Neither French Nor Carpe Diem Mothering

It’s not unusual for me to read parenting articles, but recently I read two articles about motherhood that made me think about the actual act of being a mother rather than just the idea of being a mother.

The first one I read was passed around on Facebook a million times – from a blog called “Momastary” and it discusses the impossibility of carpe diem, as admonished by old ladies in the grocery store, when dealing with running, filthy toddlers.  The author distinguishes between chronos time – when picking up dirty toys, or buckling squirmy babies into car seats and Kairos time – a moment when you take time out to kiss a sleepy child, or snuggle up to read a book.  The post is awe-inspiring in its ability to allow mothers to be frustrated and not feel guilty if they cannot appreciate every germ-ridden, screaming moment of being a parent of a young child.

The second one I read appeared in The Wall Street Journal Online and the author theorizes as to why French parents are superior. The author, an American woman living in the suburbs of Paris, noted that French children are models of restraint and the parents were much more relaxed.  It turns out that the French parents value teaching children the value of delayed gratification.  Kids learn from a young age how to entertain themselves, wait for long periods of time, and that no really does mean no.  Is it a perfect system?  Far from it.  However, the discipline instilled as a result of such teachings make for very relaxed parents – something many mothers I know are craving right about now.

One thing these articles highlight to me is that motherhood requires a great deal of self-reflection, and to do it well requires not only reflection, but also a willingness to look in the mirror and face the hard truths as they hover in front of you.  A lot of women don’t want to think about the hows and whys of their methodology – they just move forward with the day-by-day and minute-to-minute parenting that children require.  Being meta requires a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking and looking for ways to do things differently should a situation arise again.  That’s some tough stuff.

I thought I would want to be a stay-at-home mother for my precious babies and I was wildly wrong.  The grime, the tedium and the children’s physical needs made me sweat and yearn for my peaceful office.  In fact, I was so insistent on working that I got my doctorate while the kids were little – I graduated when they were four and seven years old.  I would have done anything to keep my mind otherwise occupied.  I would have poked nails in my head rather than admit it back then though.

When we moved to Tokyo the second time in 2007, I did not seek out employment like I had the first time. I thought that I would get involved in the kids’ school or volunteer with organizations and indeed, I did all of that.  I even found myself doing a bunch of freelance writing for the first time.  But as time went on, it still wasn’t enough for me.  I missed teaching – I had the doctorate and I wanted to use it again.  Over the summer, I applied for a job and I got it – in fact, I got two part time jobs that are keeping me way too busy.  It’s too much to work like I am now, but the experience has been invaluable and now I know how much is too much.  I can arrange thing differently after this school year.  In my world, I love working.  That being said, I am also enjoying parenting more than I ever have before.  The kids are 9 and 12, and their burgeoning worlds and ideas are fascinating to me.  They’ve become my favorite dinner companions as they’ve learned to play card games and wait patiently for their meals to be served.  Now I’m looking for balance, I think, as we all move forward.

What I mean by all this is that all mothers have to make these decisions for themselves.  Working, not working, discipline, seizing the moment – it’s all by choice.  Those articles I mentioned promote themselves as if they’re for every woman – that fictitious human that is part mother, part trash can, and part pack mule.  There’s just no such thing.  We’re all different and we should be celebrated for the mere act of mothering and for our differences on how we approach motherhood.  Oh, I think parenting articles are fine if someone wants some advice or ideas, but there is by no means one “right” way to do it.  And even each mother will have her own changes over time.  Things that are right when the children are little may not be right when they’re older.  Maybe they will, though.  There are no absolutes in this parenting game.

Go forth and learn from your mistakes.  Enjoy the ride, wipe a few noses and certainly smooth the covers and kiss the babies.  Do it your way.

Writing Derailed

As I struggle to get my ducks in a row vis a vis my life and my time, I realize that there are things that I’m not going to be able to stop, and not going to be able to ignore.  Chief among these is my commitment to my children.  My son Bailey is ten and my daughter Sydney is seven, and they are great kids.  (Will someone please remind me that I’ve said this when Sydney leaves the light on in the bathroom or Bailey forgets to bring his homework to school?)  On most days they’re easygoing and as they’re getting older, they’re less and less demanding.  Somehow when they were ages three and seven, I managed to write a dissertation, so writing now ought to be a piece of cake in comparison.

Yet somehow, it’s not.

When they were littler, I would put them to bed at 7 or 7:30pm and they would miraculously stay there all night, leaving me a few hours of writing time.  I had a doctoral committee breathing down my neck and strict deadlines to meet.  I slept between midnight and 7:00am and it was plenty.

Now that they’re getting older, they stay up later and need help with book reports, problem sheets and the like.  They need to be driven to activities, I have to concentrate when I eat meals with them, and there are endless social events surrounding their friends and their friends’ families.  Their school commands my time (in a loving and interested way) and I’ve been a room mother for two years now.

But the worst and most distracting part of parenting now happens in my brain.  I worry about Sydney’s ability to rattle off her times tables.  I worry about Bailey getting along with some of the kids in his class.  I think about the summer and the long break with our family back in the United States – it’s mostly just the kids and me for ten long weeks – my husband will join us for two and a half of it, but not much.  Thinking it through and planning for that time has taken a lot of my brain power lately.  These are serious issues that take up my time and my energy.  But more than my time, they take up my brain-space.

Today, there was just no room for writing or thinking.  None.

It doesn’t happen often, really.  It’s an occasional bout with life when life wins and knocks me for a loop.  Generally I can compartmentalize the issues so that they fade into the background when I’m writing – whether it’s fiction, non-fiction or academic.  But not every day.

Today I gave myself permission to take a long, hot bath with bath salts, followed by some reading.  This was after a one-hour talk with my mother and another one-hour talk with my best friend.  I was able to relax and clear my mind enough to get to some tasks that needed to get done for my charity work.  I got my son’s glasses repaired.  I wrote this blog posting.  Perhaps tonight when the kids go to bed (not ‘til around 9-ish) I will be able to do some editing on my novel.

The great thing about bad days is that they end.  I will go to bed tonight by 11pm and the day will come to a close.  Tomorrow is a fresh start.  Tomorrow, I will be able to shut off the telephone and concentrate on my writing.  Such is the life of a writer who’s a mother.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.