It’s pretty easy to look at the mom of That Kid and wonder what her deal is. Why doesn’t she have her shit together? How hard is it, really, to get a six-year-old to write down ten spelling words every week? Aren’t there thousands of Pinterest boards dedicated to the sole purpose of adorable ways to mount one’s eyeglasses to something so they don’t get lost at night? Surely, it’s possible to have a system or a habit of putting books on a shelf so they don’t get hopelessly lost.
Other mothers are achieving these lofty goals; what the fuck is my problem?
What the fuck is my problem? I used to be an Other Mother. When my oldest son (who is now almost thirteen) was in kindergarten, we tortured ourselves to get his homework finished. We agonized over his science project and nightly reading logs. I meticulously signed paperwork, set out his clothes the night before school, and kept a stack of library books right by the front door. I did all of this while juggling his baby sister and a surprise pregnancy. We were stressed out, but I was Claire Huxtable. I was The Mom Who Was Doing It Right ™.
And then, my pregnancy went to hell. On my oldest son’s very first day of first grade, his brother was born twelve weeks early. Things like homework, science projects, reading logs, lost pretty much all of their immediacy. Our family curled in on itself and we went into survival mode. How does one mother a two-pound infant, a 26-month-old daughter, and a 6-year-old son? How does one survive on no sleep and living part-time at home and part-time in the NICU?
Things from there only got worse with the health of the littlest. Our home became Grand Central Station for 24-hour nursing care, medical supply deliveries, alarms beeping, oxygen tank storage. Homework was not a thing anymore. Everything became a pinprick of light, a tight focus on making it day-to-day.
But several years later? It was all over. The storm had blown through, damaged us all, but it was gone. The once tiny baby who was very, very sick, has grown into a tiny little boy who has moments of illness, but is otherwise completely healthy. No more nurses. No more equipment. Just a typical family with a harrowing story.
And now that little boy is in first grade with homework packets and reading logs of his own. It’s true that I could do a better job of paying attention to these things, but I have been paying attention to things – much more important things – for a very long time. And even though I know the reasoning behind homework and its attempt to teach small children the joy and pride of responsibility, I also know that the urgency behind it all is bullshit. At least to me it is. I’d like to think that, as a grown ass woman, I’m able to show my children that there are ways to both understand the need for things like homework, and the need to still put your own well-being first. I’m afraid that to everyone else I come off as the former Doc Martin-wearing, flannel-clad, belligerent know-it-all. But honestly? I don’t really care.
I am learning to balance perspective and priorities with requirements and non-negotiables. I am learning that I can be hard-headed and still be polite. I am learning that saying no doesn’t cause irrevocable damage. And I am trying really hard to teach these things to my children, but in a tempered kind of way. Of course they need to learn responsibility. They need to learn the value of a deadline. They need to learn to respect other people’s property, even (and, really, especially) if it’s a Pokemon book from school.
But they also need to learn that the world will not end if they have to say I’m sorry before they try to do better the next time. Sometimes, to do your best, you need a moment to not be doing your best. Not that I’m advocating six-year-olds robbing the closest liquor store, I’m just saying that after a long seven hours of walking in lines, practicing handwriting, and learning how to deal with peers, it’s okay to play some Minecraft before writing the word LIGHT ten times across a sheet of paper.
I know this is arguable. But my phantom Doc Martins stand firm. Some things are worth freaking out over. First grade homework is not one of those things. And if this makes me the mom of That Kid, I’m cool with it.
Honestly? I wear it with a badge of honor.