Hold the Cinnamon Toast Please!

Here's this week's Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper - and my response:

On Saturday afternoon, Smartmom was in a quandary: the Oh So Feisty One had a temperature of 100.7, her head was pounding, and she said that it hurt to swallow.

There were other telltale signs that the OSFO was sick: Her eyes were glassy, she was uncharacteristically droopy, and she just wanted to sleeeeeeeeeeeep (yes, with that many e’s!).

Smartmom knew that OSFO was down for the count. But Smartmom had longstanding plans on Sunday to attend “Later the Same Evening,” an opera based on the paintings of Edward Hopper, composed by her friend John Musto at the University of Maryland more than four hours away.

That meant that she’d have to leave the house on Sunday at 9 am and wouldn’t be home before 11 pm.

Smartmom was stressing. She knew that OSFO would want her to stay home. She’d already made that perfectly clear: “You’d go to an opera rather than stay with me?”

But Hepcat was urging her to go. “We’ll be fine,” he said, and Smartmom knew it was true.

He’d be home all day Sunday. So would Teen Spirit. Even Beautiful Smile, their babysitter of 16 years, had called to say that she wanted to sit with OSFO, too.

Still, Smartmom was stressing. On first glance, it was a no-brainer. Of course a mother should stay home with her sick child. That’s part of the job description.

Smartmom has luminous childhood memories of being sick and lying on the low couch in the living room of her family’s Riverside Drive apartment watching “Father Knows Best,” “I Love Lucy,” and “Leave it to Beaver” (re-runs! Please, she’s not that old).

Her mother, Manhattan Granny, would bring Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and cinnamon toast on a tray, fluff her pillows, and pay extra special attention to Smartmom (because her twin, Diaper Diva, was at school).

When Teen Spirit and OSFO are sick, Smartmom tries to emulate her mom. She even has a special tray that she uses to serve Progresso Chicken Noodle Soup and cinnamon toast.

Now you can understand why Smartmom couldn’t make up her mind about the opera. Her friend had already bought the $200 round-trip train tickets and a day of gab and gossip on a train with her best high school gal friends would be a gas (despite the expense of the Amtrak fare. Smartmom admits that she blanched at the cost. Why is train travel so expensive in this country? Do they want us all to drive?)

The delightful train ride and opera was countered by a different image: OSFO lying in her bed with four fluffed pillows, a tray of chicken noodle soup, but no mommy.

So for a few moments, Smartmom was back to staying in Park Slope, keeping an eye on her sick little OSFO, who seemed to take an inordinate pleasure in ringing a blue bell to summon her mother and calling “Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Ring. Ring. Ring. That ringing was getting on Smartmom nerves. If that OSFO has the energy to ring that thing so vigorously, she doesn’t need Smartmom to stay home from the opera. And if her throat hurts so much, why is she SCREAMING?

Besides, Smartmom loves Musto’s music and is a huge fan of Edward Hopper.
Naomi Village: In the heart of the Poconos

Smartmom didn’t know what to do and decided to take a wait-and-see approach. When OSFO popped out of bed, on Sunday morning, Smartmom decided that she was well enough for Smartmom to go. Then she took her temperature, which was still hovering around 100.

“Just go,” Hepcat counseled and Smartmom did.

When Smartmom and her friends met up at Penn Station, they found out that there was a power outage on the lines between New York and New Jersey. Every arrival and departure was delayed by more than an hour and no one seemed to know when the lines would be fixed.

Smartmom knew the decision had been made for her. Even when her friends decided to get a car and drive down to Maryland, Smartmom knew she wouldn’t be going.

By 11:15 am, Smartmom was back in the apartment on Third Street. She ran into OSFO’s room, “I’m here,” she cried feeling very heroic and maternal.

OSFO couldn’t hear her. She was wearing headphones and watching something on YouTube. When she finally looked up she seemed mildly pleased that Smartmom had returned and then went back to her YouTube video.

No matter. Smartmom was home. Exactly where she wanted to be.

“Hey, you want some cinnamon toast?”

Peter Loffredo's response:
"Smartmom! You know I'm wagging my finger at you. You almost made it - not just to the opera, but more importantly, to that goal-line of egoless parenting. I, too, have golden memories of being home sick from school and having my mom happily serve me grilled cheese sandwiches and ginger ale, while I watched those same reruns of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave It To Beaver" (We must be about the same age!). In my adult years, however, I've often wondered if those pleasant memories of being sick and getting such special attention for it contriibuted to a strain of masochism in me that I had to later confront in therapy. Indeed, many people that I've worked with in therapy have had to struggle with their own predisposition to invite suffering into their lives in the hopes of receiving the pay-off of extra attention from a parental (transferential) substitute.
I do understand your conflict, though, Smartmom. It is clear that you are a loving and dedicated mother (which is even more important than being "Smart."). By far, the hardest thing for such a parent to do in our times of off-the-scale overcompensation is nothing when it comes to our kids' rearing and well-being. But in this case, you actually had an option - delegating. Your husband was there, presumably ready, willing and able. He said "Just go!" But your own identification with OSFO, and YOUR desire to be special made you jump at the opportunity to retreat from your adult desires and plans. Of course, we all dread the day when our kids will say to us, "Just go," but nonetheless, if they become able to say that (without having to be too forceful), we will have done our job."

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