I typically try to make my posts light-hearted and comical, but this month I’m offering you a brief look into a side of my emotional spectrum I don’t often share…. pure frustration. Don’t worry, I’m not going to completely upend the sane structure of our happy-go-lucky blogging relationship; we’ve got a good thing going here. But we all get bothered, flustered, disillusioned, or disappointed from time to time (in varying degrees), and it would be dishonest of me to pretend I’m any different. Contrary to popular belief, being an actor doesn’t deplete you of your human qualities! (In most cases, anyway )It always makes me wary when someone tries to convince me he or she has led a life of unconditional cheer and contentment. I mean I’m a huge fan of maintaining a positive outlook during stormy weather, but never getting mad? That’s just a categorical impossibility! Sometimes it’s nice to hear folks admit they aren’t perpetually at peace, or that they don’t smile every second of the day… You know, since we are all mere mortals and, consequently, have our moments.
There are minor annoyances that pepper our every day lives: one of our kids dumps goldfish on the kitchen floor immediately after we’ve finished mopping (for the third time), the dog chews our favorite shoe to bits (wouldn’t it be great if you could retaliate by wearing his favorite bone in its place?), we accidentally douse our iPhone with hot coffee (a catch 22, since you need the coffee to function, but can’t always function while drinking it), or we forget to pack underwear on a family vacation (thank God bikini bottoms can double as panties in a pinch!). I’ve dealt with all of those scenarios first-hand, and my response ranged from a smirk to mild irritation. $#!? happens, right?
I wouldn’t say I’m terribly quick-tempered by nature. My phases of anger are generally a slow burn, often beginning with a small sigh and a bit of teeth gritting, (which I’m not terribly adept at hiding). Obviously, there are intensified levels of agitation that can potentially follow, but I try to appropriately reign everything in and keep it in check, whenever humanly possible… this is especially true when I’m in front of my daughter. That said, lately I’m finding there’s a deeper sense of frustration that stems from motherhood. It is my instinctual reaction to someone’s ignorance and/or blatant criticism of my parenting. Warranted or not, no mother likes to hear someone pass judgment on the thing she works hardest at. And these days, I would be hard-pressed to find something I work harder at than taking care of, teaching, and loving my child. Which is, in my opinion, as it should be. No one ever said parenting was supposed to be easy… And sometimes it isn’t!
Generally speaking, I’m all for letting off steam in small doses. If you can express yourself in a constructive way that doesn’t hurt anyone mentally, verbally, or physically, it can help to prevent more extreme outbursts. (And, perhaps, the sort of crazy antics that exile certain young Hollywood ingénues to the cover of tabloids. I won’t mention any names here, as I imagine you are perfectly capable of filling in the blanks all on your own.) We all have our little tricks to calming the savage beast within, and I’m sure many of us labor over that task weekly, whether at work or at home. It’s part of the reason I like to write, in fact. Sometimes paper makes a better punching bag than anything I could possibly find at a boxing gym. And it tends to be safer when you’re clumsy like me. So, with that in mind, here’s a letter I penned recently, following an incident that made my blood boil…
Dear Opinion-Offering Teenager at the Local-Bulk-Warehouse-I’ll-Refrain-From-Mentioning-By-Name,
I want to thank you for standing in judgment of my parenting skills today, since you clearly know so much about what it must be like to have a young child. When I made the decision to clean my daughter’s fallen pacifier with my own mouth before handing it back to her (you know, since I didn’t have an anti-bacterial wipe handy, and don’t carry around boiling water in my back pocket), it was because I knew the nipple hadn’t actually touched the floor. Truth be told, I’m also not much of a Germaphobe these days, since I spend an inordinate amount of time changing diapers and managing wayward baby boogers. I also happen to be privy to the abundant exchange of slobber-laden toys and/or equipment at most daycares and park jungle gyms. Despite your obvious disgust (or whether or not you agree with the practice), it should also be noted that recent studies even show it’s healthier for a child’s immune system when a parent licks a dirty pacifier before giving it back (check out this link to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, if you’re curious…). I know it sounds wacky, but saliva doesn’t always have to be our enemy! More importantly, part of parenting entails the willingness to make sacrifices for your child’s wellbeing, and everyone has their own level of comfort on that one. If you don’t believe me, ask your own mom about it; I imagine she has something eye-opening to say! Not to mention, and this may come as a horrible shock to you, but that shopping cart you’ve been pushing around is a veritable petri dish of bacteria. Consequently, on your next visit, you may want to refrain from picking your teeth after tasting the samples. I’m just saying. Nonetheless, thank you for reminding me that, since we are all such models of perfection, we should feel free to provide a running commentary about everyone else’s methods, lifestyle, capabilities, and decisions. For instance, I’m glad to see your own mother did such a sound job of teaching you to be non-judgmental and courteous with your evaluations. I know, I know, freedom of speech and all… but can’t we all be a little nicer with it?
I rest my case.
Actually, on second thought, I don’t.
Now, I know I probably sound a bit more acerbic than I need to be here, but that’s because I enjoy a little sarcasm from time to time. And, you know, because you royally pissed me off. But, believe it or not, I actually owe you some gratitude. I don’t say that to be sardonic; I honestly mean it. You’ve encouraged me to smile at fellow parents who look tired and frazzled in the Target checkout line, or who are clearly trying their best to quiet a screaming baby on an airplane flight. I am reminded why it’s important not to judge the father of the little boy who is wearing two different shoes to school, the pregnant woman sipping a cup of coffee that may or may not be decaffeinated, or the mom who forgot to bake brownies for the class fundraiser. Parenting is not an exact science. In fact, it isn’t a science at all. It’s one part determination, two parts chaos, a heaping ton of patience and zen, and an immeasurable amount of love. I don’t expect you to understand that notion at your young age, but someday you will. Someday, you’ll hear the disdainful tone of a stranger, as you wipe your son’s snotty nose with your shirtsleeve because nothing else is readily available. Or the callous stares you receive when your child yells out, “Daddy, don’t tell me to shut up!” in the middle of a peaceful church service. Someday you’ll realize we’re all just doing our best to help our kids grow up to be healthy, happy, smart, independent, considerate, kind, and loved. And we are all learning as we go, so we aren’t infallible. It seems you still have quite a bit of learning to go yourself, as do I, so I forgive you. I forgive the sanctimonious sneer, the self-righteous indignation, and the loud exclamation of condescension so everyone within earshot could hear it. I understand that your criticism was made out of a lack of experience… experience that, I imagine, karma shall eventually bestow upon you. When that happens, I hope you’ll brush the dust off of this letter, and know there’s someone out there praying for you during your learning curve, despite your prior transgressions. Because you’ve reminded me that we parents need prayers and praise—not payback, or pity, or criticism, or spite. One day I hope your spirit will be in a place of parental understanding and mutual respect. Until then, I hope you can find it in your heart to offer kind words in lieu of your rude and nasty ones. And if you can’t, I hope you choose to say nothing at all next time.
A fellow patron at the local-bulk-warehouse-I’ll-refrain-from-mentioning-by-name, who parents to the best of her abilities… whether you like them or not.
PS. Those dark Ray-ban sunglasses you were wearing indoors may have been a stellar fashion touch, but they may also have been skewing your perception of reality. Next time try the rose-colored ones. They present a much more forgiving view.
So… I admit I wrote the above letter immediately following said incident, while I was really upset. It sort of served as an exercise in catharsis-through-thought-purging, I suppose, and it worked like a charm! Instead of spitting fire, tripping the kid on his way out, or spouting profanities at him until I was blue in the face, I returned home, grabbed a pen, and quietly expressed my rage in a slightly less brawl-provoking manner. (And that kid is probably none-the-wiser, since I’ll never be giving him the letter!) In all honesty, I wasn’t going to publish the note/lecture, because I worried that too many of you wouldn’t see my side on it, and would jump down my throat. Again, no mommy likes to have her parenting “techniques” criticized. But then it dawned on me: if you did that, you’d be missing my point here, which is to refrain from judgment, right? So I decided to put it all out there, without holding back. You may disagree with my methods, and that’s fine; I accept that we may just have to agree to disagree on that matter. If that’s the case, I respect that we have differing stances, and I hope you do too. I hope you understand the spirit of the letter regardless. In a nutshell, it is about not sitting in judgment of one another. The point isn’t whether or not you feel I should have licked the pacifier and given it back to my daughter- I am sure the thought of that is normal to some of you, and gross to others. But I’m challenging all of us (myself included!) to keep our snide remarks to ourselves, to pause before considering or calling another parent “inadequate” or “imperfect,” and to resist the temptation to put down those who are out there doing their best… just as we are. I can promise I have tactics you oppose, and I imagine the reverse is true as well. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. But, as a fellow parent, I’ve got your back. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve got mine too.
Until next time… Peace, Love, and Dirty Diapers,
Jenna von Oy
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