Suburban Snapshots

It's Okay to Ignore
Your Children and Read This

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

When I was little, my parents got divorced. My mom and stepdad were no-sugar-in-your-Kool-Aid broke, and my 2 younger sisters and I were tyrants.

Our parents worked. They worked and worked and worked, and when they weren't working they were cleaning up after us, or making dinner, or feeding dogs, or trying to find 3 minutes of peace and quiet. I was babysitting my sisters after school by 4th grade — my mom tried hiring people to watch us but we'd either drive them off or they cost too much or both.

We never thought we had enough of Mom's attention. We'd badger her when she locked herself in the bathroom to make calls. She couldn't shower alone or nap, she couldn't leave the house without at least one of us hanging off the cuffs of her pants. When she'd go to work, my sisters and I would argue and call her repeatedly to settle it, "Stephanie wants the volume at 8 but I want it at 7 so I can watch TV and do my homework!" "Shannon's not cleaning her room." "When I said I was calling you to tell on Steph, Shannon said she wanted to call you first," and so on. On weekends she'd drag all 3 of us to the laundromat with no-frills black garbage bags full of dirty clothes and we'd entertain ourselves in front of the strip mall, nagging in turn for quarters to feed the soda machine.



My mom would get up with me at 6 a.m. and type my book reports, she'd drive us to Taco Bell at 2 in the morning if we woke her up and said "please". She'd treat us to the 2-2-2 special at Friendly's if we managed to behave for more than 5 minutes. And we still didn't think we had enough of her attention.

When I was in 8th grade and my parents were at work, I accidentally set my bed on fire. We shared our house with a tenant who was able to drag the flaming mattress out the front door and onto the lawn while I called my mother at work, hysterical, convinced I'd be sent to a home for juvenile delinquents. Instead, my stepfather (who has never been afraid of discipline) said, "I think you already learned your lesson," and my mom cried that maybe she should quit her job.

Back then there was no Internet, and so no one could publicly reprimand my mom for working while her eldest child, clearly neglected and derelict, was at home lighting her sisters on fire. There wasn't a platform for sanctimonious posts like this one to go viral, heaping on the guilt that parents already feel for not having their hearts and eyeballs fixed on their children every precious second of every fleeting day. There was no one to post a Youtube video of my sister and I toppling a metal grocery cart with our toddler sibling perched in front, spinning as she hit the sidewalk face-first, and no comments from anonymous users about how inattentive our mother must have been.

This post is for my mom and all the moms, because now I know how many sacrifices it took to raise us, and now I understand the unshakable guilt in parenting, and now I realize that I had all the attention I could ever need, and that moms deserve time when they're not tending to kids, and that no one has a right to say how moms spend that time — no one gets to decide what's worthy and what's wasted.

Moms, the kids are all right. It's the people trying to convince us otherwise who are in desperate need of attention.

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