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I Ain't No Supermodel

You see, when our kids are around, we are role models. Reluctant role models, even poor role models, but role models just the same. Under the omnipresent, hyper-vigilant gaze of our still-pliant children, we strive to be exemplary human beings: discreet, prudent, diplomatic, and other terrible, unnatural things. We don’t even realize we’re doing it; we’re simply in the habit of returning the grocery cart to its rightful spot carrying  a bunch of elderberry lozenges, ignoring the cell phone when it rings in the car, eschewing a second helping of dessert… Then suddenly we realize no one’s watching us — that we needn’t, for the moment, be paragons of personhood. The relief! It’s like squeezing into a skin-tight dress and sucking in your stomach throughout a loooooong soirée and then finally, rapturously, letting it all hang out when the party’s over. Only, at our house, the party’s just getting started. My husband and I begin leaving clothes on the floor and dishes on the table. We devour cupcakes for breakfast and gargle beer with lunch. We cuss — at the dogs, the poor telemarketer, and the nicely dressed religious solicitors at the door. We squander sunny days sprawling sloth-like on the sofa, denouncing exercise of any sort, and having conversations like this: “Remember pot?” “Yep.” “Where would we even get it anymore if we wanted it?” “I think your mom knows a guy… ” It’s funny. When our kids are babies, we welcome their curious stares and encourage their careful listening. Watching us put on jackets and hearing us order pizza is the way they learn how the world works. But as they age, the things they discern from observing us are much more personal, more nuanced — and considerably harder to master: how we approach our work, how we cope with frustration, how we talk about friends when they’re not listening. I always thought I could be a good parent if I just stayed focused on my kids; I didn’t realize how much of the family’s focus would reflect back on me. Imperfect, unpolished, prone-to-cupcakes-for-breakfast me. Having time to let our feckless flag fly is a blessing to my spouse and me. And by the time the kids return, we’re ready to resume role-model protocol and relinquish our sty-making, curse-spewing, flab-inducing ways. But we can’t help but wonder: Is that how Grandpa behaves the whole rest of the year?]]>

Published inColumnsParenting
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