|This picture was developed at Target, not on Instagram.|
WARNING: I'm about to get all kinds of Grumpy Old Lady on ya. Well, maybe not Grumpy but definitely the kind who begins sentences with the phrase "Back in my day...". You've been warned, lovelies.
I just read an article on Huffington Post, titled "I'm Done Making My Kid's Lives Magical" by the woman who created the absolutely brilliant and hilarious Honest Toddler website (and soon to be book!), Bunmi Laditan.
For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed her post. It was well written and fun to read. And yes, she made her point.
But one paragraph in, I found myself chuckling (see? CHUCKLING. That's what old people do, right?). It was this paragraph that finally made me turn all Grizzled Old Mom:
"Since when does being a good mom mean you spend your days creating elaborate crafts for your children, making sure their rooms are decked-out Pottery Barn Ikea masterpieces worthy of children's magazines, and dressing them to the nines in trendy coordinated outfits?"
I pushed up the sleeves of my sensible cardigan, and said out loud to nobody:
SINCE NEVER, BUNMI. Never. Nobody EVER said being a good mom meant that you killed yourself planning a chevron-themed birthday party for your one year old, including hand cutting the fondant elepahnt for the cake. Nobody EVER said good parenting was proven by the fact that your kids are wearing casual-chic mini-versions of your clothes. Nobody EVER said that if a child's room is too pretty to play in, mom and dad must be like, the best parents of all time!
I began to lament our society and social media and all of the mother effing first world problems in it. The overdose of images and blog posts and commercials and Pins and everything else that saturates, completely saturates our lives. Stupid Elves on Shelves and hipster parents taking pictures of dinosaurs in compromising positions and then posting them on Instagram and getting all sorts of accolades for it, most of the compliments along the line of "Yeah buddy! Those are some great parents!" and "Now THAT is some good parenting!".
I thought back to the hoopla over the little girl who designs fashion gowns out of paper with her mom and then mom posted the pictures and all of the people saying what a great mom she is and that YEAH that is some good parenting and how very lucky that little girl is to have a mom like that.
I started to get pissy and Grumpy Old Ladyish and then I started to feel kind of sorry for Bunmi and all of the other parents of this current flock of babies and children. I looked back on the days when my kids were infants, and toddlers, and elementary school-aged. I thought about what kind of pressure I felt, as a mom, to be perfect. Did I feel any at all?
Yes. Of course I did. I felt some of it while sitting around in the countless ECFE classes I attended. Some other mom would say something about how her kids had done something special or cute, or how she'd spent the weekend smashing teacups so she and her daughters could make mosaic picture frames...and for a few seconds I'd be all "Well crap. Here I thought I was a rock star because I cut an apple in half and had the kids paint with it."
I remember feeling inadequate when I'd take one of my kids to a birthday party and the house was super organized and tastefully decorated AND there were recent pictures of the family IN FRAMES. But then I'd go home and realize that my house was not going to be super organized while I had four kids under the age of 6 and a husband who worked all.the.time. And the pressure lifted.
This is when I started to feel really bad for Bunmi, and all of the parents out there like her. I guess the cool thing to call them is millennial parents? Whatever they're called, I felt bad. Because I realized that the pressure I felt, back in my day, was from ONE mom in a parenting class or ONE glimpse into a magazine-cover-perfect home. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a newer, younger parent and be faced with hundreds of thousands of other moms and other magazine-cover-perfect-homes. I think I may have shed a tear.
I joined Facebook in 2008. My kids were 13, 12, 10 and 8. Before that, my dalliances online were limited to eBay (I was quite the seller, back in the day), a few chatboards, and downloading angry divorce music on iTunes. The bubble I lived in was populated by the other families at school, my neighbors, and to some extent, the celebrities I read about in the gossip magazines at the gym.
The one book I read when I was pregnant was the inane "What To Expect When You're Expecting" and I threw that thing away when it told me that "colic almost always ends by the third month, if your baby still cries more than an hour or so a day after that, you should consult your pediatrician because you've probably given birth to a future serial killer" (I was holding a screaming 6 month old at the time)(and most of that sentence really did appear in the book, at least back in 1994)
The births of my babies were announced with phone calls and were videotaped on actual videotape. If I said I "posted a picture" it would have meant that I sent a photo of the new baby to grandma via snail mail. Chatting with friends meant we all sat in the same room and gabbed. Pinning something? Please. Like I know how to sew.
And as far as making my kid's childhoods magical? To be honest with you, that wasn't something I thought about. I was so very, very fortunate to be a stay at home mom during those first several years, and like a lot of the young moms today, I was exhausted and worn out and wished some of the hours and minutes away. We spent some days at the park. Some days with friends. Some days I gave the kids a bunch of daddy's golf tees, their Playskool hammers, a chunk of styrofoam and let them pound the shit out it for hours (and no, I didn't even think about the chemicals in the foam bits that were lodged in the carpet and their ears and my bra because I hadn't just read 68 articles about it).
But here's the difference between my early parenting years and Bunmi's and all the other parents out there: at the end of the day, I didn't open up my laptop and see pictures of my friend Lola and her kids making sandals out of coconut shells and pipe cleaners. I didn't look down at my phone at any point during the day (because it was a Sony cordless, and there was no screen) and get an email from my cousin Bree that contained 30 pictures of her kids during their latest photo shoot, the one where they met the photographer at the local dairy farm and the kids got to milk cows and they all had the cutest matching cowboy boots on!
There wasn't a HuffPost that reminded me every single day about "The 10 Things You Should Never Say To Your Kids Unless You Want To Ruin Their Lives" and "These 4 Moms Are Doing EVERYTHING BETTER THAN YOU!" and of course the "Open Letter To The Judging Bitch At The Playground".
At the end of the day, I sat down on the couch and tried to keep my eyes open long enough to watch Friends or Frasier or CSI. Some days I felt great about what I'd done as a mom, other days I was sure I'd damaged each one of my kid's psyches. But I did so quietly, and without all of those thousands of voices in the background either telling me that I hadn't done enough or that yes, indeed, I had ruined their lives.
I'm not saying that social media is bad. I use it every day, and for the most part, I enjoy it. But it sucks you in, people, into a shiny vortex that has walls made of the same thing the walls were made of in that machine that Charlie and Grandpa Joe were stuck in, in the original (and the best, of course) Willy Wonka movie. You just keep going and going and it's so hard to pull yourself out.
Look, social media can be all kinds of awesome. I'm a blogger, for God's sake. I have received hundreds of emails and messages and comments thanking me for sharing my horror stories (and funny crap) about divorce and single parenting and what it's like to be 47 and look like Hagrid and trying to find true love. My friend and all-around fabulous person Jill Smokler started her super successful website, Scary Mommy, just for parents who want to admit that it's freaking impossible to sprinkle magic fairy fart dust all over every single day of our progeny's lives. There are invaluable online communities where real, live friendships are formed every single day. The internet is a lovely thing.
But it's not where or how we determine who is a good parent. Is the paper dress mom a good parent? Do the Dinovember parents love their kids? Yes and of course, yes. But what about the dad who lives down the street from me? He isn't on facebook and has zero clue as to what Instragram is. This guy meets his little girl at her bus stop and gives her a piggyback ride home. Every damn day. The only difference is, nobody posts pictures of them doing this, and nobody has written a poignant, viral blog post about it. He is most certainly making his daughter's life magical, but he (and his daughter) are content with keeping the magic just between them.
And that's the thing: do these parents, the dress-making, fondant-rolling, dinosaur-posing ones...would they do all of this if there was no place to post pictures? If the only likes or comments or shares they got were from their children? I'd like to think that they would. And I'd like to think that this pressure these parents are facing today, this awful YOU MUST BE PERFECT, YOUR KIDS MUST HAVE AMAZING AND MAGICAL CHILDHOODS pressure, will ease up as more and more of them realize that magic and kids kind of goes hand-in-hand. A package deal. It doesn't have to be forced, or photo-shopped or posted anywhere to make it that way. You. Some time. Love. That's all they really want from us. Everything else is just gravy, and we all know that too much gravy isn't necessarily a good thing.
So, Bunmi, I wish you well on your quest to let your child live a life that isn't picture-perfect every day. I hope you get to stand at your backyard windows and watch her like I used to watch my son William, talking and playing and jousting imaginary foes with a stick. I hope that you, and other smart, creative parents just like you, are able to separate the good from the gilt on social media and all the marketing campaigns and tv shows and realize that when it comes down to magical childhoods, it's not getting the perfect shot of your kids at Disneyworld or having the Instagram pic of your daughter's birthday cake shared 1,000 times or making sure every single holiday is Pinterested to the nth degree.
Like Bunmi said, so wisely, in her post...magic is something you discover on your own.
And we won't discuss the fact that directly above her lovely post was the headline, "DAD TURNS VIDEOS OF HIS TODDLER INTO INSANELY COOL VIDEOS!!!". Sigh.