In business, in writing, in the administration of life, the more I do something, the easier it gets. It may not be that the actual undertaking becomes less demanding, but I learn how to lessen or accommodate the emotional or logistical toll it carries. For example, in a past career, I had to give presentations all the time. I was clammy, choked, wiry with nerves the first few times, and though I never found myself wholly comfortable in front of a crowd, I learned to comport myself with borrowed confidence. The dais anxiety dullened, then waned, and then — much to my surprise — I began to actually enjoy engaging an audience. So, too, with my limited and harrowing experience with direct sales. I maintain deep respect for salespeople to this day. That is a tough grind. Mr. Magpie, who had once led an enormous team of salespeople at Groupon using cutting-edge sales tactics and incentive programs, offered terrific coaching on the matter, and still I found it one of the most challenging activities of my professional career. But I did get better at it, or at least at accommodating its assured balance of failure, and the nastiness of so many of its interactions: people hanging up on you, people yelling at you, people furious at the gumption of your interjection into their day. I cannot fault them. I cannot stand when sidewalk activists approach me. I know it is their job, and possibly their vocation, but wow do I cringe at the cold openers and the impossible position they put me in. Still, I was building a business whose sales machinery relied on navigating my way to HR decision makers, and we were not in a position to outsource that component of the operation, and so I put my big girl britches on and did it, learning how to move past the unpleasantries as quickly as possible, or at least to shield my tender heart from its more poisoning arrows.
So why is it, then —
That in parenting, I find no commensurate analgesic emerging in my tenure?
On Sunday, I selected my children’s Church clothing (as I do every Sunday) and carried it down to the family room, where they were watching morning cartoons. My daughter took one look at the Doen dress I’d selected for her (seen above) and recoiled behind a mound of pillows. What followed was a ten-minute stand-off followed by a ten-minute tantrum.
For context, this has been an emergent and intensifying battlefield for us. She wants to wear her soccer jersey, or her bike shorts and a tshirt, and I — am trying to meet her somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the Doen dress was a bit too frilly for her and I was pushing the envelope, but it was an over $100 dress and it still had its tags on. It needed to be worn! I want to respect her self expression, and/but I also want her to look presentable at Church.
This girl bears a will of steel she inherited directly from her father. She is smart, and observant, and has the kind of lawyerly mind that will seek and expose near-diaphanous cracks in argumentation.
Here was Jean D’Arc with her plate armor and pluck, and I was the bungling Pierre Cauchon stammering through my feeble opening remarks.
This anecdote may appear to you amusing (in the grand scheme, trivial), or off-putting (geez, lady, why didn’t you just let her wear another dress?), or relatable (been there, done that), or galvanizing (you just have to put your foot down as a parent!), or any number of other things. I am aware of this panoply because I lived through each of those reactions simultaneously as I sifted for clarity. Do I give in? Is this the field I want to die on?
No matter how many times I encounter turbulence like this as a mother, it never seems to get easier. Perhaps, I thought on Sunday, I am hamstringing myself because I am constantly re-evaluating the lines I’ve drawn, even if I end up outwardly upholding them for the long haul. In this case, it does matter to me that my children are dressed well for Church. This is no capricious or temporary outlook. We talk often about good manners, of showing ourselves and others respect in our thoughts and actions, and tidy, appropriate attire is a simple and demonstrable manifestation of that ethos. I want my children to know that we do not slouch — in any capacity, sartorial or otherwise — at Church. Still. My daughter is six and newly interested in her own self-expression through clothing. Do I take my foot off the pedal? Do I relent and accommodate the occasional play dress as long as her hair is tied and her nails are clean? Standing there on Sunday, I decided I would permit her participation in Church attire moving forward, but I had already insisted she wear the Doen dress before I discovered how furious that particular article of clothing made her, and by that point, the ship had sailed.
Inwardly, though, in this matter and others, I am routinely wondering whether I’m too strict, or too lax, or couldn’t I bend the rules this one time, or does this really matter? I have observed other mothers who seem to have a simpler time sticking to their guns, leaning on mnemonics that run crisp and consistent. Perhaps this observation is unfair to them; they may be internally navigating the same question marks I am. Or perhaps they are more adept at rule-setting than I am. All this to say —
I feel that my motherhood is reborn each morning, fresh-faced and tender-footed. I find myself almost distressingly jejune in some interactions, as though I am remade anew each hour. I am a cobweb swatted away and then reformed at daybreak, an insect in continuous metamorphosis, a fawn on eternally new legs.
Today I sit here and realize I will do something different next Sunday by including her in the day’s outfit selection, and that feels like progress. And yet I know that tomorrow or next Tuesday or some time the following week, I will again find myself tumbling down an avenue of ambivalence about my own parenting, reverting to a nymph-like state, and that maybe this is what we mean when we talk about motherhood as a process, not a place or a condition. That my own matrescence started the day my daughter came screaming into the world, and that I’m still very much in the early phases of my own development. That I’m still spinning my way into becoming the mother I want to be, or that my children need me to be. That I am the mother in The Runaway Bunny, evolving to meet my children wherever they go:
“If you become a rock on the mountain high above me,”
said his mother, “I will become a mountain climber,
and I will climb to where you are.”
Perhaps that book is as much about the constancy of a mother’s love as it is about the way mothers transform themselves as they pass through each new frame of matrescence. Perhaps I am Cerridwen, the Welsh goddess of transformation, who changes herself into a greyhound, and an otter, and a hawk, and a high-crested black hen, in pursuit of her son. One section of the epic poem “Hanes Taliesin” in which she appears begins: “And she went forth after him, running.”
My motherhood feels that way, too — not so much that I am in a breathless pursuit but that I am learning to run on new feet each morning, transforming myself to meet what the day asks of me.
+Motherhood is a surfeit.
+3 a.m. parties. (Not what you think they are.)
+Super chic knot leather sandals.
+Adore this midi skirt!
+Been looking for a roomy, zip-top tote for my daughter when she’s schlepping sports gear or changes of clothing around — I found this Stoney Clover-inspired tote (under $40 vs $168 for the real deal) which I can then customize with my own patches to her liking.
+These Kleenex flat packs are such a great innovation for women. They fit so much more easily in small bags/clutches/etc.
+These hand towels are so gorgeous for a powder bathroom.
+Adore this little dress in the sunshine yellow color.
+A bold but FABULOUS pant/shirt set.
+My dream outdoor lounge chair.
+I continue to lust after this best-selling sweater.
+Fun ric-rac trim dress.
+This Prada bag is fabulous.
+Adore this rainbow tote.
+Love these rope bins for small collections of toys in a play room.
+Scandi-chic $50 stepstool.