Are you familiar with this poem?
No More Oatmeal Kisses
January 26, 1969
A young mother writes: “I know you’ve written before about the empty-nest syndrome, that lonely period after the children are grown and gone. Right now I’m up to my eyeballs in laundry and muddy boots. The baby is teething;the boys are fighting. My husband just called and said to eat without him, and I fell off my diet. Lay it on me again, will you?”
OK. One of these days, you’ll shout, “Why don’t you kids grow up and act your age!” And they will. Or, “You guys get outside and find yourselves something to do…and don’t slam the door!” And they won’t.
You’ll straighten up the boys’ bedroom neat and tidy: bumper stickers discarded, bedspread tucked and smooth, toys displayed on the shelves. Hangers in the closet. Animals caged. And you’ll say out loud, “Now I want it to stay this way.” And it will.
You’ll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn’t been picked to death and a cake with no finger traces in the icing, and you’ll say, “Now, there’s a meal for company.” And you’ll eat it alone.
You’ll say, “I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No demolition crews. Silence! Do you hear?” And you’ll have it.
No more plastic tablecloths stained with spaghetti. No more bedspreads to protect the sofa from damp bottoms. No more gates to stumble over at the top of the basement steps. No more clothespins under the sofa. No more playpens to arrange a room around.
No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent. No more sand on the sheets or Popeye movies in the bathroom. No more iron-on patches, rubber bands for ponytails, tight boots or wet knotted shoestrings.
Imagine. A lipstick with a point on it. No baby-sitter for New Year’s Eve. Washing only once a week. Seeing a steak that isn’t ground. Having your teeth cleaned without a baby on your lap.
No PTA meetings. No carpools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o’clock at night. Having your own roll of Scotch tape.
Think about it. No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and library paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. No knees to heal, no responsibility.
Only a voice crying, “Why don’t you grow up?” and the silence echoing, “I did.”
The first time I read it I remember feeling shocked. Then sad. Then guilty.
I was a new mom to our wonderful two year old son we had recently adopted. I was overwhelmed, just like every other new mom.
The poem was given to me and all the other new moms at a parenting class I attended. The class leader read the poem aloud as all the “mentor-moms” nodded their heads in agreement with somber faces.
I knew from our table discussions that all of us new moms were carrying the burden of confusion, frustration and helplessness about our meager parenting skills. While at the same time our hearts were swelling with ever-expanding love for our children. We were moms trying to do it all and be everything, not only for our children, but for our husbands, friends, in-laws, and sometimes even the Target checkout person.
To me, at that moment in time, this poem was an extra side of shame piled on top of the burdensome load I was already bearing.
I didn’t need a guilt-laden poem, followed by a nodding head and a “See you next week. Have a great day!” I didn’t need another person reminding me how quickly my children will grow up and to make sure I live everyday without a single regret.
I needed someone…
…to listen to me.
…to lend me a shoulder to cry on.
…to tell me they understood.
…to bring me a meal.
…to clean the pigsty, I called home.
…to tell me they had once felt the same way.
…to tell me I was normal.
And above all I needed someone who wouldn’t judge me.
At the time, I didn’t care that my children grew up quickly, I just wanted a little relief, or at least empathy. Not this poem.
I wrote this post as part of Jenn’s Something Clever 2.0 Theme Thursday: Something controversial. I don’t know if this topic is controversial, except maybe to people who adore this poem. But it’s always bothered me, particularly how it was presented, and so I chose today to write about it.