Joyful Girl

My morning time has been abbreviated a lot lately, due to changing schedules and temperments. Instead of the grand, thought provoking post I had planned for today, I’m falling back on random pics and something in between complaining and pleading to unseen forces for help.

I had a thought yesterday that the motherhood learning curve is so steep for me right now, that rather than climbing or keeping up, I’m having the sensation of sliding back down. Getting ahead of my daughter’s development, so I can be prepped and in place for X Y Z changes is an idea that actually makes me laugh. (“Bitter laugh! Bitter laugh!“).

Trying to mother a toddler in a way that is nurturing and respectful (as opposed to punitive and oppositional) feels like some kind of Jiu Jitsu. When my approach isn’t working, I have a clear sense that there is another approach that would work (or at least be better) but I have no idea what it is. I start to scramble around inside myself, turning things over, upside down, looking at it all from another angle, as I try to understand what she is asking for, what is really needed.

Reading books helps. Websites like this help. Lately though, approaches like this one only served to slow the train to crazyville…we didn’t actually jump track. Then I resort to super effective measures. Like yelling. Or offering chocolate. Or crying on the toilet.

I’m not sure how to measure success right now. I have this idea that success would look like me going through a whole day without becoming totally fed up and pissed off. A whole day of responding like an Amazing Mom, where I meet my edge (over and over) with grace and balance. At least for the moment, I’m having to accept that if I’m utterly burnt out for only half an hour, as opposed to the whole day, that maybe I can chalk it up with a plus sign. Maybe there was only one instance, among the 30, where I was Awesome Mom. I’m hoping it counts for something.

Websites like that one might not help, actually. It sets up an expectation (in my head anyway) that other parents Get It. That other moms are Jiu Jitsu masters, as their 2.5 yr olds sit quietly in the corner for hours, needle felting little bunnies and soaking up The Wonder of Childhood.ย Instead of, oh…you know…shooting raspy arrows of ear drum melting screams and alternating between using my legs as a punching bag and clinging to them like a life raft.

The biggest culprit contributing to my stress is a hyper-awareness around childhood development in the early years. As a clinician, I work with adults who, in one way or another, did not get what they needed as children…sometimes it leads to neurosis, sometimes it leads to trauma, always it points back to the impact of poor parenting. So you know…no pressure.

There are lots of methods, and the new crew of Unconditional Parents will swear that they’ve got doctrine. What I rarely hear mentioned is, what to do when the “methods” don’t work? It reminds me of the years that I spent trying to train my dog Leo out of his separation anxiety, door chewing and I Miss Mom barking. He did not respond like “the experts” said he would and nothing worked. What did finally work was to make space for him, to love him bigger, to love him more…and to take him with me wherever I went. Currently, what feels best with Fern is to let my heart grow and expand. I can’t figure out the proper responses, but I’m hoping that loving her harder in the moments when she’s being, let’s face it, atrocious, will be what matters in the long run.

Most of all, I’m trying to love myself, through long days where my failings as a parent (and sometimes as a person) would seem to be sitting on my face.

“Joyful Girl”

i do it for the joy it brings
because i’m a joyful girl
because the world owes me nothing
and we owe each other the world
i do it because it’s the least i can do
i do it because i learned it from you
i do it just because i want to
because I want to

everything i do is judged
and they mostly get it wrong
but oh well
‘cuz the bathroom mirror has not budged
and the woman who lives there can tell
the truth from the stuff that they say
and she looks me in the eye
and says would you prefer the easy way?
no, well o.k. then
don’t cry

and i wonder if everything i do
i do instead
of something i want to do more
the question fills my head
i know that there’s no grand plan here
this is just the way it goes
and when everything else seems unclear
i guess at least i know

i do it for the joy it brings…

-Ani Difranco


40 thoughts on “Joyful Girl

  1. Knowing next to nothing about child-rearing (though having to often admire mom’s for their patient, insightful approaches to it, as well as deal with the offspring of those who just let it all go to hell in a handbasket) I can only say that you having this thoughtfulness about being Fern’s mom, is what being Amazing Mom must be. I doubt that there’s a way to do it exactly right, to rear a perfectly well-adjusted human being, BUT paying attention, actually thinking about how you go about it, is about the best path towards that. I’m sure Fern intuitively knows this now, will know this in future, feel the care you took of her, forgive for any mistakes you may make.

    Being thoughtful, intentional about our endeavors is about all we can do.

    You certainly are one of my role models for possible future mom-dom, for what that’s worth ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Hang in there. Much love.

  2. Oh my goodness did this strike close to the bone for me. So much so that I decided to quit lurking around here and add my voice.

    My son is 14. He’s been… challenging lately. In every sense of the word. Challenging his father and me on every decision, every conversation, everyTHING imaginable. Communication in our house has come to a screeching standstill, and I feel sometimes like we’re sliding backwards. Just like you said.

    Motherhood doesn’t seem to get any easier as far as I can tell. Definitely more interesting. Not easier.

    Hang in there, indeed.

    1. hi jen, thank you for sharing your voice! i am dreading the teenage years, am scared for what they will bring and how/if i will meet the challenge. all my best to you in hanging in there…keep me (us) posted on how things develop. xo

  3. oh mary, your articulate honesty dazzles me. seriously. these are things i think about often now as i embark on motherhood myself, hearing about “methods” and having no idea what to expect. i totally whole heartedly agree with milla, that the care and thoughtfulness behind your actions, even your crying-on-the-toilet actions, is what will resonate and reverberate through fern’s life. she is going to be one hell of an amazing adult someday, mark my words. meanwhile my heart goes out to you as you struggle through the difficult hours and as you attempt to blow your wide wondrous heart even more open with love and joy. by the way, that ani song makes me cry. it chokes me up a little just to read the words here and to think of it alongside the grand action of mothering a daughter, even a free spirited unpredictable wild woman like fern. (especially!) i have no advice or insight but i will say that i feel an awesome respect and admiration for you as a mother, even more so during these tough turns of the cycle. and that i am here cheering for you and the great deed you are doing for the world in mothering any best way you can!

    1. i hear the fullness of your words, and i am so tickled to hear words like this from you as you are on your journey…i am so joyful knowing you are about to join the ranks of bad ass moms to girls. the world needs YOU, that’s for sure.

  4. girl. don’t read those books. step away from the mommy blogs, the how to checklists and the parenting trends. they are bad. they are very bad. your baby is getting closer to 3 years than she is to 2 years, yes? 3 year olds were sent to destroy us. there is no parenting technique that will help you. all this “never tell your child “no”” is just plain shenanigans. anything that sells itself as “xyz parenting” is a failboat that will sail you straight crazytown. “attachment parenting” “consenual living” blah blah blah. it’s all just a farce. you are doing great, which is why i say avoid the mommy blogs or the “how to” sites. those bitches are lying. they are posting edited versions of life.their almost 3 year olds are insane and making them crazy too. they will make you a mommy matryr and you will feel like shit. trust, i did this with my first. just know that there was never a toddler that didn’t make their parents wonder “where did i go wrong? my baby is a sociopath!!!!” around the age of 2.5-3.5. nothing you can do or not do will make this stage of life be avoided. just know that they will not be that age forever. my first was absolute HELL at this age. now he is the sweetest guy ever. and my sweet little 2 year old is now HELL because he is getting closer to 3. i am not worried this time around because i have seen that it’s not me. ITS NOT YOU, ITS ME! lol. no but really. it’s them. it’s not you. my best advice is just not to take it personally, stay consistent, don’t be afraid of them crying when you do have to say no and set boundaries (time outs saved my damn life, i don’t care what anyone says about them, but whatever it is you do, be consistent) and just drink a lot of booze. just kidding. not really. okay, just a little booze. and lastly, remember, it’s a stage.

    1. thank you brigit, for the good dose of humor, and reminding me to lighten up. i actually have been drinking more wine since i read your comment. ;). i usually do avoid those mommy blogs, but the insecurity they bring up wiggled its way in. even more so the “child development experts”. remembering not to take it personally is so key. it gives me the objectiveness i need to pull out of any power struggles, and really look at what is going on in the situation. (ah, she’s hitting me purposefully because she hasn’t learned to control that impulse yet…not because we’re locked in some failed mother/daughter dynamic).

      seriously, thank you.

  5. Had to comment. Hugs from the little-kids-going-crazy-world. I think my first was my hardest because everything was new for both of us. And although each child is their unique person and so incredibly different, once you’ve gone through the mill once you’ve at least learned some of the lessons.
    Keep listening to your heart and a “best method” for you both will emerge. I find that although I set boundaries and stick to them some of the time, flexibility is key at that stage. I read something once about acting like you both are diplomats, and it has stuck for me. Try to meet in the middle and talk about that fact as you’re doing it. It doesn’t have to be, “You/I win” as much as “how can we make this work?” Sometimes making this work will be your way simply because you know the world so much better than your little. But sometimes new opportunities arise when we find a way to listen…some of the time mind you. Always will drive anyone insane. Hugs mama!

    1. when i pull my head up to remember that there are other mama’s who are dealing with the same thing…but in spades…i simultaneously feel like an idiot for complaining and also bow in humility. i’m glad to know you can relate, but not glad for your own struggles. i like the diplomat idea…although sometimes i just give up and become a dictator.

  6. OMG, who is this Brigit lady?! I love her…drink lots of booze. killin me. I love you Mary. Believe me you are a great parent, I want to be your kid…please!

  7. What Brigit says is right actually…they call it the terrible twos, but it isn’t, its around three when all hell breaks loose. The kids are learning how much independence they’re allowed to use. I swap between yelling like a madwoman some days, and floating about as if i have all the patience in the world with them, even when they call me poopsonfire . Those websites and manuals…. If a tried and true successful method of stopping/dealing with tantrums in a respectful way had been found…..believe me i’m sure everyone would know about it – it would be that essential!! If you’re looking for a marker of success…then judge yourself by her smiles, her intelligent moments, her curiosity and small kindnesses; these things show what kind of character she is developing, and those good things are due to you and yours. The tantrums and craziness are just a byproduct of her age and it will calm down, i know, that saying that doesn’t help…but it helps to know it. I’d be more worried if a child sat quietly and didn’t make a peep, truly, those are the ones you gotta worry about. I know your profession confronts you with what poor parenting can do, but girl, you are not a poor parent; you could be much worse, and your willingness to come from a place of love and love harder….is going to help you stay sane and make good decisions. I was talking the other day about how noisy my babes are (SO noisy) after hanging up the phone, they were still noisy, and i realised that actually i didn’t mind it….but what i DID mind was if it bothered others. And as frantic as i am about quietening them down before our trip, i know that they won’t – they’re loud,, because i’m loud, i’m convinced it’s genetic – (that wasn’t an analogy of you and Fern, i’m just telling you cos it was on my mind). Btw, this morning a friend rang and my house was chaotic with boychild running off with girlchild’s apple…and then the girlchild chasing boychild trying to spit on the apple. My friend heard the yelping, and straight away laughed, said “so glad to know your house is as mad and crazy as mine this morning” – we both sighed in unison relief and giggled- our ratbags are just plain normal ratbags, sometimes knowing that others share these difficulties, and none of us have it all worked out, makes things a smidge easier to smile about. xoxo take care lady.

    1. the bit about the overall brightness of fern being a good sign, as opposed to the little git who just sits in the corner has really stuck with me the last few days. i realized that since it is pretty rough sailing a lot of the time, that perhaps all those “nurturing” things i did…baby wearing, co-sleeping, prolonged breast feeding…must not have worked, or maybe i “did them wrong”. your comment brought up the thought for me that we might have a very different child if we HADN’T done those things. that instead of a fiesty, free willed, energetic little creature, i might have a perpetually angry and depressed baby if i hadn’t created secure attachment. thanks teeny!

  8. Gosh, this post is ringing true with me too and I agree with everything the peeps above are saying.You are Amazing Mom – following your blog and all the adventures you take Fern on and the values you instill in her and how thoughtful you are about how you do it always inspires me!

    My twin girls turn two on Monday and I’m beginning to notice the craziness set in. One has just entered the ‘MINE’ phase and will not rest until her sister has nothing and she has a whole big pile of stuff. The other is only happy when she is outdoors, when she is not outdoors she sits at the (glass) back-door banging it repeatedly with random objects screaming ‘back-garden, back-garden’ over and over again. She can’t always be outside. Her sister can’t have EVERYTHING. They are both crazy. But I love them… and they wont always be like this… and in a way the craziness is cute… right?

  9. Thanks Mary, for exposing the raw and helpless insides of you and your days. It’s rare to find a blog on these here interwebs where the messy and awful mix with the photogenic and carefully arranged moments. I’m not a mom, but I echo Milla– you’re doing great. It will get easier (and then harder, I hear :). Like someone above said, you’re an inspiration in how you instill your value of nature, adventure, life and love and plants in lil Fern. I’m glad I can be witness to both your fortunate snapshots AND your tired, worn out call for help!

  10. there is no ideal mom out there. we all make mistakes and lose our tempers and don’t always do and say the right thing. we’re human. my children are 13, 10, almost 4 and 10 months. i have spent years feeling guilty over the past and wishing i had done x y and z instead of a b and c. now i realize i am trying my best. i acknowledge that i am not perfect and i will and have made many mistakes but that’s just life. i AM trying my best and that’s all anyone can do. i also find comfort in the fact that my upbringing wasn’t ideal and i turned out ok. we ALL have issues from childhood and so will our own kids. being as aware as you are is so much better than sweeping it all under the rug and pretending to be supermom.

    i too, agree with brigit. don’t be fooled by these perfect blog moms because they are just like the rest of us. they just choose to only show and talk about the good and perfect.

    1. there is no idea mom out there…except for you anne! seriously everyone…go check out anne’s blog right now, and tell me if she isn’t the epitome of serenity (and beauty!) with the cutest babes in tow…and it’s all fer reals.

      no really, it is good to hear just a bit of your struggles. i used to have such a similar perspective, about the inevitability of screwing up our kids and how it all comes out in the wash…but always with other children…my own tugs on feelings hidden and deep. xo

  11. For whatever it’s worth, that kids looks completely fine to me. The thing is (says me, who *totally* idealizes your parenting, and also pre-emptively stresses about psychologically damaging my non existent kids) I am really learning, from clients, that what counts is that you’re over-the-top able to meet her up the road in the places where you might occasionally, unintentionally, inevitably miss her now, with respect and honestly, compassion (of the self-ful and other-wise varieties) and grace, and you know how that goes: Stronger in the “broken” places. I have said to you bunches how I can’t really say, in words, how much I love how much you love the Person that Fern is, honoring and helping her become more herself. You two were Made for Each Other. And you’re the lovingest, creativist, realest Mom I know. Hands down. Period. Even on bad days. Definitely. Forever.

    1. oh my god america, you bowl me over every time, and when i get back up, i find my heart waiting right there for me. your love always perks me up. i am so thankful for you.

  12. I too agree w/Brigit. I think parenting is intuitive- trust your gut and read little. Who has time anyway!
    And I also feel we are going to f- our kids up. I kinda think they’ll end up in therapy at some point in their life no matter how good of a parent we are.
    And the Ani song bought me way back. Way back to when I used to blast her while I was showering and in the bathroom -by myself- that hasn’t happened for years.

    1. It’s so true that we will screw up our kids. I would just like to do it in a way where repair is easy! And I love that Ani brings you back…me too sister.

  13. Oh, and this is really probably badness to write, but really perfect Mom’s *actually* screw up their kids. Seriously. You know that. (While we were going through the whole wedding thing, I got so pissed off about all the images of perfection everywhere I started calling them wedding porn, which was mildly helpful, but possibly similar, this is like Mommy porn. It occurs to me that women are on a constant train of moments to do perfect and not be ourselves the way we Know to be. Which makes me crazy mad.) xxx

    1. mommy porn! it’s so true! i would love to talk to you about the “applied” aspects of waldorf…what it’s “really” like to have a nature table, what celebrating the seasons really looks like.

  14. i don’t really know what you’re talking about here. i find children to be little bundles of joy all the time. pure joy, all the time. just like how i thought it would be when i dreamt of becoming a mother. we are going to go outside and skip now, in our bonnets, and pick edible flowers and then come home to felt forest animals, and then bake some bread and dance to papa making music. that’s how it is every day. yeah. right. adding in those beautiful elements to our days are what keeps me going and feeling like i am not a total failure. but there are parts to my days that feel so challenging and scary and like the biggest question marks around my worthiness… i was told recently to just accept that i am gonna fuck the kids up. in some ways. there’s no way not to. because i am imperfect. but i’m not on the level my poor parents were. there’s growth happening here! and i know for you too. definitely focus on the growth. and call me! i can be your bathroom for you sometimes, when yours is dirty and you can’t tell the truth from the lies. i can look you in the eyes and tell you what’s up or down when you need that.

    1. holy eff, i laughed about this for three days straight i think. again with the hat off to you…you have done this again and again with three kids and you have twisty challenges that i will never know. so i will shut up and let you be my mirror. but not my bathroom. bathroom yoga and meditation…let’s come up with our own method. then we can write a book and be worshipped and rich. ๐Ÿ˜›

  15. hahahhahahaha. still laughing about being your bathroom for you when yours is dirty and trying to explain to olive why i am laughing at the computer. yay. thanks for that laugh!!

  16. heather, thank you for the laugh as well. hahahaha i thought you actually meant bathroom there for a minute, since mary mentioned crying in there. i was thinking about how that would work when i saw your reply to yourself. lol.

    i spent my whole commute through the wetlands and along the coast this morning thinking how i wanted to respond to your beautiful post, mary.

    oh yeah all us wannabe unconditional parents yell, threaten, bribe with chocolate, and cry in the bathroom. it does help to let each other see that. i know many of us have a hard time admitting to it, i can’t blame people for putting on a good face for their internet appearances, nobody wants to be judged for their worst moments, and we all already perceive judgment coming from all directions. even ani, supergoddess supreme, feels constant judgment right? i think we’re our own best friends when it comes to taking others’ happy shiny blogs to heart (i just don’t read it if it makes me feel unworthy!) “i build each one of my songs out of glass so you can see me inside them… i suppose you could just leave the image of me in the background i guess and watch your own reflection superimposed.” sometimes relating to each other helps so much and other times it hurts and it hurts because we have wounds deep inside that can be reopened. barbs hurt us because we give them places to land. know what i’m sayin?

    it does all go to shit at this age. and then it’s glorious, and it goes to shit again, in cycles. like everything else in life. but oho this age…. you’ve captured it so well with some of those fern grumpy faces. mary you are doing great. but here’s the other thing. STOP trying to measure success. one of the ways we make ourselves insane is to be attached to results. the reason these books make us nuts is that they are all selling us ways to make It Work. well It is not always going to Work, no matter what Method is implemented. you gotta go on your gut (you can still read if you want, i do, i take long breaks in between books, and i try to keep some big perspective on detaching myself from the results-oriented approach to life, attachment to outcomes is the root of all suffering eh?) but get over It Working, at some point shit always falls apart and you pick up the pieces.

    and you also gotta extend yourself the same gifts of unconditional love that you are wishing to give to fern. the bottom line is NO MATTER WHAT, you are worthy and good and ok and lovable. (just like her! equal dignity for children AND mamas!) you do not have to perform to some standard of mothering in order to be so. you are, just because you are. that’s what it means to be unconditional. and when me and my bathroom mirror are conferring, i find that repeating over and over “i approve of myself” really makes a difference over time. i know it’s hokey but fake it till you make it right?

    i don’t even believe in being consistent, for what its worth. i know it’s parenting gospel and i just don’t fucking buy it, not even that. if it helps to have voices setting you free or giving you permission here to just be you and be worthy just because you are. i am not consistent and i don’t think it makes me bad. (anymore. usually.)

    so yeah there’s some doctrine in this here comment, i suppose. i see that, and i do not wish to stick up for anyone who you felt hurt by, not at all. i did glean some gems from alfie kohn, and i’m not as keen to throw out the baby with the bathwater on all parenting philosophies, and i’m a geek and like to compare notes, but you’ve gotta throw out a lot of bathwater during the process of gleaning. we’re all on a journey. and we all need some empathy and validation more than we need Tools to make It Work, let’s face it the kids ARE atrocious at times, and so are we, and we are all still perfectly acceptable people and we keep going on and doing our best. you are great, mary. xoxo

    1. YES. stop trying to measure success. THANK YOU. i realized after your comment that i have idealized you a little bit too! so it’s good to know that you yell too. ๐Ÿ™‚ i approve of myself indeed. yes. ah…your comment is so rich i am finding i can’t even pick out the one thing to comment on…i am so thankful for all of it. love to you and your wisdom, mb. xoxox

  17. ๐Ÿ™‚ i worry about that sometimes- whether i am “one of THOSE” mama blogs who get referred to in this way. i definitely don’t purposely filter my writing to make myself seem ideal, i put a lot of crazy junk in my posts, like gnarly coparenting junk and whatnot, but it is true. i don’t report in every time i yell. refer to aforementioned coparenting junk for one reason i do not put every single detail of my parenting failure moments in print- the coparent may one day figure out my website and then use it against me. this is just an example and i don’t mean to sound defensive about my writing style. it would be ok with me if someone felt i was idealizing myself, i would not take that personally even if i disagree, it isn’t about me in that case- it’s about the reader and what is up for them as they read my stuff. so, everyone has their internet face and their inner truth and there is never going to be complete congruence between the two and we all have to keep that in mind as we read- i know there is more to me and more to you and more to soulemama etc. etc. than we are putting on the page. i know it about myself, and it helps me to keep it in the back of my mind whenever i’m measuring myself against any other mama blogger. all mama bloggers have yelled at some point. promise.

  18. Mary, I just want to say that motherhood is hard, hard, hard. It’s a spiritual path. We mess up all the time, and then we begin again.
    You are more awesome than you can realize.

  19. wordpress! ack!
    not sure if you got my *previous* comment, doesn’t seem to be here. So, again:
    motherhood is hard, hard, hard. That’s why we call it a spiritual practice. Everyday I mess up, everyday I try again.
    You are more amazing than you realize.
    ps: how were we 1 mile away from each other and not meet? My head’s still confused about that one.

    1. thank you rachel. and i have no idea how that meet-up clusterf*ck happened, but it makes me laugh. we weren’t just one mile away. we were 4 little kids away…which might as well have been four mountain ranges. i’m glad we tried, it was sweet to hear your voice, and let’s just make a date that’s a little less haphazard *next* time. love.

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