Today I ran into The Gap to quickly return something. One of the girls who works there, who I’ve gotten to know (yes, that often), and I were talking about some of the left over Halloween decorations in the store. They had these cool, mini pumpkins. I commented that they almost looked real and she told me that one on of her co-workers carved them and then sprayed something on them to make them last longer. We were both impressed with her creativity and she commented, “Yeah, I had no idea she was so talented. We’ve been calling her Martha all week.” She thought this was a compliment. I get it; I’ve used the same joke a million times; but this time, without pausing I said, “Don’t call her that. In the end we Marthas just get sick of keeping up the standards. We end up burned out and sick of the name. Frankly, I bet Martha herself is sick of her name. Instead, call her by her name and tell her how talented she is.” She looked at me seriously and replied, “Wow, you’re right. I never thought about it that way.” Of course you haven’t, sweet, thin, YOUNG thing.
I hadn’t thought about it that way before either, though the feeling has been simmering for some time. I’ve been looking a lot closer at my life and one of the things that strikes me is the Martha syndrome. I did it for years: homemade salad dressings and marinades; homemade everything; entertaining; joining all the things my kids should join and driving them there; all of it. I think on some level, I believed that if I could make it all look really good, it would make up for all the things I didn’t really know how to do as a mother: consistency; patience; selfless nurturing, all of it.
I just knew that I wanted to do it better than my mom had. At the time, while I knew the phrase “she did the best she could,” (with what she had…) I didn’t really understand how true it was. I too, have done the best I can, with what I have. I intended to give my children more patience than my mom had. I wanted to be consistent, but I didn’t know what it looked like. I wanted to always be there and nurture them, in ways I wasn’t and wished for. However, in the end, like my mother… I fell short in lots of places. I also did pretty well in others. Now I know that my mom loved us, but could only do her best, not necessarily the best that I wanted. I love my kids, and am doing my best, not necessarily the best they have wanted. I have three great kids who know they’re loved. I may have wanted it all to look a lot differently, be a lot better, but we all do the best we can.
Later in the day, thinking about all of this, I ran into an acquaintance in the grocery store. This person is a man, a father who has stayed home. For years, our paths have crossed mostly at the market, occasionally at the pool or some other odd places that we were with our children. When I run into him or his wife, who has worked outside the home for the past few years, we always enjoy chatting about our kids, about the state of the world, our community, all kinds of things. However, for the past many years, I would also feel a little like hiding whenever I saw either of them coming. My kids are 4-10 years older than theirs, and that makes all the difference.
Frankly, as much as I enjoyed talking each time I ran into either of these parents, I often left feeling like a frazzled, frustrated, bitchy, loser. They are both very intellectual people, who always seemed to have their act together, to my crazy, living-with-teens meltdowns. We would get talking about kids and I felt as if I could practically see their eyes glaze over. They’d say: “Oh please don’t tell me,” or “I can’t wait!” I knew they really meant “Please, don’t tell us!”
I couldn’t blame them. Their kids were well-behaved; they were never in trouble; while mine were pushing limits and making me crazy. Their two children always seemed happy to play together, while mine were constantly fighting. While Principessa and Little Man represented the average workload, I had Middle Man to turn my hairs gray and challenge all my preconceived notions of myself as a parent. I knew I sounded all negative; all the time, and after a while, I just didn’t want to have those moments. I was comparing myself to too many other “better than me” parents and their families; I just wanted to avoid a few others.
Today was totally different. Dad and I ran into each other and I was tired, but feeling pretty ok. He on the other hand was in meltdown mode: the very same one I’ve been in countless other times! As I stood there, he shared how frustrating and exhausting it is to raise two teens. He pointed out that he always feels stupid, out of touch, disrespected, unattractive, old, clueless… like he wants to flee. Hello! I laughed as I shared with him just how many times the tables have been reversed and I felt this way around him. I told him that it will probably get a little worse before it gets better (his are 14, 12), but it will get better. I told him that I totally understand his feelings, and that he isn’t losing his mind, or, at least not clinically. He’s normal, like me. Whatyaknow!
<— In the Produce department, with other like minded parents. He showed me that his effort at not trying so hard is to buy boxed cereal, instead of the incredible breakfasts he’s made for his kids all these years. “They don’t really appreciate what I do, so it’s cereal.” We shared a laugh and we had a race to see who could make it to the check out faster (I won. I’m older and wiser, and I forgot the cold cuts). Standing there, he thanked me. He told me that he’d come in feeling really miserable, and now he felt like he wasn’t alone and that there was some humor in it all. We agreed that maybe one day we can all go out for dinner and drinks and talk like adults. I doubt it will happen, but I didn’t say it. It was an interesting day to see the message from so many diverse angles. I know longer want to be all the things I wanted to be when I started out. I’m still evolving. So don’t call me Martha; call me Dawn and know that I’m doing the best I can, and I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.
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