Mother's Day seems like a good day to ask myself this question: what does it mean to be a good mother?
Actually, that's a question I've never worried about too much, because, having worked with a lot of children with truly terrible parents, parents who ran the gamut from drinking to verbal abuse to emotional absence, I happen to know I'm a good enough mother and that is worth its weight in gold. I am present, and I am loving, and, in my opinion, that's what it takes.
So, although the trailer to Bad Moms doesn't look like it's going to be earth-shattering or even that good, I maybe watched it ten thousand times already, and I cannot wait to giggle through that crap film. And I know it's going to be a Hollywood movie. It's going to be Vacation but with moms and no dads or a rom com minus the rom. That's just how it is these days, and that's no conspiracy theory as this Slate article lays out in fascinating terms. (Incidentally, that's also why my husband prefers television to movies, although I am trying to get him into independent films, but that's another story.)
Regardless, I'm still excited for this non-earth-shattering, same 15 key-story-beats story, because I have had it up the wazoo with mommy culture already, and it has only been three years and my daughter hasn't even started school yet, officially.
Only three years ago, I had no idea mommy culture was even a thing. In fact, I had this naive fantasy that now that I was so in love with this tiny creature still tucked into my tummy, I was going to have this magical bond with all the other parents who felt that same seismic shift in perspective. We were all going to be best friends and braid daisies in our hair and skip through Prospect Park, singing "Wheels on the Bus" and other embarrassing daydreams of utopia.
Then, my daughter was born, and she couldn't nurse. Her jaw receded, and she couldn't latch. I was devastated. I consulted lactation consultants, not consultant. I pumped. I cried. I tried so hard. For months. She just did not want to nurse, so I decided to stop stressing. I gave her formula, and she thrived, and I tried to heal and focus on other aspects of this new parenting experience. Then, I went to my first mommy support group in Brooklyn, and those bitches destroyed me. The group was so large, we were subdivided by birth month, and there were still more than a hundred of us in our group. I went in with an open heart, excited to meet other new moms with babies the same age as my daughter. An email went around arranging a meet-up in a cafe in Park Slope. It was easy to spot us; we didn't need rose buttonholes. These were my new peeps-- a coven of chubby women with newborn babies in slings, some of them pulling their boobs out directly over my latte to nurse and then forgetting and leaving their breast dripping milk into my coffee cup, and I am not making that up. There was something about this group that made me repress the smart-alecky joke that naturally came to my lips. Instead, I tried to make myself equally comfortable and pulled out a bottle to feed my baby, so I could hang out longer.
I might as well have taken a viper out and thrown it in the middle of the table and then asked who wanted to toss their infant into the makeshift, milky arena first.
"Um," one of the mothers piped up helpfully, "you know, studies show babies' brain development is affected by whether or not they get breast milk?"
Oh, really, uptalker? Thank you so much for that helpful tidbit. I have LITERALLY NEVER HEARD THAT BREAST IS BEST. Wait, stop the presses! What a helpful mnemonic! We should get the word out!
Which is what I did not say as the rest of them turned gimlet eyes of disapproval on me.
That was how my disenchantment with mommy culture began, but I don't quite know how I arrived already at the point of echoing Mila Kunis' tired, whispered battle cry in the trailer. Arrived I have, and some. "No," she says in response to participating in a bake sale that eschews wheat, salt, sugar, and every other known ingredient. "I'm so tired of trying to be this perfect mom."
I don't think I ever tried as hard as Mila Kunis, but I tried. One small concession that I made was dressing conservatively, and it made me miserable.
Moms are expected to wear conservative clothes: jeans and khakis and button-down shirts, high-collared dressed. Then there's me: I have always dressed like a rejected extra from the set of Girls. Wild thrift-store layers of mismatching gauzy materials laid one upon the other. Sometimes the effect is achieved-- Lower East Side bar rat melded with my vision of my Parisian older sister -- and sometimes (often) it is not.
I've worked in corporate offices in my life. I've worn suits and pantyhose, or, at less formal offices, long-sleeved henleys and wool-blend pants.
These are clothes that make me feel encased in a woolly tomb of conformity.
Equally constricting, as I learned from this previous blog experiment copying the more ladylike Rachel Parcell with her high status item style, I don't particularly feel comfortable in that other uniform on offer to the Good Mommy: mommy-jealousy clothes now on sale at Tory Burch and other outlets!
I don't want to dress like an office-worker, since I don't work in an office, and I don't want to make other mommies jealous, either. I just want to continue to be a little bit me, which is the really revolutionary act. That's really where the "no" Mila Kunis whispers comes from, and what I can already relate to: there's an expectation that when you become a mom, you no longer get to be you, too.
And, personally, I think that's crap. I think it makes for a bad mom, actually, a repressed, unhappy person at any rate, and that's kind of a waste of this brief, flickering existence.
I think I didn't truly understand this until this exchange at the book sale at my daughter's old daycare, which I've also written about here for Easy Street Mag. The owner of my daughter's daycare was ringing up my purchases, which included one grownup book among the touch-and-feel picture books I'd selected, "Not that you'll ever have a chance to read it," she said.
"Oh, I'll read it," I told her without meaning to say anything particularly loaded.
May I present viper #2, ladies and gentlemen.
I'm not sure where this idea came into being that to be a good mommy means to sacrifice every aspect of your own being, but I don't subscribe to that notion. Granted, I think if you go out partying every night, or even often, you're probably not a very good parent. If you smoke in the house or even hold your baby against the jacket you wore to smoke outside, you're probably not the best parent. (Smoking particles stick to your clothes!) If you hire a sitter, immediately leave for a week, and never phone your kids-- that happened on my first nanny job-- you probably suck big-time in the parenting department.
But if you hang out with your kids and your daughter sees you reading, and so she picks up books and reads to herself happily and quietly for hours at a time, then you're probably not Satan on Earth.
So, reading books and wearing my wild thrifted outfits is maybe not earth-shattering stuff on my part, either. But I've decided: being a mommy is not a corporate job. My boss is my kids, and my kids, if left to themselves, would dress exclusively in tutus and princess skirts over pajamas-- well, the three-year-old would. The baby is just happy not to be wearing something encased in poop and vomit. I'm not going to change the way I dress or how much I read, as if those obliterating acts would somehow make me a better parent or not.
In my experience, a good parent is simply one who is present and cares. That's all a kid needs to thrive. Love. I'm going to endure the sharp looks and the comments, because wacky costumes make me happy. As an ex-actor, they're a huge expression of myself, and it's not perfect, and I'm not perfect.
But perfect is a lie. There are no utopias. There's just right and wrong. I'm saying no to perfect, and yes to being happy.
My chapbook The Voices of Women about these issues, minor and major, is available on Amazon now! More and newer thoughts about sustainability, conformity, and books and other such matters will be up at Easy Street Mag soon. In the pics above, I'm wearing my first pair of specifically vegan shoes that I found as part of my education on sustainability-- my birthday/ Mother's Day present. I found them at Free People for less than a hundred dollars here.
I'm a busy mommy of two and a writer who loves fashion. I also want to teach myself and my children to care for and love the environment! I don't have the energy or time to be as 100% perfect as I'd like to be about my carbon footprint, but I'm trying to do the best I can. For example, I switched to a vegetarian diet (with a little bit of fish thrown in for now-- ah I cannot live without fish tacos!--), walk when I don't have to drive, wear as many sustainably made or secondhand clothes as I can, and recycle in other ways, too. Follow me as I try (at least 50% of the time) to strike a balance between the two-- mothering and writing, shopping and sustainability. You can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram @IsabellaMDavid.