Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why Motherhood is Like a Hostage Crisis

When the United States invaded Panama in December 1989,
Noriega’s hideout was bombarded by hard rock music and “The Howard Stern Show” for several days by relentless and humorless U.S. troops. The dictator, unable to endure the persistence of soldiers equipped with boom boxes, surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990.

For me, this episode from recent U.S. history is an essential lesson for any parent. Let me explain. There are some women who think that their children are perfect gifts from God, full of potential that only requires guidance, love and plenty of whole grains.

Whereas I think that most children are more like Latin American strongmen than anyone cares to admit in front of the other mommies.

Is parenthood a chance to lovingly nurture and develop nascent little adults-to-be? Maybe, sometimes. But then reality sets in and it’s time to get out the Metallica and prepare for a Contest of Wills.

My own parenting experience has been about 10% nurturing and 90% will-contesting. I don’t always win. But every now and again, I have a small victory, and I credit it all to the siege mentality which is my chief parenting principle. When it comes to mothering, I’m a Stay the Course kind of gal.

No need to bog down the blog with a sad litany of my defeats. Instead, like any Pentagon-savvy soldier, I’ll point right to a couple recent victories.

Victory #1: The Cello. My daughter has been playing cello since first grade, and has been a member of the local Youth Symphony since fourth grade. Conservatively, that’s about 3,000 daily reminders to “practice your cello,” 300 lessons with her long-suffering teacher, 25 concerts at Orchestra Hall and community venues and six nerve-wracking spring auditions. Let me state clearly that not once, during the course of any of these listed events, has my daughter expressed one scrap of joy about them. Insteadm she exhibits the mein and vocal range commensurate with any painful or aggravating chore, or, possibly, upcoming dental work. If her music career were a movie, it would not be “Amadeus,” it would be “Kicking and Screaming.” So imagine how hard it was for me to remain upright and coherent when the little darling, now in her first year of high school, recently volunteered this gem, to wit: “I am so glad that I know how to play cello, and I’m so glad I’m in Youth Symphony.” Noticing the eyeballs bulging from my sockets in a good approximation of Wiley Coyote’s, she added, “Yeah, I guess I don’t really like all the work it’s taken to get there, but now I’m glad when I tell someone that I play, and when I know I’m pretty good.”

Victory #2: Laundry. When daughter #1 was in first grade, she complained one morning that I had not washed her favorite top and that, consequently, her day was ruined. For my part, I experienced the strangest sort of fast forward when I heard that comment fall from her little lips. “Okay, she’s seven now. Let’s say she goes to college at age 17. Do I really want ten more years of this?” Turns out I didn’t, and that, right then, I introduced my first grader to the joys of Doing Your Own Laundry. I got a little stepstool for her to climb, I showed her how to measure Tide, and I bought her a laundry basket of her very own. Turns out, she took to the new chore just fine, since she suspected I hadn’t been doing a very good job, anyway (a recurring theme in our mother-daughter relationship). I brushed my hands together briskly and backed out of the laundry room. My job was done, and I was a Good Mother.

Cue the sinister music and …

Enter daughter #2, who, when she reached first grade, was informed by her older sister that now she, too, would get to do her own laundry.

That didn’t go over well. While the first kid is always ready to be about 10 years older than she currently is, this child has no desire to grow up, certainly not if it involves chores. Asking her, “Don’t you want to be a big girl?” has always been a waste of time. No, in fact, she does NOT want to be a big girl, and if you’ve got a crib and high chair she can still squeeze into as a sixth grader, that would make her mighty happy.

Each Saturday, she and I would enter the laundry room for our Contest of Wills. At my urging, she’d begin stuffing her laundry in the machine. About three pairs of tiny pants into the proceedings, she would inevitably scream in pain and fall to the floor. Another laundry-related injury, I would sigh, as I made myself comfortable on an upturned basket and waited her out. When she stopped screaming, we started again. Sometimes I would try to explain to her that, since she did enjoy wearing clothes vs. walking around naked in January, laundry was just a natural result, something she’d be doing the rest of her life. Usually this remark would cause her to fall on the floor again, covered with lint and crying harder than ever.

Want to take a guess how long this went on? A few weeks? A few months?

Try a year. 52 weeks of hysteria, followed by another 25 or so of whimpers, and finally tapering off into a series of resigned sighs and thumps.

So, on a recent Saturday morning, when I found her eating cereal in the kitchen, you can imagine I suspected a waxy buildup in my ears when I heard this: “Hi Mom. I started my laundry early so I can get it done before tap dance class, but if you need the washer, it should be done pretty soon.”
Again with the Wiley Coyote eyes from me. Then: “Do you remember when you used to cry when you did laundry?” I asked, and was met with a look I call “The Full Junior High.”

“Why would anyone cry about laundry? Geez, Mom!”

Geez indeed, my dear.

Why I Won These Battles
I’ve recounted two victories in the unending skirmish against local insurgents that is, for me, the daily stuff of motherhood. If I had a pull-down map with X’s and O’s on it, I’d pull it out at this point, so just imagine one, please, as I ask, rhetorically, Why Did I Win? To cite what I imagine was the spirit of those guys pushing the “play” button on the Metallica tape outside Noriega’s lair, I was persistent against my enemy, and I never let it be known that defeat was an option for me.

Remember, in my parenting book, it’s not about winning hearts and minds. In my kind of war, you only win when they declare unconditional surrender. And then go finish their laundry and practice cello.

No comments:

Post a Comment