Motherhood, like all other ages, has its distinct social strata. Much like teen stereotypes (jock, popular, bully, freak, burn-out, geek, dork, etc.), there are the protypical mothers: tiger, helicopter, lawnmower, free-range; or if you are less about cryptic buzz words, there’s the best friend, the by-the-book, the martyr, the me-first, the emotional wreck, the control freak, the hands-off, and the scatterbrain.
Despite the fact that I’m one who has never done so well with cliques, I’ve managed to have my moments fitting into just about all of the above descriptions.
There is one, however, that is the white whale of ’em all, and as a lifelong Type-A, maxi-zoom dweebie, it’s also the one I secretly aspire to be: The Perfect Mom.
You know her: she’s the one that’s always in the know (although not a know-it-all; she’s far too political for that). From the second she birthed her child with nary a cuss word on her lips nor a broken sweat on her brow, she has the whole motherhood thing dialed in and down cold. From Mommy and Me through to the Ivy League, there is not a teacher, coach, or school administrator that doesn’t know and love her, which makes her privy to precious insider information.
She is the Wolf of Wunderkind Street.
The thing is that to be this unicorn of a parent, you have to gallop out the gates firing barbed rainbows from the get-go — regardless of if you’re a working mom or not. In that department, I found out pretty quickly I was more of an ass than anything else. About six months into motherhood, a friend mentioned a weekday baby music class that she thought was fantastic, and although I thought it was a little much to pay $125 for a handful of infant karaoke sessions, I figured it was probably time to get the kid socializing.
When I asked the nanny if she minded taking my son to the class she exclaimed, “Finally!”
She went on to say that all of her nanny friends had jam-packed schedules with enrichment activities for the baby, and I was the only mom she knew that didn’t have a specific itinerary and daily meal plan carefully written out for her child.
I had figured that nanny knew best; after all, she had cared for countless kids over nearly two decades as a childcare provider, and she had raised her own three children all the way to adulthood.
This was my “a ha” moment when I realized that the expectation is that mother knows best. So from then on, I did my best… to keep up.
Initially it wasn’t that difficult — back then there were frequent play dates to confer with the other moms about what they were up to and regularly scheduled naptimes to figure out our next strategic steps to score a spot in the most coveted tumbling class or at least get on the waitlist for the “right” preschool.
As time went on, keeping up with the other kinder became more complicated. In LA at least, there are certain tests you have to make sure your kid has taken by second grade so that s/he can be deemed on track to honors and gifted classes. By forth grade, you have to make sure they have the fundamentals down or else they are screwed in fifth grade, which is the gateway for middle school. By ninth grade if they aren’t on track for the exact college of their dreams in terms of curriculum, standardized testing, and grades, your hopes and dreams for their gigantic collegiate futures are essentially dashed.
Youth sports are pretty much the same idea. The heat is on, insanely enough, starting in wee ball. Opportunities like All-Stars and travel ball teams are critical; so open your wallet, dispense with your free time, and know when to shut your mouth if you want your kid to be a baller.
Of course I know these things thanks to some of the Perfect Moms I’m lucky enough to call my BBFs. Or maybe I’m that smart — as we all know, parenting is a very active verb. Darwin’s theory plays out on a daily basis on schoolyards nationwide.
Still, despite all the knowledge I work my ass off to attain, I have some blind spots. I’m not one to check my kids’ social feeds, texts, emails, and desk drawers. This is intentional — maybe stupid, even — but I clearly remember how much I treasured my privacy, particularly as a teenager. And growing up in the ’80s, our parents weren’t as nearly as all up in our business as us GenX parents are today. Less high-tech tools, and honestly, less interest in being our friends, as they were raised by the “children should be seen and not heard” generation.
So last week, when my son went off to a five-day conference with the YMCA’s Youth and Government program, initially I was cool with not knowing a ton of details. But then I started hearing things: five kids to a room, red-eye buses to the conference. I’d be lying to you if I said I went hands-off on that; I went hands on and sent an email to support making some changes. Room sizes were changed, buses held.
And then, they were off, and that was pretty much the last I voluntarily heard from my son.
Other parents, perfect and otherwise, were sent pictures and daily updates. I stood my ground and left my son alone until day four, and then I totally broke down and sent him a probing text. I figured including our favorite “pile o’ poo” emoticon would get him.
He took no bait, and stood his ground in the sanctity of his teen retreat.
Day five and the early morning pick-up arrived. He came out of the bus, looking dazed and confused. A wave of maternal panic washed over me, as seeing your child exhausted and worked is never a good feeling. He let me give him a light hug, and then he pushed me away so he could say goodbye to the other kids.
And then, it was just the two of us in the car. I looked over at him and say tears in his eyes.
“I don’t wanna leave,” he said.
I smiled, knowing exactly what he meant. As a kid, camp and weekend retreats were my saving grace, too.
So if you saw me driving away with a knowing look on my face, just know that perfection is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not rocket science to figure out the logistics of parenting. But it is an art to accept that your child’s most significant growth happens not because of you, but in spite of you.