As I mentioned earlier this week, we just returned home from two weeks at the Jersey Shore. SO FABULOUS, it was and I will get the pictures up in the next couple of days! During the second week of our vacation, my cousin, yes I do have a lot of cousins, Tony and his wife, Heidi came in from Chicago to stay at his parents' shore house. They brought their two little girls, Emma and Lilly, who are two and a half and one and a half, and of course, my kids nearly ate them up. They don't have any first cousins yet and they just love these girls to pieces, especially Isabelle, my five year old.
Emma really enjoyed Isabelle as well. Everywhere we went, Emma wanted Isabelle to push her in her stroller. Emma would say to Isabelle, "Emma is going to the beach, does Isabelle want to go with Emma to the beach?" IDK, but there is something so amazingly cute about a kid who talks about herself in the third person. Lilly is almost exactly the same age as Tasha, and they two, were best of buds. Tasha really loved to hug Lilly, and kiss her, and share her sippy cup with her.
Naturally, with the kids getting along so well, Heidi and I wound up spending a lot of time together. A new mom who is living away from friends and family, Heidi doesn't really spend much, if any time, around other mothers of young children. She anxiously asked me many questions about what is normal for children; how to get through the day; what discipline strategies work; etc. She confided in me that she is often lonely and alone, because my cousin works long hours, and because she doesn't really know any other mothers.
As my children mixed cheezits with sand, she looked at me and said " you are so laid back, I wish I could be that way." By contrast, I am laid back, and she is more wound up and up tight. Little things like how many ice creams the girls had during the week, or whether or not they napped for exactly three hours did seem to bother her. Emma saying "no" and not always obeying, as most two years I have ever seen do, was embarrassing to her. I could sense her unease with motherhood in general, and I wanted to give her some advice- not that I am expert in anyway, but I could sympathize, I have been there.
I spent the first six years of my daughter's life, and the first two years of my son's, living in the foreign land of South Carolina, which to a Yankee, who had only ever gone south to Florida, was like another world. When I had my first born, I was terribly alone and often felt isolated. These are not good conditions for a mother. What's more, for a long time, I had no friends who were also mommies, so the only meter by which I could measure my success as a mommy was my own mother.
Mother's from other generations have selective memories, and often revise history. They do not remember how their children actually acted, but rather they remember how they thought their children should have acted.
My mom does not remember us fighting, or not sitting still in restaurants, or talking back, or throwing our clothes on our bedroom floors. She remembers us as good, well-behaved children, which sometimes we were, but just as often, we were not. Not that we were bad, but we were normal. My mom also remembers herself as the perfect wife, always with dinner on the table when my dad came through the door, beds made, clothes clean and put away. She forgets that we had a full time housekeeper, and that she did not work. My mom doesn't remember that she needed time away from us, which was why she was involved with various committees, the president of the PTA, and the junior league; or that she and my dad went out at least one night every weekend while we were babysat. Since she doesn't remember any of this, she doesn't today understand why moms need nights out...
When my mom was my only sounding board, and I spent many days without talking to another soul over the age of five, other than my husband who just didn't get it, I was a lot like Heidi. I was uptight, always wondering in my mind, are my kids normal? Am I doing the right thing? I would sit in my house thinking that everywhere else, moms were doing things better than I was. Their houses were cleaner, their kids better behaved, their lives, in general, were running better than mine.
And then gradually, I started to meet some of the other moms in the world. The ones that I imagined did not exist. Moms in reality were a lot like me. They had trouble juggling the housework and the kids. They lost their minds from day to day trying to get their kids to share, to put their toys away, to go to bed at night. Gradually, I began to realize that as a mom and a wife and a person, I was ok, I was normal- if there is such a thing, and it was then that I really began to relax, and motherhood got just a little bit easier. (As I say this, I am knocking on every piece of wood I can reach from my computer chair)
The advice that I gave to Heidi was that she should return to Chicago and join a moms group. I told her to find other mothers with whom she could trade babysitting so that she can get out alone once in a while. I also told her to watch other moms with their kids so that she can see that her kids act normal, and above all else, I advised her to make some friends with moms in her same boat, so that she can have some people to commiserate with.
I don't know the secrets to discipline, or diet, or how to make your house sparkly clean while serving a gourmet meal to bright eyed, appreciative children, but I do know the secret to surviving motherhood, and that is without a doubt, to have friends with whom you can share your struggles and successes. Motherhood can be a very isolating job- especially for SAHMs who don't have co-workers or human resource departments to help us out when we are feeling blue. We have to recruit, and sometimes this can be hard work, but it is worth it.
I hope things get better for Heidi. I promised myself that I would do a better job of being a long distance relative. Talking to her made me realize how truly grateful I am for the friends I have. Shout out to all of you I know in the real world, and those of you who support me in cyberspace, I couldn't get by without you.