I’ll start by telling you who June Cleaver is, because the fact that I used her name is a clue to just how old I am. Too old for parenting properly anymore, apparently, and old enough that when I say “I’m not June Cleaver,” my wolf child looks at me blankly or says “who?” This is vaguely sad to me, as I remember watching Leave It to Beaver every day, and loving it. Along with I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke and The Honeymooners, they were classics that I could associate with my own parent’s youth and feel some connection. There is little connection between what my boy watches, and (more commonly) plays and my life, than the man in the moon (another reference that flies over his head). June Cleaver is the perfect mother on Leave It to Beaver, a program that ran from 1957-1963 (ending right about the time I started, literally). Meals were always on time and tasty; June prepared them with a lovely dress on (she never wore slacks) and a pressed apron. The boys got into trouble, but generally it was innocent stuff that kids today would scoff at.
I’ll be clear. I don’t think June did anything to help make it easier for women who came after her. She existed as a shiny example of what had been, what things had changed from. But, when I was little I thought that was what perfect moms looked like and acted like. I wanted to be her, with her lovely pearls, perfect dinners, calm demeanor and crisp apron… and have a career. Scratch both. I gave up my career when Principessa came along, despite long years of earning my Masters. And far from June Cleaver, I am now raising a feral child… surrounded by a seemingly endless list of modern Junes. You see, I’m tired of it all and unfortunately for Little Man, he didn’t get out in time.
For years I did the June thing. I’ve written about it before (Don’t Call Me Martha), but basically I did all of the things that Marthas and Junes do: great meals, carpooling constantly, finding clubs/lessons/experiences for my kids and getting them there, PTSA, class parent, etc. You get the picture. It was years of doing those things, and doing them well. But in the end, PTSA led to PTSD and I slowly stepped back from that edge. Too many holes to step in and too many balls to keep in the air. For me. My superhero cape got frayed and my knees are bad.
Luckily for Principessa and Middle Man, I kept it up until they were both off to college and headed off in the world. They might argue that I was losing my mojo before they left, but they haven’t seen anything! In the case of Middle Man I still managed to bake cookies and send a Halloween care package last week, so one might argue that I’m still jumping through those hoops for my older kids. Hard to justify the cost of sending candy corn to Israel, for Principessa, but I bought it.
Little Man however is being raised in the wild. With one child at home, and Smart Guy not always home, it’s tortellini… night after night. Making big meals seems so time consuming these days. For what? Dishes to do after? Little Man does the dishes too, but he’s got a point: it isn’t fair that his siblings shared walking the dogs and doing the dishes, while he’s on his own in this wasteland. So I help. Which leads me back to whether I want to make all that effort on some nights… ok, many nights lately. If I cook a large package of tortellini, it lasts for days. I don’t eat it, but Little Man loves it. Until he doesn’t.
Starting last weekend, it was a crazy week. Halloween parties, fund raisers, dinner meetings, all seemed packed into one week. So I made tortellini. I tossed it with red sauce and made a salad… the first night. After that, it’s what Little Man heated up when I said: Um, how about left overs? He heated them up several nights in a row. When I finally asked what he’d had for dinner (note: that is how checked out I was, asking what he had for dinner) and he answered “the tortellini,” I froze. Oh my God! We’re raising a feral child! I cried. He laughed, but it isn’t really funny. Well, maybe a little. But there was a crack of reality that hit me hard.
See, I’m just tired. Old and tired. I’ve been making dinners for a very long time. I would argue that I started making dinner for my own siblings, long before I had my own children to feed. Back then I really thought I could be June Cleaver for my brother and sister, help my single mother out. I started very young. So, in fairness (to me) I was already a little tired of this gig when I started it for real. I didn’t realize that at the time, but it began to sink in over the years. Today, the words “What’s for dinner” truly send icy cold prickles up my spine. I’ve done a lot of laundry; I’m sick of it. Driving is so 2008. Dishes make my eyes roll back in my head. The grocery store no longer holds the appeal it once did. I could care less that our local market has spiffied up and carries all kinds of cool stuff, or that we finally have a Trader Joes. It’s all the way across town (15 minutes). Those things used to light my fire. Now I just want to get in and out of the store as fast as possible, and go as few times as is absolutely necessary. One package of tortellini lasts a long time.
For Halloween this year, I had no interest in carving a pumpkin. Decorations- Why? No little kids in this house. But Little Man said: “We need to get our pumpkin!” Damn. Really? Admittedly, I felt guilty. I ran out and bought the pumpkin, but then I wasn’t really thrilled when he wasn’t in the mood to carve it. I used to scoop it out, get it all ready for my kids. That was his job this year. I managed to pull together a tiny bit of June and carve with him. We had fun, but he realized half way through that he isn’t that into jack-o-lanterns anymore either. I bought candy, but hell: a girl’s got to eat, so that was a given. I did make my annual mummy dogs (crescent rolls wrapped ala mummy around hot dogs). Don’t judge; it’s once a year, and I always serve apple or carrots. But we didn’t trick or treat, and we didn’t go to the Thriller Dancers/Thrillingham. I’ve brought Little Man and his friends for three years now. This year, I wasn’t up for standing in the weather and listening to Michael Jackson (besides, I could watch it on video the next day). See, it’s that bad. Who isn’t in the mood for listening to Michael Jackson? He and his friends watched Aliens and I was grateful to be off duty… again.
I did all of it for my older kids. They got lots of me driving to the good neighborhoods for trick or treating. There were delicious dinners every night. We sat down together. Every. Night. When Smart Guy was still training, I made dinners and drove them to the hospital, so that we could all eat together. Every. Night. I drove and I drove. I baked and I baked. There were fresh cookies and nice meals all of the time. There were lessons and after school activities. And then I got old and tired of it. Now when I bake cookies, I hide half the batch for myself. For poor Little Man, burn out hit me before he left the house. This leaves him foraging for food, home alone much more than his siblings ever were, and doing an unfair portion of the chores. He’s my feral boy. Cute and non-complaining, he doesn’t really point a finger.
However, most of his peers are the oldest in their family. Their moms are not tired… yet. So, Little Man is still surrounded by friends who have Junes and Marthas at home, while his mother is one click short of wine at noon and dinner out every night. I’m not doing either, lest you really judge. There is a modicum of parenting left in me. But mostly I just think: next time don’t put the red sauce on the tortellini. Then, I can add pesto or red sauce, or plain butter, and make it look like three unique dinners. If I play my cards right, he’ll think that Luke and Gracie really are watching out for him, when we’re out and there’s no other siblings around. If we invite friends here, he won’t see that other homes have mothers that aren’t fizzled out. I’m semi-retired, not June.
As I head into the next phase of my life, the things that made me Mom for so many years just don’t hold the same appeal. I want to be writing. I don’t really love cooking anymore. That’s not entirely fair to Little Man, but life ain’t fair. He doesn’t get my archaic references and he is good enough to not call me on my BS. He eats tortellini and is happy that I pick him up after school. He’s adjusting to life in the wild. Recently he had some friends over and I was commenting on various characters. He reminds me of Eddie Haskell! I told him. “Who?”
** Are you still a Martha or June? Do you know who June is? Or, are your kids still little and you’re in the midst of it? Share a comment. If this post made you laugh, or cry, or just feel hungry, please hit Like. For the record, I am doing NaNoWriMo this month. Yesterday I wrote (officially) 4,371 words. I wonder if I can add the 1,584 from this post to my NNWM total today? Have a good weekend people!
Along these lines, also read: What We Don’t Tell You In Our Blog: Peru, The Outtakes.