There is some fabulous thinking about motherhood mantras going on over at Mihee’s place. Take a look. I am not in that particular series, but thought it was a good prompt.
If you were to ask Selam what my motherhood mantra was she’d probably say, “have a good day,” or “I love you more than ice cream.” Those are two phrases that I’ve been known to say at least twenty-eleven times a day. They are also the two answers she’s given for that pre-school “what does your mom always say?” Mother’s Day activity. If she were irked at me, she’d be sure to mention that I also say, “where does that go?” and “turn off the TV” too. I say those two things a lot as well.
There are others, of course, too. I repeat phrases over and over again
“brush your teeth, put on jammies,”
“what do you say?”
“You are a rock star.”
“I love you.”
“In the laundry basket, not on the floor…”
“not before breakfast.”
“We’re the luckiest ones, aren’t we?”
I guess that’s part of the whole parenting gig. You say things often enough,and you just hope that at some point these ten thousand small reminders become internal dialogue, that at some point, she’ll just look at the dirty socks and tell herself “in the basket” or that at some horrible day in the future when someone dares to tell her otherwise, she’ll hear an internal “you’re a rock star,” and walk away.
She’s in that coltish phase. Her spindly legs and arms seem to be out of her control. She falls. She spills things. At the same time, she very much wants to carry her own stuff—the more likely to spill the better.
“Two hands, Selam, two hands.”
I say that a couple times a day, and then watch her slowly carry the bowl with cereal and milk, the half dried art project, the music box she received for her baptism. Her face is a picture of concentration.
When I don’t remind her, she’ll have the cereal in one hand, while using the other hand to pretend to talk on the cell phone (It’s Ariel–that princess never stops calling her). The cereal will spray to the floor, with the cat in hot pursuit.
Two hands, Selam, two hands.
The thing is this, it’s not so much the spilled cereal or the precariously held music box. It’s everything. One of the many blessings of late in the game parenting is that I’ve already done nearly everything else that I really wanted to do. I’ve had the complicated job with crazy hours. I’ve done the traveling, the bad choices, the good ones. I did that stuff first and now, being a mom is what I do. People are always trying to come up with these complex childcare arrangements that would allow me to sing in the church choir or attend a Saturday presbytery meeting or an evening student gathering, and I just say no. Being a mom is what I’m doing now. It’s what I WANT to be doing now. I want to be a two-hands parent right now. I have no regrets.
But I don’t always live up to it. Evenings after dinner are often spent with PBS kids dominating the living room and me curled up on the sofa with a book or the computer while she watches. I’m not opposed to a little TV every day, especially in those waning after-dinner hours. But lately, I’ve noticed that Selam is doing the same thing—the TV is on, but her crayons and paper are out or a set of miniature dolls are on the coffee table, acting out a totally different game.
“Let’s turn off the TV if you’re going to draw, Selam.”
“No, I want both.”
So what I have to do what it is I actually want most to do: close the book or shut down the laptop, switch off the TV and say this,
“let’s color with two hands, Selam.”