My daughter starts kindergarten at a large public school this week, and while she seems pretty confident about the transition, I recently found myself grappling with a lot of insecurities. I woke up in the middle night suddenly worried that I’d somehow missed an entire page of the school supplies list. I swam through a mental sewage of “what ifs” until the sun rose …
What if I got the wrong pencils?
What if she got lost in the unfamiliar hallways?
What if she was bullied, or worse, what if my strong-willed child became the bully herself?
How about head lice, bad cafeteria food … math?
I fretted about my daughter, but ultimately I know my kid and she’s tough. I was more worried about me.
I learned when she was in preschool that I wasn’t like a lot of the other moms, and the truth is, I’ve always been a bit eccentric. I’m a writer and an artist after all. I spend my days creating, often messily. I’m not the lady in the sweater set and pearls with the perfect mani-pedi who campaigns to be room mom with the ruthlessness of a presidential candidate. You’re more likely to find me on a skateboard, with paint all over my hands, on the floor of the indie bookstore with a stack of memoirs and a coconut chai, or rolling up to the pickup line in my duct taped car blasting some classic ’80s alternative. I’ve learned to embrace my quirks, but what if my daughter doesn’t?
What if I’m the “embarrassing mom”?
My own mom was totally embarrassing and my grandfather, who lived with us, was even worse. He drove me to school every day in a rusty pickup loaded with watermelons. He sold produce for a living way before farmer’s markets became hipster and chic. My mother had a pet monkey that she diapered and took everywhere. She wore flashy outfits, and talked to everyone wherever she went. No topic was off limits: bodily functions, sex, politically incorrect views on religion and current events. I died of mortification on a daily basis well into my teen years because of her and all I wanted was a “normal” unassuming family. Why couldn’t I have the mom who wore holiday-printed turtlenecks, baked cupcakes for my class parties, and didn’t attract attention wherever she went?
Am I going to make my daughter feel that way too? Will she be ashamed of me in my funky glasses and motorcycle boots? Will she beg me to drop her off around the corner because the state of our car makes her want the Earth to open and swallow her whole? Is my dear, sweet, beloved little girl going to wish that she has a different mommy, a normal mommy?
When I was a child, I used to swear that I’d never grow up to be like my mom. And I didn’t. But I did grow up to be like myself, and well, I’m not normal either, nor do I particularly want to be. As I got older I “got” my mom’s eccentricities a lot more, and I came to accept that my family was weird, often delightfully so. I learned that my mother’s insistence on her own authenticity was brave, sometimes admirable. She never compromised her own ideals, and she was never fake. She taught me to judge a person’s heart, not their appearance, not their achievements, and not how well they fit in and followed the pack.
“You have to do you,” she told me. So I listened. I’m telling my little girl the same thing as often as I can.
To this day, I’m still “doing me,” but I can’t help but wonder what do I owe my daughter and would she be better off if I tried harder to conform, or would it be healthier for me to be myself all the time around her and her classmates? Maybe by “keeping it real” I’d teach her that it’s okay to be herself too? I never want to send her the message that to be liked and accepted you have to blend in, even though that is sometimes an unfortunate truth. I would rather show her the value of originality even if it comes at the expense of popularity.
The key is balance, boundaries, and respect, though. I don’t have to buy myself a wardrobe of pastel capris, but I can certainly tone down some of my boho outfits at school functions. I am, however, keeping my weirdo glasses. Likewise, I can silence the car radio until we’re safely out of elementary school earshot. I’m not as brash and outspoken as my mom was, so I won’t be making any scenes. Guaranteed, my dry and goofy sense of humor is probably going to slip out now and then around my daughter’s new friends and their families, and I may do something awkward because that’s just me, but I think we can all survive. Bonus: I excel at cupcake baking, so that makes up for a lot.
Inevitably, at some point, we are all going to be the embarrassing parents. We can try to be perfect, but we’ll fail, because our kids will always find something to be mortified about. Being embarrassed by your parents is pretty much a milestone of growing up. It’s part of how kids find their unique identities and start becoming independent of us, which is a good, healthy thing and moms and dads shouldn’t take it too personally.
When I’m at my daughter’s new school, I’ll be mindful of appropriate behavior, but I won’t turn myself into a Stepford mom just so my daughter won’t potentially be ashamed of me. Who knows if that would even work anyway? Hopefully, I’ll set a good example and be able to raise a girl who’s confident being unique. And I promise I won’t show up anywhere with a monkey or try to sell watermelons to the other parents in the car line. (Because that IS embarrassing!)More On