Standards and Stress and Sisyphus

by Ilinap on February 28, 2012

Sometimes I look at my shelf of cookbooks and snicker at the irony of one of my first books, The Joy of Cooking. To many cooking is more chore than joy. I love to cook but I still feel that way sometimes. I keep telling myself that if I lower my standards my life would be easier. Why do I make a healthy, home cooked meal every most nights? Why am I such a stickler for sitting at the table as family? Why do I harp on napkins in laps and table manners? My life would be easier if I just let some things go.

Yet I can’t.

I realize that the tone we set in our home is what our sons will carry. Perhaps when Mac Daddy and I are grandparents we will see some of our family traditions carried forward. Every night when I kiss Bird goodnight with butterfly kisses (eyelids fluttering against each other), Eskimo kisses (nose to nose), and real kisses (no explanation required), I wonder if he will put this little ritual in his pocket for his own child one day. When I blow Deal a kiss I tell him to catch it and put it on his cheek. We go through this exchange silently sometimes when I drop him off at a birthday party or camp. Will he tuck this away for his own children? 

I realize that every little thing we do as parents matters.

Those children follow our words and steps. They are more intuitive and perceptive than we realize. If I lower my standards, they will know. I don’t stress over things being perfect. What the hell is “perfect” anyway? I propose we punt that word from our motherhood vernacular. I have a messy house that has enough dog hair dust bunnies to weave sweaters for the Gstaad ski patrol. I’m not one of those effortless moms who makes it look easy. I am often flustered and hiding piles of mail in the cabinet where I stow pots and pans before people come over. This is true. I invite you to look next time you’re here. My closet is piled with discarded pairs of jeans, and my tax receipts are splayed on my desk with no organization. I don’t care so much that things are perfect; I care that things are as I want them to be.

This is where I should lower my standards.

But I realize that what I do matters. If not now, in the future. I already get glimpses of the men my boys will become. They have a keen interest in food because we cook and eat together. At eight and six they know how to make their beds and set the table. They know their table manners…whether they use them or not is a different issue. Word on the street is that they have stellar manners when they are at someone else’s house, and for that I am thankful. I see their curiosity come alive and their talents emerge. I take joy in that.

But those boys of mine also bicker and wrestle and get sassy and tattle and stomp and whine and roll their eyes and don’t listen and talk back and disagree and fight about homework and refuse to cooperate and flail and thrash and suck the living energy right out of my very soul.

It’s just so hard sometimes. Parenting isn’t easy. Those sweet photos of mom and baby are a ruse to lull new parents into thinking life really is warm and fuzzy like a Dreft ad. Honestly, I don’t like parenting all the time. There are days when I squeeze my eyes tightly and wish to be back in my one bedroom apartment on Excelsior Boulevard in Minneapolis. I crave my independence and a time when I answered to no one. I miss my old self before anyone called me Mommy. Yet in the same breath I wouldn’t trade my life. I don’t have words adequate enough to express what it is to be someone’s mommy. I love my family. I love my sons. I love that what I’m doing matters.

But I hate this life of Sisyphus that mirrors parenting. Sometimes I want to creep away. If I just lowered my standards maybe there wouldn’t be so many rough patches. I find this hard to swallow but am open to what you think. Have you lowered your standards to reduce your stress? Did it work?

When cooking isn’t a joy there’s always take out. When parenting isn’t a joy, there are no options. That’s when it’s time to call a sitter.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cara @ February 28, 2012 at 10:12 AM

You are such a fantastic MOM and writer! Our parenting job is one that is never ending and THAT is what exhausts us. My thoughts are if you aren’t completely over it some days then you aren’t doing it right! And for doing it right you TOTALLY need a few nights away with a sitter at home. You deserve it and so do your boys!


Cristie February 28, 2012 at 10:52 AM

Yes!! I have nothing else to say except I get this down to the last letter. We shall share a glass next time we see each other to toast our Gloriously brutal and beautiful lives as Sisyphus Moms.


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