In the last 3 years, I have tried many of the activities that moms and babies are "supposed" to do. "Music together." Mommy-and-me yoga. Gymboree. I have always left these sorts of things feeling pretty much like a tool, and, more often than not, severely bored--in general and of the person I am in such places. Plus, thus far, my kids just don't seem to be that into any of these activities (go ahead, get out the armchair and the psych book: "projection projection!") I think the problem is trying to shoehorn myself into a mom that I just may not be. Obviously my kids are still pretty malleable and if I forced "Music Together" on them over and over again, they would likely get into it. So, clearly, the problem is me. Problem Mommy.
Yesterday I thought about doing the "supposed to" activities. Going to the children's museum. Reading lots of silly books. Checking out the puppet show at a local bookstore. I have done all of these things before. And, yes, I have enjoyed them sometimes, as have my kids. But it was one of those days where the effort to be "that mom" seemed Herculean. So something altogether different transpired. As I was going through the bookshelf, looking for something to read to my 3 year old that wouldn't make me fall asleep, I found one of my absolute most treasured possessions: A frightening looking book called "Clowns Do Happen," given to me as a gift from a college friend. It is a "secret book"--completely hollowed out--that she made herself. When you open it, in my friend's Unabomber handwriting is scrawled: "Place Treasures Here."
I decided we HAD to make a secret book. Immediately. My kids were very amused by "Mom On A Mission." This was, in part, because I made us all wear tinfoil hats as I gathered the necessary materials, and who doesn't like tinfoil hats? This is what you need to try this at home:
-A hardcover book, at least 1 1/2 inches thick
-Some sort of container to mix glue and water (I used an old bowl)
-A way to silence your mother's voice in your head telling you that books are sacred (they are) and that you shouldn't deface them (you shouldn't--but sometimes rules need to be broken).
-These clear instructions
For three hours, my 3 year old sat mesmerized--truly mesmerized--as we cut paper, glued edges, and sang at the top of our lungs to Bob Dylan (Secret Book not contingent on musical selection--but there is something pretty amazing about hearing a child attempt to sing Subterranean Homesick Blues). This is a child who spent 2 months of Music Together, literally--literally--running in circles. My younger one rocked happily in his little chair scrunching the discarded paper in his hands and playing peek-a-boo with it. My toddler didn't ask for "Fireman Sam" or "Thomas the Train" once which I consider one of my proudest accomplishments thus far, not only as a mother but in life. The day became one of the memories of time with my kids I will file away and take out when I'm frustrated that they won't sleep, that they're constantly making messes, that they have so many needs. It was simple, and it was so me--plus children. And the silver lining is that I didn't have to make forced funny faces or otherwise act like a buffoon.
Our energy is contagious. As much as my love of eccentricity wants me to believe otherwise, I am pretty sure my 3 year old wasn't half as excited as he seemed by the prospect of making The Secret Book. I think he just liked seeing me jump up and down, get excited myself, not nag him to eat his "tree" (decoder ring: "tree"=broccoli). It's easy to forget this sometimes--to forget that the authenticity, the sense of ourselves that we have lived our lives building and striving for still serves us well in this new adventure of parenthood. It's almost impossible not to get bogged down with the "supposed to" and the "shoulds." But there is of course a happy medium, and in Happy Medium Land live Secret books currently filled with the candy that I don't let my kids eat. In Happy Medium Land lives Happy Medium Land Mom, snuggling with her kids and watching Colin Powell finally saying what somebody should have said so long ago, (making my kids watch tv, for once, even though they are too young to understand how amazing his words are), having the epiphany that, sometimes you gotta do the Xacto knife activity instead of the trip to Tiny Gym...you just do.