Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Judgment Days

Back in the day, when I actually worked in the business world, women had a terrible time fitting in at the workplace--if you're too quiet, you're wimpy (bad); too forward and you're aggressive (worse). Come to think of it, it was a lot like high school, where you were either a frigid bitch (who didn't have sex with her boyfriend) or a whore (who did have sex with her boyfriend) or a complete loser (no boyfriend).

Everyone judged women so harshly that it always seemed to me that treading the path of social acceptance meant that you walked along the ridgetop of a mountain, placing your feet with extraordinary care and one wrong step sent you plummeting to your death on the pointy rocks below. Eventually I figured out that nobody ever died (at least, not as the immediate cause) of social condemnation, though I also had to accept that it can make your life a lot harder. One strategy is to cultivate the air of the Outsider, all "Hey, I don't understand your fascinating and mysterious ways, you guys, so bear with me while I figure out why it's Bad Form to select the first bathroom stall in the row in the office restroom, ok? Guys? Ok, I see the eyerolling, what does that mean? Guys?"

Ok, then, fastforward: Now I'm a Mom. Holy shit.

Because, if I thought the judgments were harsh before, I was totally mistaken because now? It's about the Good of the Child. And everything I do is wrong, at least from one perspective or another. If I do things to Take Care of Myself, I'm selfish; if I don't, I'm getting burned out and will place the child at risk when I fall asleep at the wheel (or whatever). If I discipline, I'm scarring her for life and if I don't, I'm raising a brat. And so on.

It doesn't help that a lot of this judgment is coming from the inside of my own head (though, obviously, not all of it). I've found that I can't read parenting books right before bedtime because I have terrible dreams of Failed Motherhood.

The best piece of advice I ever got (re. discipline, though it applies elsewhere, too) was to be firm, but kind. Which is terribly vague, of course, but I've had people in my life who embodied that combination of virtues and I'm hoping to remember that and emulate them. A positive example is the best learning tool, I think.

It was brought home to me when I was driving across town (on this unseasonably hot and fretful day)and Dada was in the carseat, tired and hot after a morning at Mother's Day Out. She alternately cuddled her stuffed monkey happily and, moments later, cried about her owie from school (a tiny scrape, but in the middle of her back where she couldn't see or touch it) and from general fatigue. Back and forth between happy playing with the monkey and weeping fretfully.

And I was struck all over again, but with special poignancy, just how hard it is to be two years old. Even a smart, tough, willful girl like mine just finds it all too much sometimes.


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