Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

shame

I Can’t Be the Badly Dressed Mom at Pick-Up Time

General StuffTeresa Strasser7 Comments

Today, I stopped home to change my outfit before picking up my kid from daycare.

What, because you never know who might snap a photo as I lure my child into his car seat with the whispered promise of a Grover juice box? No one cares. Except now that I’m a parent, I care deeply about lots of things that are totally meaningless. For example, what I wear when I fetch my kid.

It’s not that I want to impress the other moms, or the woman who runs the place, or her assistant. It’s that on some level, I need to impress them.

Or at least that describes the urgency with which I want to stroll in wearing skinny jeans tucked into high heeled brown suede boots with a casual but clearly expensive t-shirt.

It was one thing for me to show up places with a guacamole stain on my sleeve when I was only representing myself. Maybe it was even cute, not Zoey Deschanel in a romantic comedy cute, but I like to think it was close. Now that I’m a mom, for some reason it seems important to look important, or at least like I don’t eat in my car and buy accessories at Claire’s.

Yep, get ready, because this is one of those mom moments triggered by one of those daughter moments. Get cozy, it’s blame mom time!

It may not surprise you that keeping up appearances wasn’t exactly a thing to my mom, and bless her heart for being all free-spirited, but her free spiritedness cost me big time.

My mom wore what she wanted, regardless of the setting. Graduation from Confirmation class at Temple Sherith-Israel, the other moms wore knit separates and wrap dresses, my mom wore something with a batik feel, something Mrs. Roper might have sold at a yard sale after placing it in her “too loud” pile. My mom never shaved her armpits, but always wore sleeveless. Granted, it was San Francisco and the hippie thing was arguably fashionable, but not at Hebrew school.

Part of me wished she would see that, and bend to the obvious notion that all kids want to fit in, and by extension, they would like their parents to blend.

Blending is an important skill I had to teach myself, the way I taught myself table manners and cursive, because counter-culture childhoods kind of skip those stops on the growing up train.

Looks matter. And by that I mean the sideways looks you get when your mom is sporting an exotic beetle sized amethyst brooch to the dentist’s office.

What never fails to surprise me is the pressure I put on myself not to make a single mistake my mom made.

No epiphany about perfectionism or how shallow wardrobe is as an assessment of a person’s character is going to stop me from being aware of my wardrobe choices from now until I’m dropping my son off at his college dorm room (or visiting him in prison, I don’t want to jinx anything). I can’t hide how deeply I want to do better than my own mother, because I’ll be wearing it.

Ironically, I’ll be wearing wrinkle-free and appropriate clothing as I make a bevy of other untold errors in judgment that my son will go out of his way to avoid when it’s his turn. That’s how it is. We over-correct. In doing so, we make all sorts of other gaffes. There’s a closet full of ways to under-achieve, so grab whatever is on the rack. There’s something to fit everyone.

* Thanks to the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles for running this in print. 

Sharing the Shame

General StuffTeresa Strasser9 Comments

Parental shame is a two-way street, and my kid is already pedaling down it -- in the pink tricycle he insisted we buy him. Will I embarrass my son? Sure. That’s a given. But that dude is going to shame me, too.

Enough worrying about all I have done and will do to make him slink down into the front seat of life. It’s time to talk about me, and all parents, and how we sometimes get embarrassed, too.

Of course I’ll show up to soccer games in vintage mini-dresses suitable only if I were opening at Coachella. And 23. There’s no question that as a parent I’ll wear and say and do things that make him wish he lived in a group home in New Mexico sustaining the nightly possibility of being molested by his bunkmate. It’s a given that parents shame their children.

However, it’s a tricky thing to talk about being embarrassed by our kids. Because no matter how illogical it may be, messes they make will always seem a bit like our fault. And they may be.

Look, I don’t care if my son prefers a pink tricycle or wears a tuxedo to day care every day and goes to “Glee” camp. None of that does or would bother me.

However, when I look around with my new perspective as a mom, I see every human creature as someone’s child (I know, duh) and can’t help wondering: When your kid does something -- from mildly idiotic to massively criminal -- aren’t folks secretly blaming the parent? Even when they understand that a person has free will or some biological predisposition to act out, or is simply a full-fledged grownup who should be responsible for her own actions, don’t most people look a bit askance at mom and dad?

When Michael Douglas has a kid in jail, don’t we think "absentee dad"? If Lindsay Lohan were a shy veterinarian living in a condo with her accountant husband, would her parents seem like pieces of work?

I’m going extreme here for a second, but don’t worry. I’ll come back to the small stuff our kids do. I just need to make this point: Have you ever seen an interview with Jeffrey Dahmer’s father? That guy seems really normal, even caring.

His kid ate people.

Yesterday, my child didn’t want to leave the sidewalk because he was staring at a giant truck removing slabs of metal from the street. We sat there for 20 minutes. I tried everything -- getting down on his level, reflecting back his frustration, giving him a countdown. I finally had to pick him up and surfboard him to the car. The lady walking her dog in a chartreuse Juicy Couture sweatshirt? She judged me. The guy selling hot dogs in the parking lot? I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m an incompetent mom. Anyone without significant hearing loss within a mile radius? Well, it’s safe to say they thought I was using enhanced interrogation techniques on a high-value prisoner.

When you see a parent prying their screaming child out of a restaurant booth for a little timeout in the alley, trust me, that parent is acutely aware that his child’s behavior is reflecting on him.

My toddler was just being a toddler, and I was doing my best. Still, I got in the car and we both cried, and that kid, by way of a little garden-variety freak out, made me pretty self-conscious about my parenting and, thus, the very core of my being.

So, yeah, he’s not eating runaways.

There’s a continuum. You get credit when your kid gives the valedictory address or strikes out the side, and you get the blame when he eats people. Or, to work our way toward cannibalism, when your kid fails algebra, bites the teacher, gets busted smoking pot, gets a DUI, ends up at sober living, ends up on the pole, holds up a bank or just plain doesn’t write a thank-you letter to his grandmother, fair or not, that looks bad for you.

Keep Mr. Dahmer in mind. He has it worse than you do. While you're complaining about your kid’s pink tricycle, you know what he’ll be thinking? Eat me.

* This post was originally published in print by Creator's Syndicate and online by the Huffington Post.