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Drool State

By Heather Janssen

"Drool state" is the phrase my college roommate coined for that delicious half-awake, half-sleep window just as you drift off into dreamland. It's the state you're in when someone barges into the room and your head jerks up like a freaky puppet on speed while you make a weird hissing, sucking sound, trying desperately to suck up the drool that's been suspended between the corner of your mouth and the couch cushion, while pretending that you were only "meditating."

I was in such a state this afternoon while playing "Little People" with my kindergartner and three year old. My kindergartner asked me to play after lunch, and, in an inducement of mother guilt over having sent her off to school for the fourth day (huh?!) I agreed. We began the ritual of "playing" that actually involves very little playing and a great deal of setting up for the actual act of playing. This brings me to a question asked by mothers everywhere, surely: Does the "set up" time before the "play" time count as quality time? Or does the clock reset once play time starts? How much time is actually required to count as sufficient toddler/kindergartner play time? How do I know the right answer? O.k., well that was more than one question. But they're all so interrelated. It also occurs to me that maybe no other mothers ask these sorts of questions, in which case I'm as neurotic as I've known all along.

Anyhow, there I was, helping to build the fence around the Little People ferris wheel, and before we could even play ferris wheel, we had to build a McDonald's. Due to unknown reasons, we have three Asian girl little peoples of various manifestations: one is a school girl holding an apple, one is a McDonald's worker (is there a conspiracy afoot?), and one is in a headscarf. Maybe she's a stay-at-home mother. Like me. The McDonald's consisted of blocks set up to resemble two separate drive throughs, up to which other Little People would walk and order burgers and fries. When it's my turn, I always order a chocolate milkshake. Yes, my kids eat at McDonald's, and no, I don't often feel terribly guilty about it. They live for the play area, cheesy as it is, and the dorky toys. The Polly Pocket craze kept my schoolagers happy for several days. I go for the dollar hot fudge sundaes and a little sanity.

So there I sat, building a McDonalds, and nearing drool state. I wondered if the school girl Asian little person was nearing drool state when my three-year-old shot her out of the farm bed. For the Little People impaired, the Farm is equipped with a bed in the hayloft attached to a mechanism that catapults whoever is in the bed out the top window and sends them flying into the ground. I suppose the rationale is that Farmer Joe has to jump out of bed quite early to take care of the animals. But when I think about it, it's rather bizarre, if not downright morbid. There's one other thing about the Little People setup. I used to feel vaguely guilty that we didn't own very much of the Little People "gear." I had friends who would feverishly save their Pampers points to "earn" (ha! Who's earning what, I ask??) a new Little People hunk of plastic in the shape of a fire station, or shopping mall, or I don't know what all. Let me be the first to declare that the hunks of plastic, more often than not, are totally and completely peripheral to the McDonald's constructed from wooden blocks and the "mall" that is my infant's toy gym sitting on top of the coffee table. Add to that the skateboards attained from Sonic kid's meals, and my children not only have adequate Suburbia, their transportation is actually ecologically friendly.

Back to drool state, however. I have a distinct problem that as a mother, I've convinced myself I shouldn't have, and therefore it causes me a tremendous amount of guilt. My problem is this. No matter what I try to play with my kids, whether it's plastic Little People, saccharin Barbies, wooden blocks, Playdough, or coloring with crayons, I have a hard time staying awake. My eyes start to glaze over like they used to in 8^th grade Biology during the movies on amoebas. My jaw goes strangely slack, and I hear my kids repeating themselves in attempts to wake me up: "Mommy, your girl needs to come over to the farm and have supper with my girl." "Huh?!," I slurp, drool state nearly attained only to be snatched cruelly from me, shaking my head as their voices shake me out of my stupor. I then resolve to try harder, only to be lulled into a fog again by the banality of playing with Little People.

I suppose I attempt such endeavors every several months or so only because I feel guilty for not doing it more often. I don't know if my daughter will remember the three times in her entire childhood when I played Little People with her or not. I suspect she won't. I don't even know if it matters.

I bemoaned my chronic inability (or maybe it's just unwillingness?) to play with my children one day while at the pediatrician. Misty-eyed and pathetic, I implored him, "Are my kids gonna be o.k. if I don't like playing with them?" Bemused and detached, he sagely answered, "You know, Heather, you're not their cruise director. It's not supposed to be like that: 'Children, we'll have coloring time from 8 to 8:30, followed by a short walk to get some fresh air. At promptly 9:30, you'll be served a light, nutritious snack which will give you plenty of energy for the marathon block session from 9:45 to 11'o clock.'" And I hear often from my friends who are veteran parents that their children watched unlimited amounts of television, or were actually forced to play outside for large chunks of their childhoods during the long summers. So why do I continue to feel guilty about this? After all, I'm the mother who lets every other mother friend of mine off the hook for not being the perfect parent. I'm the queen of "They'll be fine. Just make sure you take care of yourself." But I'm a hypocrite. I don't do it myself.

I don't know why I obsess and masticate endlessly over the job I'm doing or not doing as a mother. I do know that I'd like to quit. I have a short-term plan that I'm hoping will help. My pastor spoke yesterday at church on the armor of God -- a batch of defensive armaments attached to various virtues of the Christian faith: the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth. Actually, he didn't go into any detail on the specific pieces. He spoke rather of the possibility that if we act like Christians enough, that is, the good parts -- the love, kindness, hospitality, etc., not the judgmental, condescending parts -- that eventually, we may wake up to find that we are Christians. My plan is to adapt this principle to motherhood, and particularly the phase I'm at right now -- four children six and under, and no foreseeable prospects for the future of me as anything but a mother for a long time.

I'm going to try to pretend that I like motherhood immensely, that I relish the domestication that has me doing most of the household management, and, this is the most important part: I'm going to pretend that I'm a fabulous, kick-ass mom. I'm just going to try some good old mind control. Every time the guilt crops up, I think I'll say, "Rubbish! Ever/ good mother from the beginning of time has let her children have chocolate cake for breakfast. It's only right that children be given a good model for flexibility." Or, "Bullshit! Every good mother from the beginning of time eschews regular bathing of their children in favor of grimy buildup for the express purpose of really seeing that dirt wash off. It's only completely integral for their healthy development that they remain dirty for six consecutive days. It teaches them the opposite of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Well done!"

If I pretend that I'm a fabulous mother for long enough, maybe one morning I'll wake up and be a fabulous mother. One can only hope. Although, I'm sure it won't include playing Little People very often. My children are getting grossed out by the slimy blocks.

mmo : october 2006

Heather Janssen has the extraordinary privilege of living in Colorado, the idyllic climate for raising four daughters, raising questions, and raising monster pumpkins that take over entire front porches when left to themselves. She writes often and honestly about mother guilt, which seems to spread nearly as fast as that pumpkin vine.
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