Back when my daughter Olivia was a toddler, Disney re-released Cinderella on video and so I was treated to non-stop, continuous daily showings of the film. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the unending film loop, and was particularly annoyed by the “girl-saved-by-generic-prince” theme and the grating speech impediments of the talking mice. But lately, I have come to identify with the film and its heroine. In fact, I’m starting to think that I have quite a bit in common with Cinderella.
If you look closely at the tale of Cinderella, you can actually see any mama’s story. Much like mom, Cinderella is the overworked, under appreciated, much-maligned, yet ever happy and dutiful servant. Like a dim-witted Stepford Wife, Cinderella almost seems to take pleasure in performing all of the domestic chores in the household — no matter how menial, demeaning, or thankless the task. But then again, thanks to Martha Stewart, doesn’t our society assume that all mothers, like Cinderella, DO love making their homes sparkling and orderly?
Anyway, a recent morning in my household started like a scene right out of fairy-tale. I awoke in a fairly good mood. I won’t kid you, there weren’t mice and birds singing along — only a couple of crickets that escaped my husband’s nightly death hunt. I was lovingly awakened to the thunderous crash of recycling day, as the garbage man loudly tossed bottles and cans around at some ungodly hour of the morning. Still it was a new day, full of opportunities, and so I remained optimistic.
Two minutes later, my seven-year-old princess, Olivia, was in my room, all sniffles, yelling at me to get out of bed. “It’s too early,” I told her. “Come lay down and snuggle with me for a while.”
“Snuggling” lasted about a minute. Olivia was in a rip-roaring bad mood. She whined in my ears and continued to badger me to get out of bed, until she tired of the sport and went back to her room, slamming the door rather noisily behind her.
I eventually pulled myself out of bed, and attempted to start the day. Olivia had made her way downstairs by this point. I asked her if she were hungry. She growled in my general direction, “I don’t feel well, I can’t go to school.”
She clearly wasn’t lying. She was sniffling and her nose was running. But since Olivia suffers from seasonal allergies, she generally wakes up like that, and doesn’t feel better until she is given her daily dose of allergy medication. I continued my best, to be a mom, and give her gentle support. She continued to moan, groan, and basically take all of her anger out on me. I was mom, the whipping post. What a day it was going to be.
Princess Olivia couldn’t decide what to eat for breakfast, so I embarked on lunch preparation for the kids’ lunchboxes. But this was to be no simple task. I had to remember that four-year-old Jared would not tolerate any other drink except milk in a specific container with straw and that Olivia only eats “jelly” and absolutely no peanut butter on her sandwich. I was anxious about making a mistake, knowing how severe the consequences could be. Mostly, I feared, that such a mistake would, a) damage my children’s faith in the infallibility of their mother, (b) wind up as evidence during my inevitable future bad-mommy trial or (c) be fodder for my children’s adult therapy sessions.
I was midway through making lunch, when the dog began to whine to go outside, and Jared called out from upstairs, “MOM, I NEED YOU!!!”
“I’m coming, sweetie,” I said, of course in my most sincerest and sing-song Cinderella voice that I could muster. I simultaneously let the whining dog out the back door, and made my way upstairs to my slumbering prince.
As I entered the room, Jared already began complaining, “MOM WHY DID YOU GO DOWNSTAIRS WITHOUT ME?? WHY DO YOU ALWAYS LEAVE ME?? I WANTED TO GET UP TOO!!”
“I’m sorry, sweetie peetie. Olivia was awake early so mama had to get up too. But I’m here now.”
For the next ten minutes I had to hug, joke, and gently play with Jared to wake him up. This in itself would have been pleasant, except Olivia was periodically screaming from downstairs, “MOM WHERE ARE YOU?? I NEED MY MEDICINE NOW! WHERE. ARE. YOU?!”
“One minute,” I yelled out. I convinced Jared to get out of bed and start getting dressed. He agreed, but this too was not to be a simple task. At four years of age, Jared is an irrational prince who thrives on routines and rituals –oblivious to how torturous these are for time-crunched mom. Prince Jared demanded that I lay out three different shirts for him to choose from. After minutes of hemming and hawing, and saying “I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” he of coursed picked the very shirt I had originally suggested he wear.
Meanwhile, Olivia was starting to “fake cry” for me, and I could hear the poor dog whimpering from outside to come back in. I quickly helped Jared dress, told him to pick out socks, while I grabbed the basket of his dirty laundry and headed for the stairs. I was stopped mid-mommy-motion by a rather loud blood-curdling screech, by the prince. “Mom, you MUST put my socks on IN MY ROOM.”
I raced back into Jared’s room and knelt on the floor like a dutiful servant and placed the socks on the feet of His Holiness.
Within minutes I was back downstairs making breakfast, after having deposited the laundry basket in the laundry room. I asked Olivia to come have breakfast and she responded with something like, “What if I don’t want to?”
Good question, I thought to myself. What if I didn’t want to play poor pathetic Cindermama today? What if I wanted to keep some dignity for once and not beg my children to do what they needed to do? Why was I made out to be some pathetic patsy, pleading with them to get out bed, dress their body, eat their food, and do other things that were for their own good, and not mine?
I tried not to blow a cork and instead moved on with the morning’s routines. Things kind of settled down at breakfast. The kids must have known they were pushing it because they actually came at sat at the kitchen table and didn’t even attempt to eat in the living room while watching “Ed, Edd, and Eddy” (a most hideous cartoon for moms). But there were more complaints. I didn’t put the syrup on the pancakes right or point the plates in the northern most direction or some other such voodoo nonsense in which my children insist on. At times like these I wonder if all children are obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic, uncontrolled ids running around with one goal in mind — to destroy their parents sanity once and for all.
When I said it was time to go, Olivia bolted for the bathroom at the same time I was heading in to throw on some eye makeup. I had one foot in the door when she yelled in my face, “GET OUT, I NEED PRIVACY. I HAVE TO PEE!!” And then slammed the door on me.
Yes, it had come to this. I now need permission to use my very own bathroom. And when exactly did my cherubic firstborn princess morph into a pissed-off pre-teen demanding privacy?
Meanwhile, Elvis (the dog) was fidgeting nervously by the front door. He knew we were on our way out to school and he wasn’t about to be left behind. I can always count on Elvis to be ready to go. I only thank
God, that on this morning, Jared was also ready to go, with backpack on back and lunchbox in hands. Because I couldn’t have handled a typical Jared meltdown; a battle of epic proportions over which shoes to wear, or whatever other mommy-baiting torture my too little devilish tykes usually have in mind for me.
By 9:30 a.m. the kids were dropped off at school and I was settling back into the quiet of my home. The TV was gloriously off. The dog was relaxed and had gone back upstairs to nap. And I sat down at my home computer to write. I found myself thinking again about poor Cinderella and how she gave and gave to her nasty stepmom and stepsisters with their unending demands and their grossly oversized feet. I wondered about what motivated her to stay and take their abuse. I wondered why Cinderella asked for so little for herself. I wondered how she smiled or found the energy to sing and be thankful for her life when every moment she was serving others who didn’t appreciate her.
And I also wondered what kept Cinderella from escaping and running far, far away from her demanding, unappreciative, spoiled, narcissistic tyrants. Cinderella must have been motivated by some sense of love, familial responsibility, or almost classic maternal guilt. I surmised that she was either a selfless saint or a mindless masochist. She reminded me of a lot of mothers I know.
The only thing Cinderella ever seemed to want for herself was to go to the ball. But even that came with a stipulation; a rather big stipulation. Remember how the evil stepmother grinned when she told
Cinderella that she could go to the ball, “If and only if, all of your chores are done first.”
That’s how I feel most days — like Cindermama. I often feel as if I’ll only be allowed to “go to the ball” if all my mommy chores are done first. For me, “going to the ball” is as simple as having a night out with my husband, being able to write uninterrupted, or just finding time for myself to exercise, read a book, or take a nap. But, and there is always a BUT, before I do any of those things, I MUST attend to the incredible needs of my home and family. The laundry isn’t going to clean itself. The kids aren’t going to drive to gymnastics without me. Birthday presents aren’t going to buy and wrap themselves. The cabinets aren’t going to magically re-stock overnight with all the food and staples we consume in any given week.
Children generally need a lot of attention and guidance throughout the day. And husbands sometimes want a little love and attention too. There’s simply too much to do, and not enough time to do it. And usually by the end of the night, this mama, is too tired to attend the ball…even if she did somehow have the perfect dress, hand-crafted by rodents, to wear.
I can’t vouch for Cinderella, but the reason I do it — push myself too hard and burn the candle at both ends — is because I love my family tremendously, and I do get joy out of nurturing and caring for them. In general, I like being a mom. I just hate always being low man on the totem pole. I hate that it is seen as my “job” to take care of everything that no one else wants to do — the things that have to get done, and only do, if mom does them. I hate that a lot of what I do as a mom feels mundane, unchallenging, insignificant, menial, or superficial. And I hate feeling angry and unappreciated at home, and ignored and marginalized by society-at-large.
And it’s those things that wear me down. I can’t stand the constant nitpicking and the crazy tantrums about the way I do things and how my children want me to do them. I dislike the whining and irrational behavior and the “MOM, I NEED YOU NOW!” demands. There’s an almost constant reminder that I can’t satisfy all of their needs, all of the time, and certainly not at the pace they’d like. And there’s always a sense that I’m falling behind in my duties and that I’m failing in my primary role as a mother.
Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve fallen into some alternate universe, some evil Disney cartoon, where I spend my days trying to please immensely cute, but somewhat unpleasant, little people. In this evil fairy tale, Prince Charming cannot rescue me, a) because I’m a feminist and don’t philosophically believe in being saved by a man and b) because my own so-called prince of a husband came long ago and he rides off every morning before dawn to slay the proverbial dragon, leaving me alone to deal with the domestic issues of the tyrannical little people who inhabit my home. Unfortunately, there isn’t any Fairy Godmother to swoop in and wave her magic wand and turn my dog into something more useful, like a full-time chauffeur, nanny, or perhaps even a masseuse. And the twisted cosmic joke is that unlike Cinderella, I’ll probably NEVER get to the ball, because the unending chores, most likely the laundry, will probably kill me first.
The more I think about it, I don’t feel sorry for Cinderella at all. Like me, the girl didn’t get any respect. But at least she had an army of mice and a Fairy Godmother to help out.