The other night I couldn’t sleep because I found myself designing Maternal Merit Badges.
I was thinking about how it’s So Not Helpful to tell other moms that things will get tougher (or, like one commenter reported, “What I’m doing is much harder than what you’re doing!”–nice). Meanwhile, kind words–especially from strangers, because if you’re not getting kind words from your friends, you need new friends–can make all the difference. Once, my older daughter staged a particularly heinous and loud tantrum in JoAnn’s Crafts, and I just had to power through it to get my errand done. An elderly woman approached me and congratulated me on how I was handling my children. I went from melting-into-the-store-linoleum shame to feeling like I had a spotlight shining on my moment of maternal excellence, complete with an angelic chorus singing praise to me. It was wonderful.
But people don’t want to intrude, or they feel awkward, or whatever. Even if you try to catch a mother’s eye to give her an “Atta girl!” look, you’ll fail, because her eyes are cast down, watching herself melt into the floor. I remember someone forwarding me a video about using a simple sign to thank veterans, and that same day I ran into some soldiers and asked them about it, and they’d never heard of it. Huh. Well, that’s ineffective.
Instead of sleeping, I was mentally designing patches. One could be the Nom, Nom patch, with a little motto around the border saying “From hungry to happy: Yay, You!” I could hand it to the mama who’s nursing at the restaurant or the mama who pulls out a bottle in the middle of a bunch of breastfeeders. Possibly a Cucumber patch, with “Way to Keep Your Composure!” for the mother in the check out line who is so successfully not shrieking in spite of her child’s appalling behavior. Cast Iron Stomach for excellence in the realms of Bodily Fluid Management and Inappropriate Food Removal. Maybe a Free Fashion patch with a motto like “Independence & Creativity Kick Matching’s Booty.”
Of course, then it occurred to me that knowing how we are (or possibly, maybe this is how I am?), you’d have to put some sort of disclaimer on the back of any patch. Something that said, “No, I’m not being sarcastic and snarky. I’m totally sincere. I don’t know you, but I’m deeply impressed by the rockin’ awesome job that you are doing as a parent at this moment. Seriously. I mean it.” Because otherwise I could imagine that a patch recipient might think it was a cruel joke.
I also considered that all of these patches or badges or whatever would have to be attached somewhere, which made me think of my daughter’s Girl Scout Sash.
And then I free-associated a bit, thinking that this is similar to the “Mother of the Year” sash that I sometimes joke about when I’m doing a crappy job as a mother (I even sing a sort of pageant-inspired tune). And I knew that I could tie up that symbolism, of individual little merit badges that attach to a big draping thing borne of shame at how we’re not doing well enough. Maybe the patches can cover it? Maybe the basis of any maternal pride is in knowing that we can’t control the fact that we have failed and will fail again? And I could easily spend another 4 hours on putting together metaphors which would remain labored and unappealing.
At which point I was turning over and telling myself to stop thinking about this already, because if I didn’t stop, I was going to have to get up and write something, and then I’d definitely be awake for another two hours.
So I went back to mentally designing these patches. Which will never exist, because I have neither the skills nor the budget to produce such items, and even if I did, who would actually want them? There are about 8 people out there who actually display my bumper sticker.
This sort of thing happens to me all the time. Like the Laundry Flowchart, which took me hours because I had to locate and learn how to use a flowchart program. Or sometimes it will be an essay or a post here. But it’s difficult for me to function until I’ve worked through whatever crazy idea it is, even if it’s not one of my best ideas. So I present to you Maternal Merit Badges in the hope that, now that I’ve done it, I can expunge it from whatever clunky, uncontrollable creative process forces an entire section of my brain to figure out how to make them. And I can reclaim that portion of my brain for more useful and productive tasks.