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How Parenting Stole My Crunch

I used to be crunchy.

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 horrified by.

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.

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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 this.

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 in.

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 earth mama.

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.

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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.

Image via Twenty20/thebaileycarlin

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