Instructions Not Included
Parenthood is a funny thing. It’s its own kind of fairytale isn’t it? Some people spend so much time trying to have this little human, and then it’s there and you’re like, “oh…now what??”. Or, it shows up on your doorstep (metaphorically, obviously, unless you actually received a baby in the mail, in which case we need to talk) and you sit there stunned for 9 months, until you have no other option but to face the imminent responsibility that’s been thrust upon you. Either way, there is so much immediate joy that is expected of this new role, that when it shows up with more challenges than ease, and more tears than laughter, we don’t always even recognize what it has turned into. I think of being a mom as a really important job, but I don’t think of it as an identifying part of me. I’ve never connected to that. I know this makes me different than some moms. I look at women that have taken this role on with such freaking grace and I wonder what I’m missing. How do they attach to this so easily? Hopefully, it goes without saying that I adore my daughter; I’m fascinated by what makes her tick and I love helping her find her way, but I have never really connected to the role and title of “mom”. I always feel like I’m playing dress up anytime I’m at her school functions with other parents. “I’m obviously the imposter here” I think to myself. Soon all these people are going to look over and be like, “Who’s that lady? She doesn’t belong here”. I’ve asked my daughter what she thinks of me as a mom. She knows I don’t do the whole mom thing like a lot of other people. She’s recognized that. She’s told me that there are times she wishes I did. I sometimes wish I did too. I'm sure there are times she wishes I didn't have naked pictures of myself on the internet. She’s also said there are things about me as a mom that she appreciates.
I was in the car yesterday and looked over at my daughter and saw her for exactly where she is. She’s twelve, and still traces of childlike innocence left but is also edging into her own adulthood, understanding some of the ways of life that aren’t always so pretty. It’s beautiful and happy and terrifying and sad all at the same time. I don’t want her to get her heart broken, but I also do…because I know what comes at the end. I don’t want her to learn that you have to fail to really understand success...but then I also do, because that’s how you learn what’s really important to you.
I sat and thought about all the ways I wasn’t the kind of mom I could have been to her. I thought about the volunteer opportunities I said “ummmm, no” to at her school. I thought about the last minute homework I have gotten frustrated at her over, and all the times I said “do we have to?” to her doing my makeup. I got sad for a second at the loss of the opportunity to have said “yes!” to all of this. But then she turned on her favorite, unedited rap music and laughed beside me. She told me she wants to do her latest school project on women’s equality. In that moment, I let go of all of that insecurity. I am doing this how I want to do it. There’s so fucking guidebook here, ya’ll. There is no “right way” and “wrong way”. We are given these humans to raise and shape in a way that makes sense to us. To me, it’s important my daughter understands culture, and art and music of all sorts. I want her playlist to be full of music that connects her to all sorts of things, whether it’s rap that makes her dance in her seat, or Elton John songs that allow her to connect to her uncle that she never got to know.
It’s important to me that she doesn’t have to work harder than a male peer to be considered equal. It’s important she knows that when a girl is labeled “bossy”, it often means she’s a leader, and to own the shit out of that. I don’t want her to have to show up as demure and feminine if she doesn’t want to, but that it’s ok if she does too! I want her to wear what she wants to wear and speak as freely as she wishes to speak.
So here I am right in this moment doing my best, and feeling like that’s enough. I won’t always be there to pay her phone bill, and my lunch-packing days are well over. She isn’t welcome to live with me forever. I will pull the plug on that eventually, because I know that it’s what’s best. At the end of the day though, I want her to know is that I will ALWAYS tell her the truth, even when it’s hard to hear, and that I’ll be right beside her when shit gets tough, helping her figure it all out.
Following someone else’s instructions will end up looking like an Ikea assembly guide if you aren’t careful; extra parts and a lot of tears and frustration. Make your own instruction manual. Include the steps that allow you to be happy in whatever role you’ve taken on. Whether you’re a parent or not, this is the only way.