Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a strong maternal instinct and a strong need to use it. But my two younger sisters saw no need to have two mothers when they already had one, and I put my energy into learning all I could about parenting and proper child rearing. That just thrilled my friends who had children before me.
When at last I became a mother at thirty-three, I was more than ready to put my instincts and all my years of reading on parenthood into practice.
Armed with my natural instincts and the skills I accrued during my ten years of working in the corporate world as an assistant to various financial executives, I set out to be my ideal of the modern educated stay- at-home-mom. There would be no soap operas and lounging on the sofa for me. I would not be running errands in my sweats without any make-up. I wanted to be a positive reflection on women who made the conscious choice to stay home with their children.
Boy was I dumb.
After I managed to get myself off the sofa from the sheer exhaustion of raising one very wonderful little baby, I started on my mission. As if my first born was just a small version of the executives I once worked for, I began scheduling our days with stimulating and educational activities.
My son and I took our first enrichment class when he was about seven months old. We started with a baby swim class, followed by a gym/swim class, then a play gym class, and several mommy-and-me classes. It’s never too early to instill a love of the environment, and that led us to do two sessions of “wee-sprouts” at a local ecological center. We rounded this out with several Gymboree classes as well as several mother-and-child music classes. This was all before he started pre-school at three.
Since my son had some speech and motor delays, he also started receiving early intervention services at home a few months before he turned two. Each week, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist would meet with him two times apiece for a total of six weekly sessions.
For fun we went to two different play groups each week, and had a host of play dates with age appropriate children. Occasionally we even went into the city to audition for TV commercials. We never booked a job, but we always had fun meeting more moms and children. My son happily played in his stroller as we would walk the streets of Manhattan and visit old co-workers or one of my sisters for lunch. If we had the chance to visit a zoo or museum, I felt even better.
On our “down time,” I carefully structured our play to include the activities I read about in parenting magazines and books. I made petting zoos out of stuffed animals and played sensory games and read lots of books. We did watch our share of Nick Jr. and PBS, but in my defense they were always deemed educational and age appropriate. I also managed to move houses and have a second baby at the recommended spacing of three years.
Honestly, I don’t know how we survived.
I’m surprised somebody didn’t plan an intervention, perhaps luring me with the promise of a parenting seminar and then holding me in a room while more experienced mothers pounded some sense into my head. My son’s physical therapist did comment once that he had never seen a more scheduled two year old, but I foolishly took this as a compliment.
As it turned out, I got my intervention. I had more children. All my carefully scheduled activities snuck out the window with the addition of our daughter. They were completely gone shortly after our youngest son was added to the mix.
Life required me to be more spontaneous. Especially, as it became more and more apparent that my daughter’s learning delays were much more severe than my first child’s. We then added even more complexity when my youngest also required early intervention. More therapists joined the mix. Formal school programs and other peoples schedules started to replace my carefully constructed plans. Our schedule was just as crazy. I just had less control over it.
The crazier and more intense my life got the more I had to let go. Instead of going to formal classes, my youngest and I counted fruit and vegetables as we went to the market. We sang songs while we waited to pick up my daughter from school or read a story while we waited for my eldest’s school bus. Fun was and thankfully still is a natural part of our life, not something I need to schedule.
I learned the hard way that motherhood is not something that can be done perfectly and orderly. Motherhood is messy, hectic, confusing, and fun. There is no one right way to parent nor is there a perfect recipe to raising a happy and healthy child. In the long run there is only one parenting expert we need to listen to, ourselves.