Nope. Nothing to do with basketball. Sorry.
I’ve had an idea about a Pinterest post percolating for a good couple of months now, but haven’t found the time to write about it. Today, I was going to post a quick St. Patrick’s Day recap when I happened to read this article that was shared by a friend on Facebook… and suddenly, my percolating idea and my St. Pat’s post ran into one another full-speed (it was a real pile-up; not pretty), and I so now I’m going to attempt to do write both posts simultaneously.
A mom-guilt/ Pinterest/ St. Patrick’s Day mash-up, if you will.
I do love me a good mash-up. Until Glee got lame last year. But I digress.
I’ll cut to the chase: I did a whole bunch of stuff with the girls for St. Patrick’s Day, even though we’re not Irish! I got a lot of my ideas off Pinterest! I did it because it made me happy, and I loved every minute of it!
Some people hate Pinterest. They feel guilty because they’re not doing the stuff they see on Pinterest. They feel bad because they’re not doing the stuff their neighbors are doing.
But just because we’re not doing what “everyone else” seems to be doing doesn’t doesn’t mean any of us is doing it wrong or that we should stop. Unless we’re water-boarding our kids and eating a diet consisting of only Easy Cheese. Then maybe we should reconsider.
So, here’s the gist of Kristen Howerton’s above article: celebrating the holidays (especially with kids) has gone overboard. Each one brings about crazy activities (An elf will come to our house and be all funny and cute at Christmas time! Cards aren’t enough on Valentine’s Day – you need bags of loot! Is the Easter Bunny leaving footprints at your house, too?) that can be difficult – or all but impossible – to complete. Kids are then left disappointed and parents feel like crap.
The article was well-written and funny, and I hear Kristen. I really do. To wit: Annie came home yesterday informing us that her teacher had told them all about leprechauns and their magic. She then set about decorating several plastic cups which she left on the dining room table so that the “leprechauns can visit, make the cups tiny, and leave a prize behind!” I looked at Nick like, The ever-loving hell they are, and might have contemplated sending her teacher’s future children a drum set in retaliation.
So, I get Kristen’s point. Annie had high expectations that something super-awesome was going to happen, and she was bound to be disappointed if the “leprechauns” didn’t follow through. But to do so meant a lot of… work… on the other side, and frankly, I was too damn exhausted last night (after having put in a full day’s worth of my own St. Pat’s celebrations, thanks very much) to even consider pulling this off. And so I did the only thing I could think of: I threw the cups in the garbage.
Yep. Just tossed ’em right out.
When Annie came downstairs this morning excitedly looking for the goodies that the leprechauns had left behind, I told her matter-of-factly that I’d thrown away the cups, so there were no goodies. That went over well. I mean, I wasn’t a total monster about it – I said it sweetly and all that (“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry, but while I was cleaning up last night, I threw away the cups!”). She was bummed, yes, but I then explained that I didn’t want her to be disappointed – maybe the leprechauns only work their cup-shrinking magic at school, and I didn’t want her to come down to un-shrunken cups – so, to avoid that possibility, I just got rid of them. She perked up immediately and agreed that, yes, the magic was probably a school thing, and she was on her merry way. Thank God, too, because turning myself into a leprechaun last night was just not in the cards.
Kristen (I’m back on the article now; bear with me) expressed the same sentiment, saying, “I don’t like the feeling of disappointing my kids. But I refuse to give into this holiday madness.” Amen, sista. Preach it! But she then goes on to request the following:
Fellow parents… teachers… sunday school workers… I beseech you. BRING IT DOWN A NOTCH. Ya’ll are setting up expectations that I just can’t maintain. Wouldn’t we all be just a little happier if we returned to the slacker days of store-bought valentines and kit-dyed eggs and JUST WEARING A GREEN SHIRT AND CALLING IT A DAY?
For the sake of overwhelmed parents like me, I beg you. Stop the madness.
And here’s where we might just have to agree to disagree because, well, quite frankly… No. I won’t. Might it be easier in some ways if we returned to the “slacker days” and skipped the extras that so many people seem to engage in today? Sure. But would we be happier? Would I be happier? Nope. I wouldn’t.
Because, as simple as it sounds, I’ll say it again: I do this because it makes me happy.
It’s not entirely logical, I’ll give you that. I am still only getting about five-and-a-half hours of sleep a night, I’m way behind on emails, and I’ve stopped attending church because something has to give, for the love of God (see what I did there?). But when I remembered on Friday night that St. Patrick’s Day was to occur three days later, I panicked because I had done absolutely nothing to get ready for it.
Which, yes, is ironic anyway, because there is less than no Irish in us, so “celebrating” St. Patrick’s Day is wholly unnecessary. That’s not why I do it, though. I do it because it makes me happy. Looking online for ideas makes me feel really, really good; it’s simultaneously cathartic and energizing. I was practically giddy shopping for little goodies for the girls’ scavenger hunt. I absolutely loved composing limerick clues (even if they were some of the most pathetic rhymes ever written), and browsing for Irish-themed dinner recipes made me all kinds of cheerful.
What’s a lunch without a (bad) joke?
Is that madness? Perhaps. But it brings enormous joy into my life. That it also brings joy into my daughters’ lives is a bonus, but that’s not why I do it. My motive is purely selfish: (say it with me) it makes me happy.
This is not a new phenomenon, this “madness.” I’ve been doing some form of it since forever; it’s how I’m hardwired. I’ve always had a thing for collecting quotes; now, they’re pinned to my Pinterest wall, but I’ve still got my “nothing books” from my middle-school camp days, filled with colored-marker quotes, cartoons, and oodles of photographs. Today, I might send a friend a video montage for her birthday; back when, I plotted out how to get her locker code to sneak in and decorate so that streamers and balloons exploded on her between first and second period.
In my current life, I spend days planning the events my daughters’ birthday parties. In my former life, my college friends and I staged an elaborate “Jeopardy” skit in the middle of the student center – complete with costumes that we purchased from a local thrift shop – to celebrate a buddy’s 19th birthday. This year, I’m browsing Pinterest for ideas on bento lunches; in my first years as a teacher, I made heart-shaped Rice Krispie Treats and put them on sticks to make heart-pops for my students on Valentine’s Day. In 2014, I spend time in Photoshop designing our holiday cards. Back then, I took pictures of Nick and me with our dogs (or even me with my students – a practice that would, um, definitely be frowned upon now), printed out actual photos at the one-hour developer, and inserted them into Christmas cards with pithy themes like “Where The Wild Things Are” for when I taught preschool.
I have always been like this.
Because it has always made me happy.
I’m not (completely) stupid. I understand that there are differences between then and now, most notably that technology – especially social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr – makes it much easier to see what other people are doing. And, in turn, what you’re not doing. The whole Keeping Up With The Joneses thing has been around for forever – what the Joneses are doing is just much more in-your-face than it’s been before.
And that can lead to feeling inadequate, which can lead to feeling guilty, and we all know that there’s a whole Mom/Parent Guilt thing going on. (Type “mom guilt” into Google if you really want to kill an afternoon.) And, again, I get it. There are so many expectations on moms – hell, on parents – these days, with seemingly contradictory messages: spend time with your kids because it all goes by too fast, but don’t smother them because helicopter parenting is the devil and your children will be living in your basement until you die. Make sure to find time for yourself, but for God’s sake, don’t let that time be spent on a smartphone because those things are evil and are probably destroying humanity. Offer your children a variety of organic, gluten-free foods, but, my goodness, don’t spend so much time worrying about it – a cupcake now and again won’t hurt. Foster independence but always be there for them no matter what, except when you’re allowing them to fail in order to succeed. Breast is best, except that that makes bottle-feeding moms feel bad, and so it’s perfectly fine to bottle-feed, except breast is really best – but only nutritionally, because really it’s just love that matters, so a bottle is fine. Except you should try to breastfeed. Probably. Unless you’re miserable, because everyone knows that if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Much of this “advice” has been around since probably forever, but again, technology and the media make it so much more available and prevalent that it can feel as though you’re surrounded by a roomful of angry people all shouting at you that you’re doing it wrong.
Which is undoubtedly why there has been such a backlash against it – and, in many cases, rightfully so. The so-called “standards” are unattainable, and we all know that Keeping Up With The Joneses was never a good idea to begin with (grass always being greener and all that). But then there’s this sub-culture of anti-Pinterest, anti-SuperMom, pro-slacker parenting that seems to have taken root — Screw the cutesy sandwiches, my kid’s lucky if she gets a Lunchable! Our Elf on the Shelf hasn’t moved in eight days!! Fuck the fondant-covered cake; that’s why Betty Crocker was invented! — and suddenly the “solution” to the problem seems to be, yet again, telling people that they’re doing it wrong.
I’ll absolutely admit it – I’ve been completely fed-up with today’s “standards” on a gazillion occasions. And, as a result, I’ve taken the slacker root many, many times (see above: leprechaun cups in garbage). But I don’t ask other parents to “tone it down a notch” so that I can feel better about myself. Because, let’s admit it, that’s what this is: our own feelings of inadequacy. Pinterest isn’t making you feel guilty; that’s on you. No one is “doing” this to us; we’re doing it to ourselves.
Put another way: my doing St. Patrick’s Day activities with my kids isn’t setting up expectations for you that you can’t maintain. I shouldn’t have to stop doing what I’m doing so that you can feel better about yourself. Not to go all Stuart Smalley or Dr. Phil on you, but the only person who can make you not feel inadequate is… wait for it… you.
No one is good at everything, and no two of us enjoy the same things. This may seem really obvious, but apparently it’s not, because we continue to measure ourselves up against what other people are doing. It’s like trying to squeeze a hippopotamus into one of those little sweaters that’s been woven for a dachshund; it may seem like a swell idea at first, but in the end, you’re going to wind up with a pissed-off dachshund with stretched-out sweater and a hippo with a self-esteem issue. Or something like that.
In case you’d like to hear it directly from me, I will be the first to tell you that, while I have loads of good qualities, I suck a a lot of things, too. I may have made a cute green lunch for my kids on St. Patrick’s Day, but, yesterday afternoon, I also discovered a layer of dust on my living room bookshelf that was so thick, I could have removed with a shovel (that is, if I actually got around to dusting). Sure, the girls handed out themed, homemade Valentines, but Ella wore duct-taped boots to school for a few days, too – yay, arts and crafts! My clothes keep coming out of the dryer with oil stains on them and I don’t know why. Whenever I wear a dress to work, the girls ask me what the special occasion is. I have fallen so far behind on my family’s photo editing that, in about two weeks, I will officially be one year behind. I will have lapped myself with editing. Last week, I fell off a treadmill, and I still have the scar to prove it.
I could go on (and on… and on…), but I think (I hope?) you get my point.
If you head over to my Pinterest page, you’ll see ideas for hairstyles, crafts to do with the kids, teaching activities, and loads of recipes. Some, I’ll actually get around to doing. Others are just there because they seemed neat to me at the moment and I thought, why the hell not pin this? What you will not find is: anything having to do with knitting or crocheting or sewing. Anything about scrapbooking. Any pages devoted to “beautiful spaces” or really lovely fashion photos, or pages about makeup or fancy nails.
Why not? Because I’m not interested in those things. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re just not for me, so I move on by. I pin the stuff that makes me happy or inspires me or makes me laugh or makes me shake my head or makes me wish I had a glass of wine. The rest of it, though? I just don’t care… and I also don’t give two hoots about what you have on your Pinterest page (unless it’s only about Easy Cheese; then, maybe we need to talk).
Why can’t the same go for real life? If one of your daughter’s classmates just got a puppy, and you’d like to get a puppy, then go get a puppy. If you’d rather eat a handful of sand, then don’t get a damn puppy. If someone at work starts bringing awesome leftovers for lunch and you want awesome leftovers for lunch, then cook something awesome and bring the leftovers in. Or ask your coworker for extras. But if the thought of having to actually cook and reheat makes you break out in hives, then skip it and buy a sandwich instead… but don’t tell your office mate to leave the coq au vin at home.
I’m never going to be a good housekeeper, but I don’t want you to let your dust bunnies start mating because your level of cleanliness is one that I can’t attain. I’m not going to ask you to please start spilling your beverage on your shirt because I can’t seem to keep my clothes coffee-free. And I won’t request that you please refrain from posting photos from your incredible trip to Europe because it makes me feel shitty that I’ve never been to Europe. If I feel shitty about it, that’s on me.
This is not to say that I’m not jealous or envious of other people, or that I don’t think snarky things about them from time to time (or, okay, a lot). “Well, look who had the time to go and see a movie in the theater, while the rest of us actually had to work and pay bills and run errands and spend time with our kids. Must be nice.” ‘Cause I do. But I don’t want you to stop seeing movies because I’m bummed that I don’t see more of them. That’s just weird.
Found these little grow-your-own clovers in the Target dollar bins and was like, score! So I put them downstairs in the playroom, making sure to leave dog-appealing items – like gum and lip balm – well out of reach…
So, to get back to the request made by Kristen (from a blog post that I recognize was written a year ago and totally not aimed at me in any way but that resonated strongly today when I read it)… No, I’m sorry. I will not bring it down a notch because you’re feeling overwhelmed. It sucks that you’re feeling that way, truly – I’ve been there oh-so-many, many, many times (in fact, that’s pretty much were I live) – but I’m not responsible for you feeling like you need to live up to (what you imagine are my) expectations, and then feeling bad when you can’t maintain those (imagined) expectations. That’s madness.
See, I like what I’m doing. I don’t want to return to store-bought Valentines and just wearing a green shirt for St. Patrick’s Day. (We do still kit-dye most of our eggs, though; the PAAS “extra bright” pack yields really rad eggs.) I enjoy thinking up Elf on the Shelf poses, and we attended our first actual “Pie Party” last Friday (where everyone, you know, brought a pie to share…) and it was not only fun, but delicious. And it meant I didn’t have to cook dinner. So I’m going to keep doing those things.
Yeah, it’s all cute and WTF, you wrote a million limericks! until you actually READ the limericks… like this one.
I don’t have any explanation other than that it was really, really late. And I suck at limericks?
I don’t really care so much about the 100 days of school, so when those things come home, we tend to throw something in a bag and call it a day. Although I’ll dye a bazillion eggs (using the store-bought kits) and we do host an egg hunt for our neighbors, Easter is a pretty easy affair in these here parts; last year, our “official” Easter dinner came from Five Guys (I am not making this up). We’ll probably wear red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July, but beyond that, our “patriotism” will likely be limited to the American pastimes of eating hamburgers and hotdogs and drinking beverages from red Solo cups.
In short: if it works for you, great. If not, don’t worry about it. Or, to bastardize Nike, just don’t do it, simple as that.
Neither is better than another, and there’s really no reason to feel that you’re not living up to expectations… because the expectations are imaginary to begin with.
My kids’ only knowledge of New Orleans comes from The Princess and the Frog, but by golly, we have beignets and gumbo on Mardi Gras each year. We will absolutely eat Mexican food on Cinco de Mayo… because it makes me happy. For me, life is too short not to celebrate as often as we can (especially if it involves chocolate). When it stops being fun, and when I stop getting joy from it, then it’s time to call it quits – but so far, so good.
I know it’s not always so easy, the just-let-it-go part. I am hardly immune from self-doubt or feelings of guilt or worries that I’m not measuring up, that I’m doing it wrong. In fact, the reason I’m absolutely certain that I do these things simply because they make me happy – and not because I’m, I don’t know, unfulfilled in other ways or trying to make up for a childhood slight or some other crap – is because I’ve been so concerned that maybe there was a nefarious motive at play, I’ve discussed it with my therapist.
Turns out, nope. No motive; just happy. Go, therapy!
I still struggle with feeling like I don’t measure up, but it’s been a huge weight off my shoulders to realize that the bar I’m rising to was set by me. I think we all do ourselves an enormous disservice if we outsource our happiness instead of taking charge of it ourselves, and if we don’t acknowledge that the source of our feelings of inadequacy and guilt is… us. There is no International Committee of Expectations reigning over us, telling us what standards we have to maintain. Yes, of course there are societal pressures, but in the end, the only ones who hold us to those pressures are ourselves. (Maybe I’ll try to pin that idea.)
So I’m going to keep on making green-themed lunches and setting out Lucky Charms on St. Paddy’s morning. On the last day of school, the girls will come home to some kind of celebration because that’s how I roll. That doesn’t mean I think I’m better than you, and you certainly don’t need to feel overwhelmed because of it. If you don’t want to turn holidays into madness-inducing fiestas, then don’t. No biggie. No one expects you to. Really. (I know, when your kids expect things because they see “everyone else” doing it, it can make for some crappy parenting moments. I’m not saying that’s fun. But still… the neighbors shouldn’t have to tone down their Arbor Day festivities because your kids feel left out.)
To those of you who make sure your kids are all decked out on crazy hair day, I salute you. To those of you who have crock pot meals ready to go for the rest of the month, that’s awesome. To those who’ve made it home just in time to read to your kids every night this week, good on you. If you’ve found a new pattern and are knitting socks in just two days, congratulations. If the only cookies you’ve ever made come from the Pillsbury tube, that sounds great to me – I love me some cookies. To you who’ve taken to hiding in the bathroom just to read an email because it’s the only peace and quiet you’ll get all day, I sympathize; go ahead and lock that door.
Whatever you’re doing – and not doing – is fine. It’s all good. And if you’re content and your family is content and everyone is still alive at the end of the day, I’d declare it a success. The lawn over at the Joneses may be green, but their water bill is crazy. Plus also, if you look closely, you’ll see that some of that grass is technically weeds, anyway.
So, let’s make a deal: I won’t expect you to make first-day-of school welcome-home brownies. As long as you don’t expect my floors to be clean (or my pants to be stain-free or my cupboards to be organized…), we’ll get along just fine.