It’s summertime, and I’m not the mom I want to be.
After eight and a half years of parenting, you’d think I’d be settled in. You’d think I’d be used to the mom I actually am, imperfections and all.
You’d be wrong.
The mom I thought I’d be is fun yet firm. She is gentle and mindful and loves spending assloads of time with her kids. She takes them swimming at the beach often, and doesn’t get cranky when her son splashes her because the water’s freaking freezing and she doesn’t really like swimming all that much.
She doesn’t send them to camp—she puts her work on hold for the summer, or squeezes it into nights and weekends, so she can spend as much of this fleeting, sacred time with them as possible. And that glow on her face isn’t just from the summer sun—it’s from all the beautiful, quality and quantity time she’s soaked up with her kids! All the playgrounds and parks and picnics and pools, and all the other things that are fun and family-friendly and start with “p.”
She also happens to have less frizzy hair, she does more yoga, and grooms her nails more often than quarterly. She cooks her kids quinoa and organic kale that she grows herself, and they think McDonald’s is a farm, and she never accidentally lets weeks go by without bathing her children (oops). The idea of homeschooling doesn’t make her shudder, and when her kids make poo jokes, she probably gives them a look that is stern yet gentle, instead of cracking up.
This idyllic mom—let’s call her Gwen, shall we?—is quite different from me.
I find summertime challenging, with less time to work, and more pressure to make all the memories with my kids. My kids stay up later at night, yet still get up at the crack of dawn. I feel guilty for enrolling my son in camp so I can work, despite the fact that he actually loves camp, and I love my work. I feel guilty for letting them watch too much TV instead of absorbing every bit of orgasmic summertime recreation we can dream up.
I first met Gwen when my son was born. She floated alongside me like a ghost, a haloed, supersized version of myself. She didn’t get postpartum depression, and she breastfed frequently without resentment. She followed the advice of those older, wistful women in the checkout line at the grocery store, urging her to enjoy every single moment with her beautiful son—despite the fact that he cried all the time and woke up every hour or two—and she did, because she knew he’d only be this young for a heartbeat.
Here’s the thing—I’m not the mom I thought I’d be, but my kids also aren’t who I thought they’d be. I never could’ve imagined that dark-haired, dark-eyed me would give birth to two blue-eyed babies. That I’d have a son who loves football and science, and has these amazing little summer patches of white-blond hair on the back of his neck and temples. Or that I’d have a daughter who loves sushi and playing pretend, and the first thing she does every morning is pick a different animal to pretend to be (she was Lila the Leopard this morning, in case you were wondering).
My children are complex and nuanced and strong-willed, and I could never have imagined the mosaics of who they are. Nor would I have it be any other way (except for the football—I am anxious enough without being on concussion watch).
Mostly, I accept my kids for who they are. Sometimes I resent their particular quirks or rough edges, but mostly, I see them as whole human beings, born already who they are, little infants coiled with surprises and gifts waiting to unfold.
And I’m me, not Gwen. I’m a little meh about summertime.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a rainforest, and on the rare days when the sun shone, our parents shoved us outside because who knew when we’d get another sun-drenched day?
Summer feels like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July all rolled into one, and we’re supposed to be having this amazing time because it’s summertime and it’s warm, yay!
But I’m an autumn-loving introvert who needs her alone time, and that need didn’t change when I became a parent—it intensified. I’m also a writer who loves playing with words, trying to string them together in just the right way, to shape some sort of meaning from my struggles.
The more I fight who I actually am, the more I silently shame myself for all my parental shortcomings, the less present I am—and besides, my kids are watching me (when they’re not at camp), absorbing my self-judgments and perfectionism. I don’t want them to wish themselves different, so I’m going to practice ditching boring old Gwen and instead, accepting the messy, lovely, imperfect mosaic of me.
This morning, just before camp and preschool, I started a conga line with my kids in the driveway. I bet Gwen wouldn’t have done that.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Tamaki Sono/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina