The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Mommy

September 3, 2006

So, here’s a little secret about me:

I’m a CompetiMommy.

That’s right. You heard me. CompetiMommy.

Before you recoil in horror, let me explain myself. I’m not a CompetiMommy of the my-child-is-better-than-yours variety. I don’t view myself as a competitor in the Tour de Mommy or the Momolympics or anything of the sort. I’m not comparing my child to yours. I’m not competing against you.

I’m competing against me.

This probably sounds like a lot of bullshit hair-splitting: if I view myself as competitive in the arena of motherhood, I must be competing against other moms, no? Well… no. I’m not interested in comparing strollers or diaper bags or how many months we breastfed our respective children. I don’t care how our children compare on growth charts or development charts or any chart that can be found through BabyCenter. I don’t care if your child walks or talks or masters algebra before mine. I really don’t.

What I do care about: whether I measure up to my own benchmarks of success as a mother. Whether I can compete with the ideal mother that I always imagined that I would be: the devoted, imaginative, stimulating, hand-pureeing-organic-veggies-for-dinner-while-wearing-sample-sale-Jimmy-Choos-and-reciting-Suess-in-Latin-before-putting-baby-to-bed-and-dashing-out-for-martinis-with-hubby kind of mother. The kind of mother who balances being a wonderful mother with being a good spouse and an interesting woman in her own right. The kind of mother who takes advantage of every opportunity to enrich the lives of her children and her life with her partner and – and, and – the life that is her own. I care about whether I can hold my own against that kind of do-it-all-have-it-all mother.

The kind of mother who only exists in my imagination.

Because, yes, I do recognize that this is a fictive mother, a mother who does not exist. A mother who, even if she did exist, wouldn’t necessarily be the best kind of mother. But she is still the mother that informed my maternal ambitions (once I realized that I had such ambitions) and the mother that now looms in the background of my evaluations of myself as a mother.

And, oh, how she looms.

Against this accomplished, attentive, well-groomed mother, I reveal myself, to myself, to be sorely lacking. I can barely keep our house clean. There are Fisher-Price toys littered across our living room floor. I do not take WonderBaby to lessons of any kind; I have not taught her to swim or Salsa-Baby or sign. The organic food that she eats usually comes from a jar. The last time I wore heels was at BlogHer and a) they were closed-toe to hide my desperately pedicure-deficient feet, and b) had to be ditched after an hour because my post-partum body has lost the ability to hold itself upright in anything other than Converse sneakers.

(I do recite Suess in Latin, but only to myself, late at night, to overcome insomnia. Cattus Petasatus. A classic.)

I know that I am a good mother. I know that loving WonderBaby and playing with WonderBaby and exulting in life with Wonderbaby is being the best kind of mother that I can be. I know that motherhood is not about the laundry and the shoes and the appearance of things. And I know that I do not want to be one of those mothers who overfunctions and overanalyzes and turns herself and her children into a perfect little robo-family.

But still… I thought that I’d be better at this. I thought that I could be a good mother AND a good partner AND keep a tidy house AND look good AND make time for other interests AND not get overwhelmed. I thought that I would finish each day with a long bath and a cuddle with my husband and a martini and that I would bask in the glow of my maternal accomplishment.

I thought that I would get more laundry done.

I thought that I would be able to do it all. But I can’t. And sometimes I find that fact overwhelming. There’s not enough time, there are not enough hours in the day, there are not enough eyes and arms and hands to stay on top of all of the things that I want to stay on top of.

And so I get frustrated, running this race against myself. Frustrated when I have to stop in the middle of this road, alone, to catch my breath. Frustrated at the cramps in my legs, at the aching in my chest, at my body’s inability to go as fast and as gracefully as I thought I could go. Frustrated that I can’t let go of this silly mom-o-meter that I measure myself with.

Frustrated that I can’t let go and just run freely. Just enjoy the wind in my hair as I go forward as a mother.

Frustrated that I’m finding it hard to just be.

Trying to be the best that I can be. For her.

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Devra and Aviva over at Parentopia will be addressing this post over at their place sometime in the near future – they’ll go through it and give me feedback on how I might CHILL THE EFF OUT and stop treating motherhood like a race against myself that I’m going to win or lose. I’ll post a link once they’ve done this. In the meantime, you can go check out what they did with Christina’s post about learning to let some things go.

***********

Oh, and in the category of I’ve Got Far Too Many Things To Do But This Was Just Too Good To Pass Up? You can now find me over at urbanmoms.ca, promoting the Canadian mommy-blogger community… Click here, or check the link on my sidebar.)
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One laaaaast thing… why not poke your head down in the Basement? We’ve had a good run of visitors down there, and they’d all love to hear from you…
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    { 63 comments }

    virtualsprite September 5, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    Yes… yes…. YES!!!!!

    Brilliant post. Can totally relate.

    Damselfly September 5, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    You’re right. Reading your post, I realize I have an inner image of what kind of mom I should be like. Wow, your post stimulated some of my brain cells today. Not easy to do waiting for this baby to come out.

    Val September 5, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    You should create a club of competimummies… I would join as soon… Great post !

    sweetney September 5, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    what? you can’t do everything?? what kind of mother are you?!?

    bwahahaha!

    you of course must KNOW that i am right there with you with this: able to consciously know (and mock) how ridiculous that competimommy voice in our heads is, yet unable to wholly get past it despite this awareness.

    i haven’t washed my wood floors in weeks. this fact fills me with shame.

    Bobita September 6, 2006 at 12:55 am

    Ah, the Motherhood Mystique!

    You might appreciate one of my all-time favorite quotes:

    “People can say what they like about the eternal verities, love and truth and so on, but nothing’s as eternal as the dishes.”
    -Margaret Mahy

    And the laundry…and the unattainable standards that we hold ourselves to. I echo your sentiments and stand beside you…joined in the same struggles. Solidarity, sister!

    Jenny September 6, 2006 at 8:37 am

    Wow. You said it so perfectly.

    I find myself competing against the ghost of my mother (who isn’t dead oddly enough). I never win.

    Queso September 7, 2006 at 12:27 am

    Great post.

    Ruth Dynamite September 7, 2006 at 6:39 am

    Right. Exactly. Bingo.

    We women drive ourselves nuts trying to achieve our own unrealistic images of perfection – whatever they may be. Our fantasies clash with our realities, and we feel angst/failure/frustration. But…it eases as the kids grow, because we grow too.

    Annie, The Evil Queen September 7, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Maybe we can form a club of some sort? I see membership shirts proclaiming:
    “I’m an overachiever and all I got was this lousy tee shirt”

    I usually feel like I’m doing pretty well on the mothering end of things, but the house and the husband get short changed and the me usually gets 3 hours a week at the gym and the occasional time with a novel.

    Brony September 7, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    I think it’s time to stop running and start living. All mothers, or almost all mothers, feel frustrated, disappointed and overwhelmed just as you do. If we spend time thinking about the could have, would have, wish I…then we lose sight of the I did, I am, I have…

    Perfection is what we make it. Loving your child and giving her the best is perfection. The fact that you care enough to enough to question you abilities tells me that you’ve achieved it. Well done.

    Tina C. September 7, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Here’s what I do. I always chose baby time over laundry or cleaning (also I have made sure I have enough pairs of under-wear so I don’t need to do laundry for at least one month). I have long ago accepted that i make mistakes everyday, sometimes twice or 3 x per day. and i tell myself that perfect doesn’t exist in humans. no way i’m going to be perfect. this helps me not get too anxious about my shortcomings as a mom. i also tell myself that even bad moms are loved by their babies – i think babies are hard-wired to love their mommies no matter what. you might feel less competi-mommy when you start back to work and get some perspective on baby-raising skills and time spent with baby — i did when i went back to work.

    Mom101 September 10, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    fantastic essay, hbm! Just catching up on last week’s posts and am glad to have hit this one right away – it’s a little…well, familiar. Except for the heels part which I don’t care about. Jimmy Choo does make flats you know…

    Anonymous September 21, 2006 at 6:25 pm

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