So I’ve been having this thought for a while.
Mothers are, frankly speaking, pretty mean to other mothers. Social networks make it more apparent. It stems from that whole “women are so mean to other women” phenomenon, but this is where it hits hard and hits home: Motherhood.
Yesterday on Facebook (of course) a friend who recently adopted a baby asked for suggestions for fun things to engage a six-month-old. Someone suggested Baby Einstein videos, calling them “moving board books,” and told a cute anecdote about his granddaughter swinging on a baby chair watching them.
I added to his recommendation with my own. The Baby Einstein videos (and the board books and toys) were for me, as a mother, a lifesaver. I’m not shilling for them, nor would I ever claim they’d hold the same value for everyone. But they surely “worked” for Georgia and I.
The comment immediately following my endorsement had a horrified, “No videos!!!!” and went on to insist that instead the new mom should instead be engaging the baby by “talking to him,” turning lights on and off, turning water on and off and engaging the baby in the most banal of errands with full narrative description. All good. Yep, sure.
You’ve all had one of those moments on Facebook where someone disses you — maybe inadvertently, or maybe quite explicitly. Someone who knows you through perhaps two or three degrees of separation and has absolutely no idea about your life. You feel an odd and pressing need to justify the frivolous little comment you put out there in the spur of the moment.
I’ve had barbs tossed my way by seemingly caring fellow mothers so it’s not as if I can’t handle it – “You shouId be doing behavioural therapy,” “You really should have programmed her more,” “This must have happened because you immunized her” etc.
But yesterday, I read and reread this mother’s comment and then all the comments agreeing with her and talking about all the “wonderful” things that you should be doing with your baby, instead of letting them to watch a video.
“Wait! You all think I’m a bad mother because I let my kid watch videos?”
I would have loved to engage my baby in such simple pleasures as turning lights on and off or water on and off. What that mother didn’t realize was that, if I’d encouraged the turning off and on of lights, Georgia would literally still be standing at the light switch, right now, thirteen years later.
Turning lights on and off would be just the perseverating trigger she’d love to love. Water, well, sure, it’s a great toy! After a massive flood and a caved-in kitchen ceiling in my previous house (water can be fun!) I can barely think about water as play.
And as for maintaining a constant narrative with my baby, you can be sure I did that. I spent hours and days saying, “What makes you tick, Georgia? Do you like this? Is this going to help you show yourself to me?” My world was a constant conversation with my little baby, who was such a mystery to me.
When Georgia was a baby, she was a mellow kid. Nothing seemed to upset or rattle her. Toys went unloved, attention-getting noisemakers and mirrored toys were not engaging or interesting to her. She was mellow and – I realize now – unable to engage. It was before her diagnosis of autism and on one hand, everyone said “how easy” I had it, as my daughter appeared to be a happy, gurgling baby while their toddlers tantrumed and demanded and screamed.
Knowing what I know now, I realize that the world simply didn’t “speak” to Georgia, and the toys we had simply didn’t catch her attention. The things that most kids fought over, she barely noticed. Her level of engagement in the world was, and continues to be, something that truly sets her apart. And challenges me. What I would have given for a tantrum.
Imagine my pleasure when I put on a Baby Einstein video and my mellow baby pulled herself, with great effort, across the room. And gurgled away at the screen. And almost, I think, pointed! Eyes bright and gesturing, she woke up. She got excited. She (wait!) yes, she laughed. Her eyes moved, tracking the kangaroo puppet. She mouthed a word. She reacted.
And me? I cried my eyes out, astounded and thrilled.
I’ll be honest – those videos not only helped to show me what made her tick in some ways (she still loves and asks for music by Bach), they gave me tiny moments of reprieve. Yes, I’ll admit it. Reprieve. Relief. Sanity. I was a mom who was on my own almost all of the time and I was tired. I wrote a doctoral dissertation while Georgia was being born and was moving into the world. I still worked as a nurse, and a teaching assistant at the university.
I also was busy doing Georgia’s physiotherapy, occupational therapy and keeping up with her medical appointments. I had an unravelling marriage that I was barely keeping afloat and a husband who wasn’t there. Who had already checked out. Some days, shockingly, I also needed a hot shower. Those wonderful Baby Einstein video allotted me small slices of time, kept me clean and vaguely presentable to the world and on top of all that, played Bach and Beethoven for my baby.
So if you want to decide I’m a bad mother for letting my kid watch videos, well, that’s your decision. She’s turned out fine – she’s kind and funny and engaged. She loves classical music. She likes talking to people when she’s in the mood. She still loves videos — thank goodness, as most traditional toys and programming and books have not reached her in the way so many others take for granted.
Did I always want to be that mom who puts a video on for my kid? I never thought so. But that’s what raising Georgia taught me. Moms often don’t get to be the ideal mom they pictured, and I’ve thought about that a lot.
Moms do what they can do with what they have, they find their own ways to cherish, nurture and engage their kids. And sometimes, to others, the things they do look either different or strange or make other uncomfortable.
I don’t agree with plenty of other mothers on lots of things: what to feed kids, how to approach discipline, how to dress your little girl, whether to let your little boy play with guns (probably not). But I’ve learned not to push my beliefs and values so far onto other mothers to make them feel badly.
And I’ve learned that motherhood often thrusts the most unexpected, and unknown to others – and ultimately wonderful – surprises onto your lap. And when you are the mom, you need to do what needs to be done, day after day after day. It may just be that on one of those days, you feel the need to pop a video into the DVD player. You know what? That’s absolutely okay.