Divisible by Love

As my favorite tv show—The Big Bang Theory—comes to an end, it wrestled recently with a surprisingly feminist sub-plot: whether or not a woman should want to have children and what it means if she doesn’t. The series frequently pokes fun at parenting including the ambivalence surrounding having kids. Perhaps I have laughed a little too hard at some of these jokes, or maybe I appreciate that someone had raised a question that bothers me in my own struggles with motherhood*.

One of the comforting ideas promoted by The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) is that everyone thinks they will be a great parent before they have kids:

But until you have your own child, it’s just supposition and dreams wrapped in a pink and/or blue bow.

After you’ve spawned, that’s when the doubts creep in. And sometimes, watching families around you, it seems other people know a secret you don’t:

While my kid was gone this weekend, I had a near-epiphany.  The thought? I may not be the kind of mom I thought I would be, but maybe that’s because I omitted some key factors? Perhaps I have overlooked some pertinent aspect of Chaos Theory when I estimated my values?

Usually my parenting is rote reaction—a series of autonomic reflexes that keep my kid fed, clothed, and bathed (rinse, repeat daily.)  But, on occasion, the sheer boredom of the job inspires insanely bad impulses. Like, say, staying up to 3:00 a.m. to read a good book, hypothetically. Poor decision making rules the day that follows. Extreme caffeination makes one jittery and on-edge, and prone to blowing up at the darling child’s choice to paint his socks with green oil pastel crayons and walk all over the bedroom carpet leaving leprechaun tracks everywhere. Yelling and tears and self-flagellation follow. Most of the time, as a parent, it feels like I am winging it.**

While my child frolicked at camp, I had a chance to recharge. I could breathe. I got two whole nights of sleep! I realized it is much easier to judge my parenting when I don’t have my kid with me!  Or, to use a less sea-worthy analogy:

The time to measure the boat isn’t while it’s sinking.

It is really hard to assess your parenting skills while you are wallowing neck-deep in conundrums—like why carrots make terrible writing implements and what is that burning smell coming from the closet? My parenting hypothesis is this: one cannot reasonably evaluate what type of mom one is without the distance, space, and time to reflect on the parent-child dynamic. Even reviewing our decisions after the fact, we often magnify our mistakes and discount our successes as flukes—or simply neglect altogether to credit our input in the outcomes. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, “If only I had more energy, I could be the mom I want to be.” But that presupposes I know what kind of mom that is!

I remember a cartoon I read in a book entitled, Childhood is Hell by Matt Groening, which included a list of the 16 Types of Moms.  The book was destroyed during one of my son’s campaigns to erase literacy, so thank goodness for the internet:

Childhood is Hell The 16 types of Moms
I’m not entirely sure what kind of Mom I actually am. I’m just hoping it’s not all of them at once!

When I first read this cartoon (and could still laugh at it), motherhood wasn’t on the radar. At the time, reading all the negative options, I hoped like heck I would be a “Fun Mom” or “Wonder Mom” without the side effect of being “Martyr Mom.” But I was/am honest enough to admit, I might not manage to achieve such grandiose heights. What I didn’t realize then, is Matt Groening was a keen observer of the range of human capability and fallibility. He just erred in implying that we would stick to being just one kind of mom at a time.

The Mom Deduction

What makes a good mom? Being able to give birth has next to nothing to do with whether you’ll be a good parent.  I know plenty of people who have adopted or fostered children successfully. So, reproduction ability aside, what makes a good mom? Let’s evaluate the possible internal factors using an excretory sliding scale (from zero to ten):***

Imperturbability Level—Shit doesn’t bother you or, if it does, at what level of shit does it happen?

BS Perception Filter vs. Gullibility—Are you a human shit detector or do your kids walk all over you?

Teflon Spirit—Do thoughtless acts slide right off or does that shit stick?

Humor Quotient—Can you laugh at that shit?

It’s entirely possible the Humor Quotient would be measured in negative numbers to offset the pain-in-the-ass metrics of the first three characteristics. I’m still mulling it over—this is a work in progress.

Questions Arise

  • Would having a low Imperturbability Level but a high Humor Quotient even that shit out? For example, when your kid trails red Jello powder from the kitchen to the bathroom where he decided to make a cup of juice, you could laugh at the mess he’s made instead of tearing him a new one?
  • Do we need to factor in the Age/Ability of the Child to comprehend his actions?
  • Can one overcome Gullibility over time?
  • Is there a finite number of times your child can claim to be ‘sick’ and ask to ‘stay home’ before your BS Perception Filter starts to ping unless he’s actively vomiting or bleeding?
  • And what about the quality of your Teflon coating? Can it be abraded by repeated callous acts so that the stink never really leaves you?

Would having the exact balance of these qualities mean you are automatically a perfect parent or can anyone fail regardless of innate good traits?

This brings up an important factor in our formula—the Atomic Mom Scale. (AMS—Measures at what point you blow your top as a parent.)

We can define the AMS Scale as being from a null-state of zero to the critical shit mass required to trigger a Krakatoa-level event. Sadly for your child, this number is ever-changing and based on many variables combining how frequently he has committed infractions and how often he has pressed your big red “NO” parenting button in a given day.

Every mother has her own system, but here’s a theoretical sample to work from:

+1 Demerit—Repeated request for forbidden object. (Totaled consecutively with number of offenses per hour multiplied by the decibels of the child’s voice.)

+2 Demerits—Stealing of forbidden object—added value if something was broken to retrieve said item—like a door or a safe.

+5 Demerits—Stealing forbidden object from store or school.

+10 or higher Demerits—Breaking of valued household item—not including pets.

+15 Demerits—Anytime your child does something you’ve expressly forbidden upon pain of death and I mean it!

>+50 Demerits—Biting or deliberately hurting anyone is an automatic Krakatoan event. 

Please keep in mind that demerits are accumulative over a twenty-four hour period and must be measured against that day’s Imperturbability Level.

Add all the demerits up to determine Krakatoa Event Potential (KEP) and you get your Event Categories:

KEP Level 1 – (>10 Demerits) Mild rebuke, eye roll. Apologies required.

KEP Level 2 – (11-20 Demerits) Raised voice, punitive measure—time out or loss of promised treat.

KEP Level 3 – (21 – 49 Demerits) Moderate to severe restrictions, exaggerated threat to hang child by the ankles and beat like a piñata. Actual loss of privileges. (No popcorn!)

KEP Level 4 – (50-99 Demerits) Krakatoa Threshold reached—Drill Sergeant Mom arrives. Commence loud shouting. Maximum penalties incurred. No exceptions or exemptions. Immediate sanctions enacted. Do not pass go, do not get $200.  No more fun—EVER!

Several attempts to calculate how this formula would look failed to capture the exact essence. I suspect funding for further study is required. Please feel free to set up a Go-Fund Me account from which to draw inspiration and Moscato rations.

This was my best T.B.B.T. attempt:

The Mom Equation

 

The more I think about it, the harder it is to pin down how you could measure the parenthood paradigm. The Mom Equation would include an internal structure as well as an algorithm based on external catalysts such as: health, money-issues, defcon crisis status, entropy coeffients of nerve-abrading vectors, sleep patterns and the X-Factor. (The X-Factor being whatever curve ball life throws that you wouldn’t in a million years have anticipated—like head lice. It isn’t always autism based, but I’d say, my son’s inscrutable habits tend to be a highly represented denominator.) Translation: shit gets complicated.

If we measure our parenting against a rigid scale, I think, at best, our parenting is going to look like a boat taking on water. That is, unless, we include the missing Variable L.

Variable L is always present, no matter how high the Krakatoan Event Potential goes. It can mitigate almost any action by your child—eventually. No matter how tired, worn down, exasperated or frustrated you are, Variable L offers an out. As long as we are willing to use it to guide our actions, the ship will never sink.

Sometimes it is hard to remember to put Variable L into the formula. When the Mom Equation is being calculated, forces of chaos impede gentle, perceptive thought. All the factors are clamoring to be heard, threatening the parental unit with a cascade failure. It is when we are nearing critical overload that we need to recall our initial conditions: the moment when we first became a parent.

Variable L is often there before we ever hold our child. It is nascent and imperfectly envisioned. Sometimes it is so strong it is scary. It may feel like a vise on our hearts or the rope that will tie us down…will drown us. But, with time, Variable L becomes the anchor that holds the boat steady in a storm, that keeps us safe in the harbor, that ties each heartbeat to the moment our eyes locked on our child for the first time. The moment they first looked back. Even when it feels like the ship is sinking, the anchor holds.

So when the winds howl and the tempest blows, it helps to remember:

This Ship Isn’t Sinking

sinking-boat-92
Image borrowed from: http://earthporm.com/fantastic-forever-sinking-boat-julien-berthier/

This ship was built to weather the storms, as long as we hang on to our anchor–Variable L.

Every good, functional Mom Equation is formulated on the basis that Variable L outweighs the factors that would undermine the parent-child algorithm.

When you are at the end of your parenting tether, and the anchor line is frayed, just remember, every problem is divisible by Love.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*For the purposes of this blog post—the use of “Mom” is intended as inclusive of Dads as well. It’s just easier to spell than the gender-neutral parent as well as being my default setting. Though, as a single parent, sometimes I’m the dad too.

**I’m not sure you can call it parenting when it looks more like crisis management.

***Editor Query: would this be a color chart from beige to bitter chocolate—how brown would it get? (Lack of a brown dry erase marker kept me from creating a Excretory Sliding Scale using poop-emojis. 💩 💩 💩 Feel free to draw your own .)

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19 thoughts on “Divisible by Love

  1. As long as I can remember, I would rather have died than been anyone’s mom. Seriously. I was a stepmom and a mom-like-aunt, neither of those jobs were easy or in the least rewarding, though I did well (as attested by aforementioned kids now in their 40s). But there were the upward of 10k kids I taught… I don’t even know why kids like me, but they do. I theorize that they are like cats who gravitate to the people who are allergic to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I was young, I was convinced I would never have children. (I blame my brothers’ behavior as a source of that conviction.) It was only when I fell in love, got married and then had challenges getting pregnant that it became a mission. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I weren’t so bloody goal oriented…but that is another post about my ‘what-if-itis’ and would take way too much introspection to address here. But thank you for sharing. It’s helpful to know not-being-natural-parenting material is normal for other women.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s the biological bond that cements the neurological imperative to keep that thing alive even when it is screaming its head off at 3:00 am and you are dying for lack of sleep. Otherwise, we would have died out as a species. But sure, call it Love. It’s much easier to spell. (Insert winky face emoticon here.)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. When you wrote ‘frozen hinterlands’ I was thinking of how cold my butt gets in winter. Apparently my humor quotient is of the bottom-of-the-barrel variety today. Yesterday I actually tried on shorts in a store because it got warm enough to contemplate shaving my legs again. (Some people look for swallows coming back to Capistrano. I look for a Lady Bic and some pink shaving cream. Ahh Spring.) May there be bald, pale limbs frolicking in your neck of the woods soon as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have surgery on Tuesday so damn, gotta shave those gams. They need it majorly. As for you lady, may your hinterlands be thawed by sun warmed sands and may your hair regrowth be slowed to a snails pace for the rest of your days.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It appears as though I’ve missed my opportunity to wish you well during your procedure. I shall hope for good outcomes, kind nurses, and a quick recovery. And gentle toilet paper for your hinterlands.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I think the return of snowy weather is an indication that we should all huddle in warm clothes with a good book, preferably next to a roaring fire. In case you need a reason to take it easy besides recovery.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally warped my post with nautical metaphors so I could include the image of the ‘Sinking Ship’ which I found while trolling the internet. I was astounded that someone would not only come up with the idea of a working, but visually sinking, ship and then actually create it. It sounds more like the wild-hare idea you get after one too many at the tavern that you think better of in the light of day. I’m glad you found things ship shape to enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That was fantastic!
    I am depicted — worry mom, sick and tired mom, and fun mom all apply to me.
    The L factor is infinite in possibilities.
    You would not know, but I would, that parenting each child is different, and so while I have been me all along, the children view me all a bit differently, due to their own differences. I am more fun to some and too anxious for others and sick and tired most of Moo, lol! She just wears me out, which is funny cause I wear other people out. Lawd, child, just be still a moment! Haha!
    Congratulations on the sleeps and look what your brain can do! There was math and errrrything!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind thoughts and sympathy share. I’m trying not to judge my parenting too hard–because that’s worked so fantastically for me in the past. *Eyeroll* This week is Spring Break which means my child is currently upstairs committing whatever level of mayhem that can be accomplished while sounding like he’s being good. I tend to shift into cruise control (crisis management from the couch) mode when he’s home from school. It is the only way to survive a week with the kid.

      You know, it has been hard for me to tell whether you have more than one child and whether you are referring to a child or a spouse with a particular nickname (unless there is context.) If there is a chart to identify your family nicknames, is there a link somewhere on your info page I could review? I appreciate the liner notes of life to keep me from stumbling while I read. Though, usually, context keeps me on an even keel. Inquiring minds are too lazy to hunt down and create their own chart, dontcha know.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get that. I think the regular readers have it down — (I have been on this blog for 6 years) but for your reference; The Mister is my husband, Bubba or the boy one is my son, 26, Sissy is my daughter 24, Sassy, daughter 16, Moo, daughter 15. And…
        Dog, Sadie
        White cat, Clara
        Striped cat, Catticus
        Tuxedo cat, Cletus
        Car, Blanche

        Liked by 1 person

  3. 1. I impressed that you can keep track of the names for that many living beings, and
    2. Does your car rely heavily on the kindness of strangers?

    Is my age showing with that joke?

    Like

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