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Today my 5- and 3-year-olds munched on Happy Meals and
ran around a McDonald’s play place. It was a scene the pre-kids me would’ve been
In my senior year of high school, my long, dark hair tickled
my South American-hewn wool sweaters. I often spent my after school hours swapping my Birkenstocks for hiking boots. I’d already been a
vegetarian for two years. I listened to John Lennon on my Walkman and hunched
over Thoreau’s words.
While attending a very crunchy college, I fantasized about
living in a yurt or a cabin. Several years later, when I began thinking about
starting a family, I imagined birthing little hippie earth muffins. They’d be
TV-free, instead entertaining themselves with pine cones and autumn leaves.
They’d also be sugar-free and no meat would touch their lips until they could
make the decision themselves. Even my carnivorous husband was on board with
Do you hear that sound? It’s the universe cackling.
After my son was born, and later my daughter, my ideals
floated away like a child’s helium balloon rising into the clouds. They soared
to the shimmery land of gentle-horned unicorns and cottony rainbows—all equally
real as my plans.
What happened to me? I pondered this as I watched my
burger-breathed children giggling and racing around the McDonald’s playground.
But with parenting, as well as the rest of life, I’m learning to make peace with the middle ground. My whole family is happier when I let go a little.
Parenthood happened. With all its love and cuddles, battles
and bewilderments, it stormed in, leaving my husband and I with truckloads of
responsibilities, all amidst shattered sleep. For the first few years, I was
overwhelmed, exhausted, floundering. I am only slightly less so now, six years
Something had to give. Actually, a lot had to
give—traveling, going to movies, nice dinners out. I grasped at my narrow
idealism, my desire to practice perfect attachment parenting, to feed my kids
only organic foods, to be crafty and crunchy, all the while "enjoying every minute."
Finally, I loosened my grip. I pushed away my bone-deep
perfectionism that was showing up in my internal battle to be the perfect
If I was hanging out at the far left, I needed to cozy in to
the middle a bit. This means accepting that my kids prefer pepperoni to tofu.
It means that I usually buy Valentine’s cards instead of making them. It means
that they watch more TV than is ideal and they play with plastic toys more
often than they play with acorns. It means that while I baby-wore and
breastfed, we also sleep trained. It means that instead of the full-time
stay-at-home mom role I’d planned on, I found myself yearning to nurture my
career as well as my family.
I still am crunchy on the inside. I practice yoga and
meditation and look forward to bringing my kids hiking this summer. Libraries
are one of my favorite places in the world, and my go-to muffin recipe includes
spinach, carrots and agave syrup. I often feel the pull toward a simpler life,
to unplug more, to live with less.
But with parenting, as well as the rest of life, I’m
learning to make peace with the middle ground. My whole family is happier when
I let go a little. It’s OK if the idea of homeschooling gives me the
shudders. It’s OK that my kids enjoy the occasional sugary treat. And it’s
OK that sometimes, on a bleak winter day, we find sweet
solace at the golden arches.