It's a short distance from upbeat to beaten down

April 3, 2011 

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about "that mom."

You’ve probably seen her: She’s the over-tired woman who is frazzled, flaky and ready to cry.

At the park, she’s seemingly lost any control of her children. They break all sorts of rules, climbing up slides, throwing rocks in the air, and pulling limbs off trees to make pretend weapons.

She can be found in shopping mall parking lots, frantically trying to catch a toddler who slipped out of her hand.

And at the grocery store, she’s the one with a kid who refuses to ride in a cart. When she won’t carry him, he lays on the floor and bawls, screaming “I can’t walk!” for so long that a blotchy, gross-looking rash appears on his bald head. People stare, and whisper, and try to intervene in what feels like the world’s longest mom-child standoff.

My latest theory is “that mom” isn’t necessarily a woman who needs an intervention from Dr. Phil. Instead, she’s a character who is reluctantly portrayed by millions of moms on any given day. I know I’ve certainly had a cameo role as “that mom” more times than I can count, and I’m sure there will be many more opportunities to play her in the future.

Sometimes, it’s because our kids turn into “those kids” because of sugar consumption, being overtired or having a bad day.

Sometimes, it’s because men turn into “those dads” who forget, don’t care or genuinely try hard but don’t know that you should always check your children’s preschool cubby and backpacks for important paperwork. (When I dropped my kid off at school without Valentines or treats for a class party that I didn’t know was scheduled, guess who I became? Yep. Being “that mom” when you have no control over the situation is the worst.)

And sometimes, I think it’s the world flipping over to bring balance because other women need a chance to be “one of those moms” instead of “that mom.”

Oh, man, I love the days when I get to be “one of those moms,” by volunteering in my kids’ school, making homemade play dough and art projects with my kids, sitting down at the table for dinner with a family and talking about life and having fun, instead of spending a half hour negotiating the number of bites children will have to eat of certain foods.

She’s television’s June Cleaver, Carol Brady and Marion Cunningham all rolled into one. She makes parenting look so easy, manageable and fulfilling.

She makes me want to create beautiful scrapbooks detailing everything from my baby’s first smile to his first day of kindergarten, beautiful layered birthday cakes from scratch, and over-the-top Halloween costumes. That doesn’t mean I’ve done any of those things yet, but “one of those moms” always gives me inspiration, hope and a strong dose of guilt to keep trying for all of those Good Housekeeping moments in life.

Oh sure, there are times I pretty much hate “one of those moms” because no matter how hard I try, I can’t ever seem to measure up to her success. She’s a lot like the prom queen: I admire her, but I’m also really jealous and fairly annoyed by her perfect life.

I returned to work full-time a few months ago, and I’ll admit, it’s a lot harder – if not downright impossible at times – to be “one of those moms” anymore.

And there are days when I feel like I need to get a restraining order against becoming “that mom.” She’s funny and well-meaning, but can’t seem to catch a break in a life. She’s TV’s Roseanne Connor, Peggy Bundy and Lucy Ricardo without the laugh track.

When I’m “that mom,” I’m tired. I feel like I yell at my kids way too much. And my life becomes punctuated with all sorts of unwanted drama like strep throat, school lockdowns and car doors that are frozen shut on the one day we could have made it to school on time that week.

Oh, and my “that mom” alter ego is super whiny. There are days when I just want to slap “that mom,” tell her to quit feeling sorry for herself and get with the program.

“That mom” tried to show up last week when I woke up and realized I hadn’t bought a pumpkin pie for my daughter’s fourth-grade potlatch celebration.

Yes, it was on my calendar. Yes, we had remembered the homemade beads for the event. But the pumpkin pie completely slipped my mind, probably because I don’t personally like pumpkin pie so my brain naturally ignored the information, much like my email knows how to filter out spam. Either way, it was 100 percent my fault.

But I was able to bake a frozen pumpkin pie that morning – without burning it or anything – and delivered it to the school on time.

Whew, I had managed to turn “that mom” into “one of those moms” within a few hours.

My daughter ran over and gave me a hug. I smiled at another “one of those moms” who walked into the school with another last-minute – I mean, freshly baked – potluck treat.

I savored the moment because I know how easily the world can flip.

Lisa Pemberton covers education for The Olympian. She’s also one busy mama with three children, ages 3, 6 and 10. Reach her at 360-754-5433 or lpemberton@theolympian.com.

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