I tell all of the parenting stories I shouldn’t. Stories where I swear and fail and damage my child in ways we all do but all ignore, and sure as hell don’t tell the other mothers. My verbal filter is notably porous.
During my first year teaching at a new school where I felt utterly out of my league, I told the “put your fucking boots on” story (cementing my position as the office over sharer).
It’s legend now. During that first year my son and I commuted an hour to our respective new schools. We are not morning people; it was challenging. We were running late, and I can still see my black skirt and broken old Danskos and feel the wet hair dripping down my back. For whatever reason, Colby was bouncing around the small, white kitchen like a pinball machine. “Colby!” I yelled, “Just put your FUCKING BOOTS ON!” I then had 45 minutes of driving during which I could cry and apologize.
When I told the PYFBO story, I learned immediately where and with whom I would fit in. From that day on, my colleagues have found me in my classroom or copy room or office bathroom, grabbed my arm and said “Heather! You’re gonna love this one . . .” And they proceed to tell their very own version of the Horrible Parent Story.
Ann Patchett says that every author has one story, and I’m afraid this one is mine.
I am sure it is annoying and probably the result of a personality disorder, but I can’t stand to walk around with an untold story. I feel an untold story bubble under the skin of my chest and wrench tight the muscles in my back. Also, I quite enjoy the opportunity to entertain my friends, to shock, to be a walking PSA shouting “We are all different!” and “Different is good!” Underneath all that, though, is the knowledge that these stories, the boots and the bongs and sending your kids to school sick, these are the stories that can cause us the most shame. My friend Sarah recently wrote about how we are freed from being the perfect wife but now must be the perfect mother, which is maybe more insidious than the first. Not only this, but we need to be perfect mothers with perfect kids.
Even though I know this, I still find myself wrestling with parenting decisions and sometimes making not the one that I feel is the best fit for my child and my family, but the one that best fits the governing perception of good kids and good parenting in my own community. These are unwritten rules and will change at any time.
My Horrible Parenting Stories are certainly not solely mine. The locus of impact is closer to me than my child in most instances, but these days I’m achingly aware of a new line. A boundary between the stories that are shared and do not affect my child’s peer group or reputation, and the stories where they do. I feel the same way about my nascent romantic relationship. Grateful, curious, protective. My filters have changed.
So I’m learning, as always. Which stories to tell and to whom.