Saturday, April 3, 2004

The Messy Side of Motherhood

The Messy Side of Motherhood
Avena North

Today I hit a new low point in my mothering career. My three year old son had this thing on his head. A thing kind of like a goose egg but scabbyish. More yellow than red and it turned mushy in water; not sore, not pussy but strange. After a week of looking at it amalgamate from a simple scabby thing to a indiscernible mix of hair, yellow goo, scab and dry skin, I decided to go to the doctor.

“Oh my, he’s had that for a while, hasn’t he?”

Bite my tongue.

“I’ve never seen it so bad.”

Subtle yet grounding deep breath. Look confident. Look attentive. Look like a good mother.

“So how often do you wash his hair?”

“Um, well, ah, gosh I guess every couple of days”

Laughter, the doctors, not mine.

Innocent laughter, this is a good joke. The MD isn’t evil or out to get me. I know that kind, he isn’t one. He practices in a good neighborhood; probably just hasn’t seen a crackpot mom in awhile.

“Miss ah...”

“North, Mrs.”

“Mrs. North, your son really needs to be bathed every day. You probably don’t roll around in the mud…“

He eyes me up and down, smile broadens, “...or maybe you do. But I will bet you that he does. He is just dirty and oily. The oil and dirt combine and build up to form a barrier. All you need is a good dandruff shampoo.”

“Oh my, wash his hair you say. Okay. Ah I, ah.”

“And brush it.”

“Yes, yes, and what was my co-pay. Thank you so much. Nice to meet you. Thank you. So, I can get this shampoo at Wal-Mart? I don’t need a prescription?”

“No, nothing special, just a good wash.”

How does a gal hold her head high? How can I walk with confidence? How can I ever again act bitchy toward some bottle pushing nit wit? I can’t even keep my children sufficiently clean enough to ward off oil/dirt mounds the size of an Oreo.

I’m not new at this mothering thing. I’ve been a dedicated mommy for over 9 years. I thought I had the basics down. I’ve managed to cloth diaper, breastfeed, ward off vaccinations, non organic milk and soda pop. This and more I wanted to explain to the doctor. While buying the dandruff shampoo at Wal-Mart, I wanted to detail to the clerk that we grow morning glory teepees and compost our household waste and prefer to buy goods from the thrift store, not meglo-corporo-monsters such as her employer.

By the time I got home there were already two concerned messages wondering about my son’s fate. “Did he need brain surgery? Really, antibiotics have their place. Did I need the name of a chiropractor?”

Good thing I’ve been on a drop your ego at the door trip for the last 10 years because I needed all the humility I could muster as I one by one explained to my wonderfully supportive circle of family and friends that my son was fine, (thank goodness, what a scare) but all he needs is for his mom to wash him regularly.

In general I thought I was over blaming my upbringing for my lack of parental skill. But I’ll be damned if the whole ride home my mind wasn’t circling over the neglect I suffered as an innocent child. I remembered my first trip to the dentist where my mouth was proclaimed a mess. Mrs. Robbins my first grade teacher popped in my mind, smiling down confiding that nice girls don’t wear eye shadow and mascara to first grade. I was born into this shit. I can’t help lack of hygiene. Come on I don’t have roaches. I buy toilet paper. I don’t make my kids hold it till they get to school. Someone tell me I’ve improved a bit from my starting place in life.

Being a big fan of self-deprecation, I often joke that I am the lowest common denominator, making all moms feel at ease. I live the maxim family first. You don’t have to wonder wether I am vacuuming or outside romping with little ones. It takes a special panache to gracefully hostess in a pig sty. I have that panache. I had it at least. My humor seems a little darker since my trip to the doctor. I’m wondering what other basic needs my kids are missing out on. I always thought they were skinny. Am I starving them? How about those couple of stiff drinks I slurp while breastfeeding?

Maybe it’s time for a change. As the winds bring Spring to my garden and wisp Winter over the hills and far away, perhaps I ought to shake out my mothering. I could just let it all go. I can see it. Old chunks of couch crevice surprise, overflowing diaper pails, cobwebs, half made finger puppets swirling in a cyclone higher and higher to the heavens, leaving me light, free, agile. My mind like a new house: crisp, white, symmetrical, non-aluminum wiring. What in the hell am I thinking? I hate white. Crisp is only good in pizza crust. If my boobs ain’t symmetrical, I don’t want anything symmetrical.

I think I can live with bathing every day or at least bathing my son. The other three kids have never had a problem with their dirt. Instead of spending my time daydreaming of ways to improve my mothering, I think I will devote my creative juices to storytelling. Not like “Once upon a time” or Grimms or even Starhawk, more like, “Oh that thing on his head? Ugh it was awful. Well we were on a family camping trip. I had just made the campfire from scant pine needles, wet twigs and birch bark when…” or “On the way to harp lessons…” or “He always said he was an alien. I didn’t believe him. What sane mother would? But last Saturday….” Why stop there. I might as well go into a life of dazzling embellishment. I’ve got liar in my blood too. Life is too mundane. Bring it on. I’ll explain the merits of bare butts in the front yard. Ever consider temper tantrums for parents? Is brainwashing a toddler to flip off pro-life protesters really a bad thing?

More likely is the assimilation of this experience. Much like the mound on my son’s head, my mothering is a haphazard and messy mix. Things adhere to the oil of my being. I have sticky oil not slick. Nothing rolls off my back. There is no Spring cleaning of my psyche. Tagged onto my lapel, I will proudly wear the badge of slovenly mommy. You can’t help but love the woman who has nothing on you. Tell me your stories of humiliation, rage, miscalculation. Sing a song of discontent, heartache, ignorant euphoria. I hear you girl. Tell it like it is; dirty, warm and sticky.

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