“You’re being a pain in the ask,” 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 extremely amusing about my daughter’s serious face as she says it. She’s resisting bedtime, a thing she doesn’t do very often, but when she does, she really means it.
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. I swear like a drunken sailor, even on a good day, and thirteen years of mothering hasn’t cleaned up my mouth yet.
“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. No, this is not one of those situations where you can ask, in righteous indignation, “Where did you learn that!?” I know exactly where she learned that.
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, along with religion and regular exercise. I have never appeared at a PTA meeting, and I think a slice of berry pie makes an excellent breakfast. 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 never helped out at the bake sale won’t affect her self esteem too much.
“Well,” I say, giving up on the lesson because I figure I ought to 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, sweet girl,” the way I have for all the years of her life and she hugs me and kisses me on both cheeks, like a 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.