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The Grand Illusion

July 15, 2009 - Betsy Bethel
You know how you have grand illusions before you have kids about what kind of mom you're going to be? My kid won't do that ... My kid will never play with those ... I will never do that to my kid ... And on and on.

Then, after your first child is a few months old, reality sets in and you start equivocating. Life happens.

For instance, I was bound and determined to breastfeed Emma exclusively for six months and continue as long as possible. And I did. When I went back to work, I was still dedicated to breastmilk only. When she was about 9 months, however, and eating solids, I decided pumping twice a day at work was too time-consuming. Because of my decision, she had one bottle of formula a day. It worked out fine. But if you had told me when I was pregnant that I would ever willingly feed my baby formula, well, let me just say, them woulda been fightin' words.

Fast forward to this summer. Emma is 3 and doesn't eat much meat. Chicken nuggets, fish sticks and breakfast sausage comprise the extent of her carnivorousness. So, we're at a festival a couple weeks ago. A friend buys Emma a corn dog. Two years ago I would have said, "Oh, no thank you, I vowed Emma would NEVER eat a hot dog if I could help it." But what was my response the other day? I was amazed and PLEASED that she ate almost the whole thing, breading, hot dog and all. Yea for protein!

Yes, my reaction briefly gave me pause.

Then, last week, Emma came home from daycare with her fingernails painted a dark, sparkly purple. She was proud but also knows my rule: No fingernail polish before age 4. She showed me her hands right away, almost as a confession. "OH!" I said. "Who did that?" She told me it was her favorite teacher, whose last day at the center was last week. I decided not to make a big deal about it. A few days later, while I was painting my own fingernails, I dabbed some on hers, too — a pale pink overtop the chipped-off purple. Why not?

Hmmm, there seems to be a pattern here.

Next, a few days ago, a neighborhood friend cleaned out her room and brought Emma a gaggle of dolls. Not just any kind of dolls. Barbie dolls. (Cue the doom-filled suspense-thriller music.)

There's a history of banning Barbie in my family. I played with them at my step-sister's house, but otherwise I had no Barbies, and neither did my older sister, because our mom believed the large-busted, tiny-waisted playthings to be potentially harmful to our self-esteem. I was less-then-thrilled to come home from work Monday to find my back porch strewn with the dreaded dolls (along with a trove of books, for which I'm very grateful!).

A year ago, I would have gathered up the dolls and politely returned them to their owner. Or donated them to charity. Or sacrificed them in the pot-bellied chiminea. Instead, I am letting Emma play with them. I even let her bring two with her to my office the other day — out in public!

There are more examples, but these are the ones that stand out. Do I think my entire parenting philosophy is unraveling before my very eyes. The thought occurred to me.

But, it's not as if I'm feeding her hot dogs every day, after all. She hasn't had one since that festival day. And the nail polish is not a big deal if nobody makes a big deal about it. And Barbies ... I have been watching secretly when Emma has been playing with them. The fact that they're skinny and have big boobs has not occurred to her. This morning, she had them singing songs and pretended one was a daughter asking a mommy for a Popsicle.

I think it's just that as I get older, I am realizing that life is lived for the most part in the gray areas. I hope this doesn't make me a pushover or a circumstantial ethicist. There are still solid, black-and-white, unequivocable morals and values that I will stand firm on — respectfulness, obedience and being kind to others, for instance.

I still have my illusions.


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