The first time my son asked me if I was a princess, I was sitting on the stool in front of my dressing table, putting on makeup. Having grown up in the school of hard knocks, I didn’t hide anything from him.
“No,” I said. “I’m not.”
His wide eyes registered his surprise. Ever since the summer, when he graduated from the world of cuddly animals – think Happy Feet – into movies with people, life had become infinitely interesting.
We said nothing further about the subject of princesses.
A few days later, he asked me again. I was better prepared.
“Mommy are you a princess?”
“Yes,” I said. “In fact all women are princesses.”
He nodded as if this made perfect sense. Maybe because in the Disney universe, all the main characters are royalty (or marry into being royal).
When I found out I was having boys, at first I despaired. My world was very female centric and I wasn’t sure how to approach having the first male grandchildren. Now I see motherhood of little men for the opportunity it is: a chance to frame the world in a way that empowers them to treat women as equals, deserving of respect, regardless of the titles they may hold.
The holidays have come. Thankfully they have also gone. Maybe I’m getting older and the charm of exchanging gifts has worn off; maybe it was never really there to begin with. Growing up in an Hindu household, we did not celebrate Christmas, not even in the secular exchange of gifts as many families of different faiths do. As a child I didn’t notice the lack of tree or tinsel; for sure I knew Santa Claus was a hoax as he never found us. As a teenager, when friends called to see what I’d gotten for the holiday the long pause after answering “coffee cup” exposed the non-idyllic nature of my childhood.
Christmas was like any other day in our house; so was Thanksgiving. Most summers were spent reading in the bleachers reading Ken Follett during my younger brother’s T-ball games.
I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. The festive deprivation may have been the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.
Treating me like a non-fragile, ordinary creature who was a burden (don’t let her get pregnant! or wind up working at McDonald’s!) rather than precious blessing may have been tough medicine at the time, but now as a parent, this distance is what allows me to be the best mother I can. Ironically having an imperfect childhood makes it easier to parent
I don’t feel pressure to create a bubble of idyll around my sons (or re-create as my friends do).
In my younger days I suffered many disappointments. Ordinary letdowns that are death to a teenager like missed slumber parties (mustn’t let the girl spend the night out. Remember she has a uterus!) or high school field trips to New York City (go to the library, read a book about that place, much cheaper!) meant I dealt with disappointments early on and often. The older I grew, the more sadness and conflict I encountered. My familiarity with the unsavory parts of life meant that as we grew older, my friends came to me for coping strategies. A close friend’s miscarriage crippled her emotionally; it was the hardest event in her life. I was one person she could talk to because I was no stranger to raw emotion or a sense of unfairness.
Now that I’m a mother, each and every one of those hard moments is a reminder that I’m doing darn well for my guys. Yes, I have a demanding schedule as a writer and professor; I’m often away from them and I may not do the things other mothers do. But by comparison, every day for my children is better than most of the ones I had.
I know they don’t need expensive toys (though they do have a Pinterest worthy playroom). I don’t shield them from the word no. If they fall over, in most cases, they pick themselves back up.
Some call this tough love. I call it preparation for life.
I am a typical Virgo and have perfectionist tendencies. But this is one area I’m happy to be mediocre. Rather than be plagued by guilt at what I’m not doing for them, I will celebrate what we do have together. And hopefully teach them some valuable lessons in the process.
What about you? Are you happy with your childhood memories or do you wish you’d had more of something? Any parenting wisdom to share?