A short interlude: parenting

“You’re being a pain in the ask,” my daughter Jessica tells me, and for a horrified moment, I think I’m going to burst into laughter.  That’s not exactly how the phrase goes, of course, and there’s something endearing about my young daughter’s serious face as she says it.  She’s trying to resist putting away her sticker books, but even so I don’t think she realizes how rude the statement is, and it’s up to me to enlighten her.  The main problem with the lecture I’m about to embark upon is that she learned the phrase from me.  Along with  “Damn it all to hell,” and the “sh” word that rhymes with “fit.”
“Honey,” I tell Jessica, “that’s not a very polite thing to say.”
“Oh,” she says.  “Is it like ‘shut up’?”
“Exactly,” I say.  “Let’s find another way to say what you mean.”
“Okay,” she agrees and ponders for a moment.  Then she says, “Mom, you’re being a jackass.”
I clear my throat.  Why, yes, she also learned that one from me.  I use it as a term of endearment with a friend of mine.  I say it fondly, and she and I always get a chuckle out of it.  But then, we both share the same warped sense of humor.
I look at my feet, trying to figure out a reasonable way of teaching the lesson all parents must eventually teach: Do as I say, not as I do. I have bright purple toenails and a toe ring with blue beads and suddenly I realize that all that’s missing is the tattoo on the small of my back and the cigarette dangling from the corner of my mouth and I’ll be one of Those Mothers.
Maybe I already am.  I gave up housekeeping years ago and instead of teaching Jessica the fundamentals of cookery, I’ve shown her how to nuke frozen meals in the microwave when she’s hungry.  So I’m afraid I’m not going to win any mother of the year contests, since these appear to be based on serving healthful whole grains to one’s offspring, keeping sensitive ears free from foul language, and dousing the home environment in anti-bacterial soap on a daily basis.
I remind myself that there’s more than one way to be a good mother. And I like the mother I am, the person I am, even though I do have a foul mouth.  If Jessica grows up separating housekeeping from mothering, I’ve got no complaints.  If she grows up and remembers that mom loved her more than life itself, I’m pretty sure the fact that I only baked cookies every two years won’t affect her self esteem much. I’m searching for a similar rationalization for the potty mouth I can’t seem to curb.
“Well,” I finally say, giving up the do-as-I-say lesson because I figure I better save being a hypocrite for an occasion when I really need it.  “I’ll try to do better.”
I hustle her off to bed and tuck her in, a ritual I’m pretty sure she has no intention of outgrowing, and I say “Goodnight, punkin’,” the way I have for all the years of her life and she hugs me and kisses me on both cheeks, like a small European, and says, “I love you beautiful mama,” just the way she always has since she learned to talk, and I know that for all my sins, I must be doing something right.  Even if sometimes I am a pain in the ask.


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