I woke early, remembered four extra teen boys sleeping in my house – somewhere – and stopped by one of my favorite spots, trying to hold off on that first dose of caffeine. I dropped in at Kristen’s place, Motherese, where there was a particular cookie. And it looked delicious, and perfect, and made me want… coffee.
But I stayed. Read. Smiled. Loved her metaphor of balancing the salty and the sweet for just the perfect result. Easier in baking than in life, certainly. And then I eased out of my bedroom and put on a pot of coffee. I turned to see a 16-year old on the couch in the living room, his long leg poking out from under a worn comforter. The floor was strewn with boat-sized Nikes, socks, jackets, wallets, car keys. The signs of adolescence. But the leg – on the boy I’d known since he was four – was in pajamas.
I came back into my room and re-read. Then I fetched my Italian Roast, quietly, while imagining Kristen‘s baking, and the care to get it just right. I remember cookies like that – the perfectly soft middle and crisped edge – how good they look as well as how scrumptious they taste. I smiled again.
I also enjoy baking and cooking, and when I was single, both were less improvisational, and closely followed recipes. But since having children, nothing is exacting, nothing follows the recipe, and everything is a bit of a mess…
My cookies and cakes are lopsided, but they taste good. My cooking is anything but art on a plate, but it tastes good. As for my parenting? Like my culinary skills – a little of this and a little of that – some basics, and a lot of tinkering. But the result – far from perfect, far from consistent, and not as balanced as I’d like but, in the parenting department at least – so far, pretty good.
Parenting by perfectionism
I started out with more precision, more control, more theoretical opportunity for catching all the details and ensuring I did everything “right” when my boys were tiny. I was a perfectionist. Why wouldn’t I be a perfectionist when it came to parenting?
But in short order (Baby #2 in not quite Year 3 of marriage) I knew it. Not happening! I wasn’t going to be the perfect cool mom, the perfect creative-and-instructive mom, the work outside-the-home and inside-the-home do-it-all-with-calm-and-grace mom. Can you spell P-I-P-E-D-R-E-A-M ????
Why? Because parenting is sloppy.
Only in the movies
Parenting spills over with messy rooms, toddler tantrums, teen tantrums, stopped up toilets (and no plunger nearby), heaps of (unfolded) laundry, missing socks, broken dishwashers (at the holidays), lights that go on the fritz (and bulbs that shatter inside them), kids who lock themselves in rooms (by mistake), and years of scrambling to the supermarket, the craft store, the school, the friend’s house, the ER, and then the pharmacy at the worst possible moment… in the middle of a meeting, when a project is due, or you have the almost perfect cookies in the oven.
And so you run out knowing the cookies are ruined and the dog will pee on the rug and the project will be late and the best laid plans are shot again, because unless you’re in the movies, that’s parenting.
Usually – but not exclusively – mothering.
Finally, at midnight, you drop into bed and run through the mental list – everything still not done, and there’s tomorrow’s list and now carryover. Again. Maybe you persist in another hour or two on the late project and then catch a sleepwalking child and gently guide him or her back to bed. Or you stick your head in your babies’ rooms – no longer babies – perhaps 10 or 12 – and they stir, and look at you and still smell sweet because they aren’t quite as grown up as they think – and they say “I love you, Mom,” and maybe you even get a half-sleeping, half-dreaming very sloppy kiss.
Because parenting is bringing them imperfect but tasty chocolate chip cookies even on Saturday night when they’re 16 and 17 and 18 and all jammed in a small room, laughing, now a foot taller than you, but you still see their baby cheeks under the stubble, in their awkward growing changing lanky bodies.
And sometimes, you catch a glimpse of a kid, not your own, in pajamas. And you remember a sleepover when he was four, and wore pajamas then, too, so long ago. And you have to smile, grateful for your imperfect, disheveled, chaotic world, tiring though it is, yours, for a little while longer. Knowing that parenting is sloppy. And that’s really okay.
© D A Wolf