When I was growing up, I thought most parents were cooler than my own. The coolest parents of all were the considerably younger ones; a second-grade classmate's mom was 23 and wore cut-off shorts. It didn't get much cooler than that, in my seven-year-old opinion.
When I was in middle school, a friends' mom was not only young, stylish, and single, but she lived in San Francisco near Haight Street and had an Irish accent. Whenever we hung out with her, it was like she was our cosmopolitan older friend, and I finally, really felt like a teenager. I was so jealous. My mom didn't understand what was cool at all, had no accent (unless "Northern California boring" is an accent), wore a bathrobe to drive me to school, and constantly made me feel like the child that I still, really, was.
As I grew older, my jealousy turned from wishing I had a cool mom into wanting to be a cool mom. There were a lot of reasons to feel stressed out when I was a pregnant at 22 years old, but one thing I knew for sure: I'd be hip, I'd be cool. My daughter and I would be tight buds, her friends would all be jealous, and I would obviously never, ever, wear a bathrobe to drive her to school.
Yesterday, I wore a bathrobe to drive her to school.
Everything went according to my original plan for about five years. I was definitely one of her two favorite people in the world. Preschool started and I was one of the younger parents; so far, so good. I made sure to always be dressed in hip, Angeleno-casual outfits for drop-offs and pickups, no matter what. But soon, "no matter what" became "well, unless I'm sick, or exhausted, or kind of overwhelmed," which increasingly became the status quo. It went downhill from there: I wanted to impress my kid and her friends, but I just couldn't compete with the handsome photographer-dad who always remembered every single child's name and had time to volunteer in the classroom, or the parents who were friends with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have served many celebrities at restaurants, but my kid assures me that this is not the same thing. From preschool to elementary and now middle school, it hasn't gotten better. Turns out, I'm stricter than everyone else, too. (She has a bedtime, guys.)
To make a long story short: I am not a cool mom. Not even close.
I grew up knowing what I did and didn't want to pattern about my own mom's parenting. I knew that I wanted to mirror the love of books and art, appreciation of routine and structure, and milkshake recipes that I benefited from when I was younger. However, I planned to have a much closer and more open relationship about sex and feminism than my mom had with me. I promised to expose my children to all kinds of good music in the world, instead of only listening to Christian talk radio.
It had never really occurred to me that my child might have her own personality and her own ideas about what she wants and how she wants our relationship to be. She even has her own ideas about what is and isn't cool. She doesn't think my music is good, and she does not want to talk about feminism or sexuality, at least not with me.
Real World, Los Angeles
Plus, before I was a parent I hadn't realized how many decisions would be influenced by our specific life in our specific environment. My world is very different from that of my parents', who lived by the Bible, and were facing loads of stress with special-needs children. Those factors aren't true for me, but there are other things influencing my decisions. Neat trendy things, like cell phones and concert tickets, cost money. And it isn't just the money, it's love and concern, too.
A lot of little ones grow up really fast in this town; my daughter will have plenty of time to feel like a teenager soon enough. Bedtime is a necessity for both of us; she isn't a morning person, and I need a little time to myself in the evenings. Win, win. It turns out that our day-to-day well-being is more important to me than where I score on the cool meter.
Recognizing parts of my mother in me, and recognizing some of my younger self in my daughter, has relieved me of frustration over the reality that I can't always control how this all goes. Our life is not a movie or a magazine and I don't get to be the perfect mom. I don't even get to be the cool mom. I do get to be the loving mom who is doing her best.
When I realize how tired my mom must have been, and there is an eighth-grader inside of me who feels less annoyed about that bathrobe thing. In fact, there is an adult inside me who hugely respects how much my mom didn't care what other people thought of her or her parenting choices. And part of me is even ready to admit that she probably wasn't all that uncool or embarrassing after all; it was just my adolescent eyes seeing it that way.
As we enter the tween years, it's good for me to remind myself that it's age-appropriate for my daughter to be experimenting with autonomy. I appreciate the level of openness we have between us now, and I try not to push her for more. Her friends come over and they sequester themselves together in her bedroom with a "do not enter sign," and the door locked. I don't trying to join in to their gossip or offer my own dance moves to their sleepover choreography. I keep my distance and marvel at the free time I haven't had to myself in almost twelve years.
Until they need dinner and I serve them something incredibly healthy. (Just kidding, I order pizza.)
This essay was originally posted on A Practical Wedding.
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