an option for the first post-9/11 generation, one raised amid institutional and economic instability, informed by the looming shadow of depleting resources and global warming, and globally connected via social media.
This Dartmouth commencement speech by Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal, is awesome, and I’m not just saying that because she’s one of my heroes. Some highlights:
I did not dream of being a TV writer. Never, not once when I was here in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, did I say to myself, “Self, I want to write TV.” You know what I wanted to be? I wanted to be Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. That was my dream. I blue sky’ed it like crazy. I dreamed and dreamed. And while I was dreaming, I was living in my sister’s basement. Dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives, FYI … So one day I was sitting in that basement and I read an article that said — it was in The New York Times — and it said it was harder to get into USC Film School than it was to get into Harvard Law School. And I thought I could dream about being Toni Morrison, or I could do.
Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing.