Bethany Thies is a mother of four and a writer. She can change a diaper in 22 seconds and is the proud author of the chronic sarcasm and tomfoolery blog, Bad Parenting Moments, where this piece first appeared.
Originally published in The Commons issue #186 (Wednesday, January 16, 2013).
I have a lovely neighbor who raised her four children in a home with a similar footprint to mine.
I often think of her while in the throes of our day. I like to imagine her carrying children and laundry up and down her similar staircase.
I wonder what stories the walls and floorboards hold. I’d like to run my hands over the nicks in the doorways and scratches on the floor. Touch the physical memories of raising a brood long gone. I wonder if she yelled as much as I do, if she was a more patient mother; a better mother.
Before I told anyone I was pregnant with our last child, she had the neighborhood convinced that I was.
“I could just tell,” she said. “I remember that look. Having three tiny children and another on the way. You looked... well, you looked so tired.”
I could not argue. I was tired. Save-Our-Ship tired. Jack-hanging-off-the-edge-of-the-raft-watching-the-Titanic-sink tired. I-put-snacks-at-toddler-height-level-so-you-could-feed-yourself-while-I-vomit-into-the-5-gallon-bucket-next-to-the-couch tired.
* * *
I value my neighbor’s perspective. I value her stories. I value the ease, grace, and sureness of her words.
Plainly put, I’m in love with an era of parenting long gone.
She never fenced her yard. They didn’t see the point. There was a giant field, and children ran in it. Until, that is, the day she discovered she didn’t just have a runner. She had a runner away-er. A son who would, once her back was turned, head for the hills.
She did what any concerned parent would do. She found a solution. She took a belt and made a zip line on her laundry line. And, that was OK.
In fact, it was genius. He was safe. She could fold laundry. They were both outside, sun on their faces. Done and done.
I can only imagine the shock and horror if she did so today.
It would be as simple as her taking a photo of her smiling child happily attached to the makeshift line. She would place it on a Pinterest board under, say, “Creative solutions for runaways!”
And a society of parents who believe it is their job to not only raise their own children, but also to critique how you are raising yours would be hot to point out the possible emotional damage her “fence” could inflict.
I would be quick to jump to her defense, noting that it is far more damaging to be hit by a car or eaten by hill animals.
* * *
Old-Timey parenting is what I want. An authentic village instead of an implied one.
Confidence in your ability to make real-world decisions that benefit your family without considering the righteous indignation of others.
Finding creative solutions that work without the constant, dull roar of the parenting masses.
Showing up with a pitcher of martinis instead of a pitchfork, while dirty-faced, barefoot children run wild and mildly-to-barely supervised in yards.
When people weren’t quick on the draw, spouting tales of ruination and claiming that you’re spoiling their childhood by having expectations that your children make contributions to their home and family.
And this was OK.
* * *
Maybe there has always been an element of parenting while peering over our shoulders. Maybe — but was it ever so pronounced?
Because of our New Age world of community boards, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and new genres of parenting with labels splitting us into smaller and even-still-smaller segregated groups, we have begun wiping our feet on the doormats of our virtual parenting worlds, entering one another’s living rooms and, with little thought, pointing out the choices and parenting decisions we don’t care for.
Perhaps we should take a cue from the days of Old-Timey Parenting. The days when you would walk out on your back porch, see the children barefoot and muddy, wave to the mother next to the clothesline, and just meander back inside to your own world of individualized chaos. Showing support through friendly gestures and by keeping our opinions to ourselves.
And, that was OK.
One day, in this very home, I hope another young mother runs her hands over the cracks in our floor, the divots in our walls and thinks, A mother like me was here raising her brood. Failing, succeeding and all the gray in between.
I hope she finds the sureness of her own voice. Like my neighbor has found. Like I hope to one day find.
That, as sisters, we can all leave an imprint on surfaces explored by mothers yet to come.
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