Raising a Feral Child, Surrounded By June Cleavers


June Cleaver
Image: ourownfairytale.com

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.

When Mom was Mommy, and she cooked.

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.

Tortellinin, it’s what’s for dinner.

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.

Litter mates, Luke and Gracie.
They don’t cook, either.

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.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Blog, Blogging, Daily Observations, Honest observations on many things, Humor, Life, Mothers, Musings, My world, NaNoWriMo, Parenting, Personal change, Teens, Women, Women's issues, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Raising a Feral Child, Surrounded By June Cleavers

  1. When Lydia was a baby, I called her the “car” baby– she was practically raised there bc I was always taking her brothers places. Life did change when she was the only one at home… but wasn’t so bad. I did less in school than before and always felt like the oldest mother among her friends’ parents. They all seem to survive! Birth order is a fascinating topic.. not sure I give it too much significance bc- really, why bother? It is what it is.

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    • We will certainly see one day, when our babies let us know what they really thought! They always do. No doubt, I am one of the oldest mothers and it gets harder and harder to keep up any momentum. Good thing Little Man is such a good sport! As always, thanks for checking in Lisa. 🙂

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  2. It must be an age thing. I think my only June Cleaver time was when I was in my last year of college when I was living off campus with my boyfriend at the time. His parents moved out of their trailer, in retirement, and I was so proud of fixing it up for us and cooking us dinner every night. I felt so domestic, playing house.

    By the time I got married and had Little Man, I had been out in the world, working for a dozen years in my former profession (mariner). I got married, had the kid, and entered perimenopause and depression. The kid is almost 10 and I hate housework. I hate cleaning and cooking meals. I don’t mind grocery shopping, though.

    There are days that the kid wakes up before me and makes his own breakfast of nachos. Yup. He puts a bunch of tortilla chips on a plate, throws some slices of cheese on them and microwaves. Because he’s such a picky eater, instead of going off on him about an inappropriate breakfast, I see that he’s gotten cheese and some corn in his diet, so I slice up an apple and have him eat that to round it out.

    Because I live with not one, but two males who are more than organizationally challenged (both have ADD and dyslexia), my house is always a cluttered mess. Every now and then I get sick of it and we have a big clean up. But I have given up on having a Martha Stewart house. It will never happen as long as my child lives under this roof, and my husband is still alive.

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    • Yowza! I hear you Mariner2mother and feel for you. Interesting that you did your June phase so early… without kids. It’s all a challenge in my book. However we paint it or whatever our backgrounds. It’s a challenge and we each have to find our own comfort zone. Hang on baby. 😉

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  3. Good piece. As we’re going into year two of the empty nest I see more and more of the silver lining!

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  4. Lillian says:

    I think a HUGE part of it now is stuff like Facebook and Pinterest and blogs. All of the putting out only the best-looking parts of life seem to create such an invisible divide and make everyone feel like they’re on the “other” side – the side where we can never live up to expectations of the perfect life that everyone else seems to be living. You know my kids are little and we’re just getting into the whole school and activity-driven stuff. I signed up to be the room mom this year because I know it won’t be long before I’m completely not interested in it and this way I can at least do stuff for kids who still have fun and aren’t too cool to be excited about pin-the-face-on-the-pumpkin:) Too bad for Nick – he’ll get the short end of the stick! And I try hard, but I pick and choose activities so carefully. I try hard not to over-commit so that I don’t feel worn out from it all. And I do enjoy cooking still (when I have the time, when I don’t I have zero guilt about the mac + cheese they ate last night because I didn’t feel like cooking.) All of the things no one ever told us about being a parent. I think your kids are immensely blessed by the reality of the things you’re willing to admit. You’re not creating an unrealistic reality for them and that matters so much. Lots of good luck to you with NaNoWriMo – I’ve heard a few people say that they are participating and it sounds so ambitious and exciting!!

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    • Lilian, thanks for the feedback! You know how much I love looking at your photos… of your life. I hope it’s true that you know your limits, because man you make it all look so beautiful! I have read some of the times when you are in a funk or state that there are limits, but I remember all to well how hard it is to stay grounded when you’re in the fray. I wrote a post a while back, What we don’t tell you in our blogs (https://talesfromthemotherland.me/2012/09/08/what-we-dont-tell-you-in-our-blogs-peru-the-outtakes/) that addresses the very thing you say here… we do tend to put the shiny stuff out there, not the dirty or the worn.

      Thanks for the kind words. I hope, HOPE, hope that my kids feel blessed. 😉 Back to NaNo… what a challenge!

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  5. veronicad1 says:

    I am totally feeling you right now! I will never be the tidy, crafty Martha but I did try the happy-to-be-cooking, go to the hospital for meals June. I am now passed that part. For M’s pumpkin, she had to beg for one on the 30th(!), I told her to finish her HW first and then bought her a pumpkin at 7:30 at night. She carved it by herself on the kitchen floor–not a proud “June” moment but definitely a true-to-me moment! If I could’ve cancelled Halloween, I would’ve. Between burnout and the “gray”, I’m ready for a nap at 10:30am! Well, enough of that, back to the PTA/laundry/thank you cards/holiday planning/etc!!!!

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  6. I feel exactly the same way. I’m pooped. The grocery store is just, meh. I have no zest for life anymore. I was never a full blown June I think I had some Roseanne in me, too! Haha! Seriously, I tried to do the June thing for the most part but I think it’s pretty thankless and exhausting.

    Luke and Gracie are precious. Oh my goodness, I love their little faces- so mild looking.

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    • Luke and Gracie ARE precious! They really are.

      I love it! I think I always had a little Roseanne in me too! I am not tired of my children, but I’m tired of the job. I’ve just been doing it a long time! Now, when Little Man is gone, you’ll see me posting about how much I miss it all! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.. The Grass is always greener! 😉 Thanks for contributing Grippy.

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  7. Aimee says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever been a June, although I did used to bake homemade birthday cakes for the little guys…does that sort of count? Never in pearls, though! But I definitely understand the tired bit. Once my oldest left for college, we kind of slowly drifted from the everyday sit-down-at-the-table-and-chat dinners to dinners (albeit still homemade) on the couch watching TV. I am a horrible mother! My mom would be appalled! But we like it and the younger one is turning out just fine. Good luck on NaNo! I’m impressed with your wordcount. I’m doing it too and I’m only up to 1691. Oh well, I’ve got the weekend to catch up!

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    • Homemade birthday cakes definitely count! Short of true abuse, I don’t think any of us are horrible mothers. I just think that you can only jump over bars for so long. The aging thing bugs me, for sure, but I definitely don’t want anyone to read from this, that Junes are good mothers and tired moms are not. The fact that you eat together, even in front of the TV is still a huge step up from what thousands of kids get.

      Yes, the NaNo thing is moving along for me. The fact that this project is non-fiction makes it easier for sure. I don’t have to think it out so much; I just have to write! Right now I’m in the groove, but we’ll see if that lasts the month. I plan to post my numbers on my Tales From the Motherland Facebook page.If you check it out, share yours as well. Any writing is good! Thanks Aimee.

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  8. Valery says:

    It’s all in how you see it. Some may say you’re raising an independant child, confident and capable! He gets to live with two parents who are fiercely devoted to their work, each other and family time (hello, South America?). I felt the same (non-June) way until I read this post. You made me put things into a different perspective, and hey, it looks pretty darn good! Don’t ever forget that June Cleaver is FICTION, a character created for entertainment purposes (and no doubt created by an MCP – remember that old term?)

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  9. sarafoley says:

    Yeah, I’m still in the middle of it, with a 4 and 8 year old. I’m pretty domestic too, although I have not the slightest idea of who June Cleaver is! Domestic in that I cook and keep a semi-tidy house, and make sure my kids go to sport and do their homework etc. i totally understand burn out though, and I see many women your age who echo your sentiments exactly. Who knows, maybe I will too. I think though, it’s all about balance. If I don’t feel like cooking dinner, I don’t. Some weeks we have home made cookies and some weeks we don’t. Some days the house looks like a bomb hit it, and others I’m out there cleaning windows and scrubbing floors. i only do what I feel like when i feel like it, apart from things that I have committed to. I take committments seriously, which is why i don’t make too many. Ask me in twenty years ok?

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    • Bravo Sara! It’s hard to figure out good boundaries and stick with them. If you are really setting them now and sticking with them, you are way ahead of the game! No doubt, 4 and 8 are such fun age. They are still really cute and sweet, but they have conversations with you and aren’t fighting (for real) with you yet. Enjoy it. Those were lovely years with my kids. Really. I’ll call you in twenty, but for now… thanks for checking in, despite the gap! 😉

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  10. Love this! I am not a June or a Martha. I think maybe that gene skipped me somehow. I am impressed with the tortellini – I make spaghetti frequently, but mostly my husband cooks. Thank goodness! I think I am more of a Lucy type – you should see my kitchen after I make something! Yikes! 😉

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