Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mothering vs. Parenting

Whenever Tim and I decided to have children, it was a very conscious choice. I very clearly remember getting out of the shower one day while he stood at the mirror shaving. He turned to me and said, "I think I'm ready to have kids. I think it's the next level of learning about myself."  I sort assumed that because I was in my later thirties that I knew myself and my position about raising kids pretty well. Maybe that's why I get annoyed with myself just a little bit when a brand new major parenting thought occurs to me out of the blue.  The me of 20-or-so-years-ago assumed that the me of now, the me with a kid, would have long ago thought all this through.


It has only just occurred to me that mothering and parenting aren't the same thing. 


"Parenting" makes me think of the nuts n' bolts of the process. This is the stuff I keep books around for, kind of like consulting the instruction manual from time-to-time. Things like teaching life skills, providing boundaries, appropriate nourishment, and keeping them from killing themselves in the kamikaze toddler phase (this does end at some point, right?). It's important stuff even if it is quite technical and repetitive. Sometimes it stinks. Ada doesn't always seem to hear me when I gently say "no" so on occasion I have to yell it. This only happens when she is about to stick her finger in a electrical outlet or attempt to suck down a tube of super glue. So, maybe she hears me just fine and it's really my sheer panic talking.


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Oh my goodness, these shoes. Her sparkly dorothy shoes. A nanny special and she loves them! Today even though she already was wearing shoes she sought these out and brought them to me to put on her. 


"Mothering" is something altogether different. Nurturing, comforting, actively loving - that is mothering.  Now, I have always thought of myself as an equal-opportunity mother-er. From college roommates to small animals (might explain my career choice) I will take nearly anyone or anything,  tuck them/it under my wing, and care for them/it with great tenderness. Really, I think my younger self just thought she knew what was best for everyone and then tried to impose it on them (so sorry Starr). Then Ada came along and a whole new definition of this word has started to take form. With Ada, "mothering" is the expression of that visceral, primal love I feel for her. The desire to be good at mothering her is the thing that propels me to provide a steady stream of love for her regardless of circumstances (sleep-deprivation, bad news, etc).


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This cat toy reminds me of a dreidel. Her favorite thing to do is hand it to me, watch it spin for about a second, and then stop it with her face, hands or feet before handing it to me to repeat the cycle. Hysterical, this game is.


Good thing too. That baby pressed all my buttons today. Holy cow, do I ever love her but every great once in a while ... I am biting my teeth together and ujjayi breathing in an extreme effort to not lose my cool. It normally is fine, but when that "every great once in a while" rolls into town, I find that the constant need of me gets to feel unpredictably oppressive. She is going through a phase of separation anxiety. Even when we are at home she doesn't want me to leave from her sight.  That and the fact that she want to explore EVERYTHING and she is tall. Everything dangerous in our house is moving higher and higher. Today I went to the bathroom and came back to find her poking herself in the eye with a yellow highlighter. Pure exasperation on my part. That felt like parenting.


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These curls make me crazy. I love it how when we walk together her little head is just tall enough that it is no stretch at all for my hand to reach her head. I play with her curls all the time. 


On the other hand, I ran the hell out of the 13 minutes and 22 seconds I had on the treadmill before the lady from the gym day care came for me because Ada was so upset. I saw her yellow polo shirt and immediately swiped my left hand across the red emergency magnet to stop the treadmill. "Not OK? OK, I'm coming right now." Taking the stairs two at a time to reach the second floor I found my baby red-faced with tear tracks covering her sweet cheeks. I snuggled her tight and sat in the chair to rock her until she calmed down enough and I caught my breath enough to leave. Thing is, I didn't get to run and I really, really wanted to. But I wasn't upset. Like, not even a tiny bit. I do hope this phase doesn't last all that long but, really? I mean, my kid wants me. There are worse things in the world. That felt like mothering.


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She experimented with different faces in the mirror today. It was too funny. So glad I had my camera handy to capture this. 

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In these times of frustration, I am thankful also for my own awareness. This awareness lets me say to myself "you are just frustrated that things aren't going like you planned. What is really required of you in this moment?" and then I can regroup before moving on. I think too of what other mothers do in these situations. I have few real-life examples and the ones I know virtually don't tend to talk about this stuff very much. Still, I glean what I can. We'll find our way, me together with my girl.


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Tonight, I am relaxing. I am writing to sort through my day. I am catching up on other blogs too. I am looking forward to tomorrow when I once again get to decide from one moment to the next exactly what kind of parent and exactly what kind of mother I will be. Tomorrow night I have a dinner date followed by a very, very special show. Until then, Salut!


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