My mom recently revealed something about my childhood that totally rocked my parenting world.
We were talking on the phone one Sunday and I confessed sheepishly to her, "Oh my gosh, I was so tired today I let the kids watch like three hours of Sesame Street and I fell asleep on the couch."
"Oh, I remember when you and Laura watched Sesame Street!" she said, and I smiled, because I remembered it too. My sister and I cuddled together on our beanbag chair, the late-afternoon sun slanting through the window, my back resting against my mother's strong legs — such a warm, comforting memory of childhood.
"I couldn't wait for Sesame Street to come on every day," my mom continued. "You two were glued to the screen and I napped. It was great!"
Yeah, that was a precious mem— wait. Hold up. She was SLEEPING?!
I remember the blue shag carpeting in our family room, I remember the comforting presence of my mom, I remember old-school Cookie Monster before he learned about self-control. I don't remember her sleeping... although come to think of it, I don’t remember much parental interaction, so it does make sense.
Instead of feeling cheated, I felt comforted.
You see, there's an awful lot of pressure these days for me, and every parent, to be PRESENT. So very, very present, all the time.
We're supposed to limit screen time, and if we DO let them watch TV, the American Academy of Pediatrics helpfully advises parents we should be "actively watching" with kids, asking questions and discussing what they see. ("Why do YOU think Cookie Monster loves cookies so much?") If you're thinking, well, that negates the whole point of letting kids watch TV so you can get something done or get a rest for once; yes, you are correct.
As a working mom raised by a stay-at-home mother, I'm particularly susceptible to this pressure to be present. I'm constantly comparing myself to my own mother, and wondering if I'm coming up short. There are so many more rules of parenting these days! If I scan my work email while playing hide-and-seek, I fear that I'm failing. If I zone out while the boys watch TV, I worry I've missed out on something important.
(How could I miss a moment with these adorable faces?)
So I try very hard to be all-caps PRESENT, to really focus on my sons when I'm with them and not get distracted by things like work and Facebook and the biological need for sleep.
It's exhausting in more ways than one.
That's why my mom's offhand comment about sleeping through Grover and the gang shook me. I needed her — still do, apparently — but I didn't need her to be PRESENT in mind, body and spirit throughout my childhood. My mom, like so many of her generation, didn't believe in hovering. But she was present in the way that counted. She let me know that she was always there for me, that no matter how far I wandered I could always come home to her. I didn't need her to be "actively watching" TV with me, asking probing questions about Oscar's motivations. I just needed her to be there.
Lord knows after a long day of stay-at-home mom-ing, she needed a break. When she reads this (because of course she reads everything I write), I'm sure part of her will think — really? Everything I did for you girls, all the Barbies and playdough crafts and tea parties and those endless "talent shows" I watched enthusiastically, and you decide to write about the time I fell asleep?
Sorry, mom, but thanks — thanks for showing me that my most important job as a mom is simply to be there. We don't have to try so hard, or beat ourselves up. Now, whenever I feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be PRESENT, I remember those sunny days with you, and I remember that being their mom is present enough.
(My beautiful mom with me and my little sister. Thanks, Mom!)