Recently, one of my favorite former students posted a link on Facebook about a mom who was breastfeeding while running in an Iron Man (Iron Woman?) competition. The image posted with the article has her literally running with a breast pump on her chest.
I’m all about “girl power” and strong women. Believe me, I am. I think women are amazing, wonderful human beings who should be worshipped and treated a hell of a lot better than they are, particularly because their bodies grow and nurture the entire human race and have for, like, ever.
But pumping breastmilk while running in a competition? I think that’s a little nuts.
Perhaps this post caught me on a weird day, because I’ve been thinking lately about the pressures we put on ourselves to be excellent workers, excellent parents, excellent human beings. We have to exercise, eat right, have neverending stamina, impress our bosses at work, and be emotionally attentive to our partners and friends. This pressure reminds me of Radiohead’s song “Fitter Happier”—a song that shows the only way to do everything we’re trying to do is to become like robots. And we’re not robots. We’re human.
Look, for instance, at the pressures we put on ourselves to be good parents:
Feed kids nutritional foods, including vegetables, even if they hate them. Extra points if they eat something like sushi.
Make homemade Halloween costumes.
Cohabitate with a miniature elf at Christmastime who likes to hide in random places while kids sleep.
Register kids for myriad sports, music lessons, and art activities that take up hours of time after school and on weekends.
Bathe them. Frequently.
Check homework nightly, or do it with them.
The list goes on.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a working parent who spends only a few short waking hours with your progeny—there’s still some kind of expectation to do all of this. Sober, no less.
In recent weeks with my kids, however, I’ve been breaking all the rules. On weekends, I wake up at 8, sometimes 8:30, and then I sit and drink my coffee with morning breath and frizzy hair. I convince my children to play a game with me like Bananagrams or Chess, and we stay in our pajamas until it’s absolutely necessary to go out. Even though it’s the weekend, I don’t cook food for the entire week, or iron clothes, or scrub bathroom floors. Instead, I sit on my ass and read a book or watch Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce (very smart show, by the way) in my bed. Then I take them to a restaurant for dinner, where we eat something fried and I have wine.
It’s the life, I tell you.
I say all of this because I’m rather hard on myself about whether this is all okay, and all the ways I should be better. By relaxing, by doing less, I feel like I’m doing something wrong, like I should be active every hour of the day. When I first moved out of my house and started working a new full time job, I woke up at 5:30 every morning to do yoga or walk briskly around my new neighborhood. I meditated every night. I even wrote a book. And I took a Buddhist meditation class. Two, in fact. I was pretty good at staying busy, keeping myself afloat, until I couldn’t do it anymore. Eventually, it all caught up with me and I experienced something akin to a breakdown. Now, I look back at that amazing woman and wonder how she was part of me, how she did all of that, and I keep feeling like I’m not measuring up because I don’t have it in me to do it all anymore. But perhaps I’m more realistic now. Perhaps pushing myself so hard meant I was bound for a break of some sort, and then it happened. Perhaps it is important to see myself as just like everybody else, with pants that are getting tighter and eyelids that begin to close as soon as I step foot in a movie theatre anytime after 3 o’clock.
I’m not perfect, and that’s okay. I’m capable of love, and I’m capable of being loved, nevertheless. I’m good enough, no matter how little I get done. My worth in life is not tied to how much I do; it’s connected to who I am. And I think this, more than anything else, would be the message I want to see in some of the headlines we find about moms.
Here are some ideas:
“Mom Sits on Couch All Day And Reads”
“Mom Takes Her Daughter to Brunch. They Eat Pancakes, And No One Cares about the Carbs”
“Mom Feeds Her Baby Formula, and He Grows Up to Be Totally Okay”
“Mom Decides Not to Do Laundry. Instead She Warms Chicken Nuggets And Fries And Sits on the Floor with Her Kids to Watch Bad Steve Carell Movie”
“Mom Pours Second Glass of Wine Even Though It’s Going to Make Her Fall Asleep on the Couch Before 9”
“Mom Takes Kids for Brisk Fall Walk as Pink Dusk Overcomes the Sky. It’s Beautiful.”
Image: “Heroes Run 2014” by Funk Dooby via Flickr