October Lessons : Balancing Fun Mom vs Military Mom

Thank you all for such touching comments last week! Big things have been afloat in my head and in my life so being able to brain dump here, in a safe and supported space has been, not only helpful, but encouraging and calming.

Holidays, Family Events and Parties: events that if not kept in check can sky rocket my stress levels. I’ve learned that if I give myself too much time to plan and execute things for those events, my brain starts imploding and I turn foul.  As a survival mechanism, I’ve created a brain block that  ignores everything until it is absolutely imperative for those tasks to be executed. Some call it last minute, I call it proactive un-crazy making. I also tend to have a loose calendar pertaining to birthday parties, low aspirations for decor or cake fanciness. These things can be hard to fathom for those who know me as someone who is crafty, loves food and family life, but the kids like it just the way it is and I’ve decided to stick to my guns in the low-fuss approach to birthdays and holidays (Christmas not included).

I suspect that this stems from the fact that my parents, as French immigrants, really tended to ignore most North American traditions ( I think my mother was disgusted by the idea of baby showers). I’m pretty sure my father never had shoes that fit his feet, let alone a birthday cake of his choosing. My mother never received books as presents, the Bible (New Testament only )was allowed in her house, no ruby slippers for that girl.  So you can imagine that at our house, big lavish birthday parties, were not the norm.

There are only TWO exceptions that prove otherwise. Exhibit A: photos from my sister’s 7th birthday, as she’s blowing out candles sitting at a decorated table and surrounded by her friends.  Exhibit B (no photographic evidence, but a rose hued memory) my 8th birthday. My mother, possessed by a strange urge to use the hotel pool where we lived, invited every child in my class. She planned for Shirley Temples in Champagne flutes served by waiters passing around trays of chocolate covered strawberries. I vaguely remember chicken fingers served in a basket and chocolate eclairs for dessert. But then again, I could be mistaken. What I know to be true, however, is that later on in life, I re-acquainted myself with an attendee of that party who remembered that day as the best party he’d ever attended- as a child or adult.

That day, my mother was Fun Mom. On most of the other days of my life, she was a loving Military Mom who to this day, reveals her praise and tenderness once a year, never when you expect it.

I may have inherited my Military Mom’s gene. I don’t love too much fussing about any particular child.  And so with Halloween AND a birthday in the same week, Garbarino Acres has witnessed a strong resurgence of Military Mom.

I define Military Mom as the one who serves dinner at 5pm, barks orders and rarely breathes until the kids are in bed.  She’s kind-ish and present, but not very tender or emotive. There are times when the presence of Military Mom can mean the difference between getting to the swim lesson, or missing it all together, and times when Military Mom turns a simple evening into a disaster.

Military Mom’s Guiding Principle: It takes a commander to run a tight ship, and we need a tight ship so we don’t sink.

Pro: the kids are in bed early, the lunches are made, the house is tidy and things operate more or less in silence.

Con: everyone is kind miserable/afraid during the process

The counterpart to Military Mom is Fun Mom.

Fun mom is so cool. She doesn’t demand much, supper can sometimes be impromptu take out. She’s very slack with the house chores when on her own and she watches movies with the kids on a school night. She’s the mother I had for one day.

Fun Mom’s Guiding Principle: We’re not even on a ship, so really we don’t need a commander. We need to take the easy way out of each situation, life is hard enough. What laundry?

Pro: The kids love fun mom. Fun mom gets to have fun. They go out for dinner, go have ice cream. It essentially feels like a parenting vacation.

Con: Eventually, due to lack of structure, rules and boundaries, the family turns on itself and re-enacts Lord of The Flies by 9pm.  Without fail, fun mom’s game blows up in her face.

Without the presence of a parenting counterpart (all my props get sent out to the single parents who have to navigate this demanding dichotomy on their own), the decision making process of Which Mom To Be is entirely mine.  And without my counterpart around these days, I have nobody to say “hey, we need more fun mom and less mean military mom”.

And of course the answer is that both moms are necessary. They need to counterbalance each other. And so for this upcoming week of solo parenting I’ve actually SCHEDULED fun mom to make an appearance on Wednesday night. I’ve meal planned hot dogs, disregarding the WHO report,  and a trip to the library.  I’ve planned to get easy lunches for them. I also worked my ass off this weekend to make sure I was ready and I cleared a day from my schedule, to make sure I wasn’t over extending myself.

And to make sure that I keep military mom from becoming mean mom, I’ve made it a point to have at least 2 quality exchanges with each child per day. Two nurturing pennies in the bank.

You might totally balk at the idea of quantifying something that should be so easy and come so naturally, but my reality is not always ebullient joy and total mindful presence. At 7am.

And I believe that kids need to know that they are part of a family system, not the heart of it. That they are active members, have roles and responsibilities just like the adults.

I may prove my theory wrong when I post bail for one of them, but in the meantime, I’m working at forgiving Military Mom when she goes too far and encouraging Fun Mom to find that ease in a more structured way.

At the end of the day, a wise mom and doctor once told me: you either pay now or pay later, it’s your choice. A bit cynical, perhaps, but it’s a reminder to you are constantly exercising choices that have consequences. Military Mom and Fun Mom both need to know that.

Either way you slice it, it’s always work. All of it.

And then sometimes, you take a break and watch some Absolutely Fabulous and forget you’re a mom at all.  And when you return, having laughed and laughed and laughed until your face hurts, you remember that the days are long, but the years are short.

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