There’s been a lot of talk lately about the death of Supermom. I haven’t seen her around, and things have been awfully loud in the neighborhood recently. I’ve seen her neighbours peeking through their windows, faces slightly obscured by the drapes, watching her children running up and down the sidewalk. Their suntanned faces are sticky with Popsicle juice and sandwich dust. Their shirts aren’t tucked in and their shoes look an awful lot like the pairs I took to Goodwill last week. I know what those neighbours are thinking, because I was thinking it too. “Where in the HELL is their mother?”
Even though you probably don’t live in my neighbourhood, you know Supermom. She was the one we all tried to emulate at one time or another in our mothering. She had a meaningful and enjoyable career that paid well, perfect children that somehow never required daycare, a spotless and organized home, and here’s the kicker: A CLEAN MINIVAN. The inside of my minivan looks like a small country after a violent revolution by fast food eating rebels.
After a few days of her absence, I was getting worried. Her kids looked like they hadn’t seen a hairbrush in days, nor had a bath that didn’t involve only a facecloth and a half full bottle of water found under the van seat (don’t judge me.) In other words, they looked a lot like my kids, and most of the other kids on the street. But the most incredible thing was that THEY LOOKED HAPPY.
Personally, I’m glad she’s gone. This whole “Supermom” thing is getting cliché, and I’m getting too old for this crap. Really, she should have seen the end coming. Everyone was talking about it, and if she had been smart, she would have been watching her back. Every time I saw Supermom outside, playing hopscotch or stooped in the sandbox with her kids, I wanted to take her perfectly pressed cape and…well, I’d best not incriminate myself. Here’s where I will make a confession: I don’t play with my kids. Calm down, protesters! I didn’t say I didn’t LOVE my kids; I just don’t think it is my job to entertain them. My kids still have to use seatbelts, lifejackets and helmets. Just not for simply playing in the backyard.
Phew. That was cathartic. Before you misunderstand me, let me clarify. I’ll help with a puzzle, participate in the occasional board game, or supply any necessary equipment for play, but once the action begins, I am outta there. I’ve got things to do, books to read, and margaritas to drink. To me, driving matchbox cars around the coffee table or changing Barbie clothes is the parental equivalent of water boarding.
I don’t need or want to attend my kids every social need. My kids have a friend who lately they have been avoiding play dates with. (There’s another thing. When did the simple act of playing become an event of such importance that we now call it a “date?”) I questioned them about their hesitancy. It turns out the reason they no longer want to play is because “Her mom always plays with us.” I was quickly struck with images of this grown woman fighting with the kids over Littlest Pet Shop characters and Webkinz codes. When we invited this child here to play instead, she almost didn’t know what to do with the freedom. It was at once both beautiful and horrifying to see the glee on this child’s face inspired by the simple act of drinking from the garden hose. It must have been a shock after becoming accustomed to fresh squeezed organic lemonade in a frosted mug.
My “benign neglect’ approach has been a good thing for my kids. Because of my hands off policy, my kids can tell you how to catch a runaway hamster, swing a hammer and cut their own meat. (I assure you, these three events are in NO WAY related.) They can also share, make their own lunch, resolve conflicts, and perform basic first aid (see hammer reference.) I’m the mom who will hand over a stapler without question and offer the bathroom for “making potions.” Have fun. Just clean up your mess.
The result? My kids are happy, healthy and sane, and just as importantly, SO AM I. I could never understand how Supermom got anything done when she seemed to spend all of her time supervising her children. I love having “Free Range Kids,” because it means that I get to be a “Free Range Mom.”
I know it is bad form to speak ill of the dead, but having Supermom gone has been so…so…LIBERATING. I am absolved of guilt for all that I don’t do – like attending each and every soccer game, motivational sign in hand, or spinning the organic unbleached alpaca wool for handmade matching Christmas sweaters. I am now more apt to give my time and energy to parenting related endeavors which I enjoy, and no longer feel trapped in some alterna-reality of obligatory extravagant birthday parties and $60 boutique haircuts.
My own childhood was far from perfect. But the one thing I loved about my childhood was the freedom from parental intrusion during play. No adult cared what we were playing, let alone became involved. And that was okay with us; anything otherwise would have been weird. We knew that we were only to bother our parents if we were bleeding or if something was on fire, and only if the situation fell under the category of “uncontrollably.” Fortunately for us, the adults in our world operated by the parenting principle of “they’ll come back when they’re hungry.” And we did. For corn syrup sandwiches and Kool-aid.
I read once in an Ottawa Citizen article by Carl Honore that children today miss out on the “glorious anarchy” that we enjoyed as kids. That is the most succinct and distilled description of my childhood I could ever hope to formulate, and something I hope my children’s father and I have enabled our kids to experience.
I’m not quite sure how Supermom met her fate. But you and I were together last Thursday at 4:00 at Book Club, right? RIGHT? Anyway, I should go. My kids are making sandwiches for Supermom’s funeral, and I need to show them where the clean knives are.
Tell me: Will YOU be attending her memorial?