I went to my neighbor's house yesterday for the mother's Kaffee Klatch. I was imagining the idyllic maternal Valhalla that I discovered a couple of weeks ago, complete with wine and melon and a desire to kick back and talk serious shop, but none of the mothers who I met last week were there. In their place were these uber-mothers of a personality type that I fear. Despite their flowy, blowsy fabrics in lavenders and earth-tones, and their sensible and expensive, if completely hideous, Dansko shoes imparting their lefty sensibilities and their open minds, they squeaked with the rigidity of the severely uptight when it comes to tot-rearing. I felt an ill-wind the second I stepped around the corner, serving up my delicious orzo salad which went untouched because it had parmesan in it--everyone was vegan except for the host and me--and I sat down glad for the distraction of fending off a ruthless attack-hippy-kid from my own baby so as to appear occupied.
In the meantime, conversation jerked and halted, and I basically kept to myself as people chatted about the merits of being with other womyn on the equinox and how much yak butter they put in their holistic health nuggets ("These are delicious cookies," I said dutifully. "There's only six ingredients in them, and they aren't even baked!" she said. "Good grief, that's because there's no FLAVOR IN THEM!" I thought. "It's roasted hay in flax syrup!") Conversation turned, as it always does in moments of awkward silences amongst new parents, to sleep.
"It's a hit-or-miss thing with all these teeth coming," I said.
There was a murmur of commiseration about teeth.* We talked about how quickly they pop in, blah blah blah, and then a mother asked me if I had been using the "homeopathic teething tablets" for the bun. I looked like the village idiot there for a second while I parsed what she was saying. "Tablets... for teething? And they're homeopathic. Huh." By the end of this cycle of thought, it was quite clear that I hadn't.
"What have you been using?" she asked.
(Even though there wasn't a pregnant pause here, I imagine one, because truthfully it was here that I felt the creeping rise of shame. I realized in that instant that I was embarrassed to admit how I cared for my son, and that I already felt the judgment of the Ur-Mothers: I didn't even have to speak to have my methods scrutinized.)
I blustered, "Oh, you know, chilled wash cloths, teething rings, the usual."
The blazing spotlight gaze of the Ur-Mother moved past me and onto the next woman. She spoke assuredly, confidently, and the Ur-Mother spotlight moved on, querying all on their preferred teething methods.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I surveyed the expressions of the other women there. Some mothers had tried them and they didn't work, some liked them, others thought they were too expensive. Finally, we had come full circle and we were doing a post-mortem on "homeopathic teething tablets."
The woman who had un-baked the flax-and-bran un-cookies blurted, "I tried them but they didn't do anything, and she was in pain, and I gave her Tylenol!"
It was defiant, it was uppity, it was brave.
I gasped a sigh of relief. She too had succumbed to the evils of Tylenol.
After I went home that night, I felt unsettled and distant. My husband came back for dinner and we talked for a while, but mostly I gazed into the middle distance. When he was leaving to go back to the salt mines, I apologized for my lackluster company, and then described the afternoon to him.
"I felt ashamed of how I take care of the bun," I said.
I found strength in the utterance. I continued. "I was embarrassed because he wears Pampers and not cloth diapers. He doesn't even wear the hippy disposables," I gasped. "And they asked how we were dealing with the teething and I didn't even want to admit that we've been giving him Tylenol," I said. My husband was waiting for the pay-off. Clearly there was one.
And then it began to dawn on me that I was insane. "And I felt ashamed that I was irresponsible, just some crappy parent who was going to have her kid taken away because she couldn't pull her shit together."
"But you're a great mom," he said.
"I'm okay." I thought about it.
"He was breast fed exclusively for six months," he said.
"I make him his baby food," I said.
"It's all organic," he said.
"I am totally a good mom!" I said.
"You are! You're a totally great mom!" he said.
The air around us expanded as the reproach of bad parenting was lifted.
"We never grow up," I said to my husband.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"We're always subject to the insecurities of our youth. We always think that someone else knows better than us, even when we're in our thirties."
"I'm always insecure," he said.
"Thank god." I said.
I began to realize that I would rather chew my own leg off than be raised in a family that was so uptight as to reject Tylenol to a suffering bun. It wasn't much, it wasn't a complete benediction of my grand parenting schemes which are haphazard at best, but it was a realization that even though I feel completely inept and immature when talking to other mothers, I'm pretty okay around these few hundred square feet of real estate, and that's good enough for me, right now.
It'd better be. It's all I've got.
*And about teeth. I was talking to my best friend the other night and she asked me what was going on. "Our conversations center around three topics: Poop, teeth or sleep. Sometimes all three. So unless you want to talk about poop, teeth or sleep, I've got nothing." Luckily for me, those aren't the only things she talks about, so we actually had a conversation.