They say that having kids is a reflection into your own neuroses.
Apparently the other mothers in your neighborhood serve the same purpose. As a mother, you can reflect enough on your own childhood to know that your child will undoubtedly make friends with another child who lives in a bad environment. The kind of place you 100% do not want your kid in, without you there.
But when your child makes their first friends, whether at the park, or preschool, they’re all so deceptively cute-kind of like kittens with runny noses. You never get quite close enough to smell the smoke permanently embedded in their clothes, or see the slightly scaly scalp. The problem with kittens is that you can’t tell the curtain shredder from the lap sitter.
This is the honeymoon period.
Maybe you haven’t met the parents, or seen the inside of their houses yet. But once your child begins to tell stories about visits to their new friends house, it becomes clear instantly. The garbage-y snacks, the wholly inappropriate television shows, the lack of supervision. You remember what went on in the homes of your own friends like this, and in a breath, your decision is made. No more visits to that friends house. Nope.
You plan dates either at your house, or on neutral ground. You judge the other family for their ways and feel justified in your superiority. I certainly did when my daughter came home smelling like smoke and full of nightmares from the scary movies she watched at her friend’s house. I tried to ignore the rumors of the mother passed out drunk on the lawn, my worries about their three foot pool in the yard, the formerly drug peddling older brother. Then two things sent me over the edge into an irreversible state of superiority.
The first, I happened to “overhear” as I walked both girls back to my house after school to play. “Sally” was telling my daughter how she watched her sister kissing her boyfriend wearing no underwear by peeking under the door. I was for sure not ready to have that kind of conversation with my six year old and i definitely didn’t want her witnessing that. The other happened one summer night when the girls parents had a tremendous fight, involving the police, and the father was carted off to jail for a few days. Enough was enough. This house was off limits. I was doing my job as a mother, securing the safety and innocence of my young child. I pinned a small badge to my imaginary mom uniform and went on my way. I was a good mother.
So imagine my surprise, when my daughter came home one day, and told me that her friend “Nancy” was not allowed to play at our house. What??!! Are you kidding me? Doesn’t Nancy’s mother know what a good mother I am?
Haven’t we had discussions about my over zealous organic food buying? About my goal of keeping my children vegetarian as long as possible? Didn’t she know that my kids only watched PBS? What the hell was this woman thinking? I was a good mother dammit! This sent me over the edge so far I could think of little else. I wanted to march down there and confront her (in the most yogic way possibly, of course)— to demand her to explain herself. But I stepped back, took a breath and counted to ten.
One, two, three, four, oh crap, this isn’t working; I’m a good mother!!!
My own mother told me so! OK, maybe the daughter just meant that particular day. That made more sense. But wait, come to think of it, Nancy hadn’t been to our house in a very long time. My daughter always played at their house. Aha! It was true! My loving home, with no violent tv or gun play, with (I admit it) semi-regular loud voices echoing off the neighbors aluminum siding down to the street was a bad influence. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I give my kids apples and rice cakes for snacks. Wasn’t I a bastion of all motherhood?
Ok, once I took my head out of my own butt, I couldn’t fail to see the irony. Wow, karma sure is fast. How could I be lumped in with the mothers I had labeled as “bad”? But alas, here I was. Lumped. The matriarch of a forbidden house and I had to accept that each mother decides what house is safe for her precious off-spring to visit. I know I did. I guess mine wasn’t it for everyone.
I never confronted that mother. We continued to smile as we passed one another, came to each other’s barbecues, Christmas caroled past each others houses. Every now and then, I would test the waters and invite her daughter over, and it was always one excuse or another. It really didn’t matter what this mother though of me. I got my lesson out of it.
All self-righteousness does is set you up for a gigantic fall. And I was left with the “lump” to prove it. I am no better than any other mother. I simply make the choices that feel right to me. And I have to honor every other mother’s right to do the same. Will my kids go farther in life, live longer, or be happier than the ones who watched their older sisters have sex? I truly have no idea. Only time will tell. I’m only sure that one day, my daughter will undoubtedly explain to me how all of my choices stifled her creativity, suppressed her, and effectively ruined her life. That much I can be sure of.
Edited by Kate Bartolotta.
Lara Demberg Voloto, a certified Anusara Teacher in Cold Spring, New York, is living the life as a mother on the edge. She is raising 3 fabulously freaky children who are the best teachers one could have. Which means she wants to simultaneously choke and hug them most of the time. Connect with Lara on Facebook.
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