Parenting journal: Ruminations on a new adolescence

I remember those days, almost two decades ago now, when I was a freshman in college and “weblogs” were just becoming a thing. Some of my friends signed up for Xanga, some of us LiveJournal or Blogspot or whatever those old, now-dead sites were. It was a heady moment where new technology coincided with a new life stage; together we were ready to share our innermost thoughts with the entire internet (complete with white-on-dark themes or little animated mood stickers on each post).

This was my last LJ theme before I migrated fully to WordPress in 2010.
I felt the theme looked quite mature at the time!

LiveJournal screenshot

Back then, the thought of writing something anyone could read was so new that it felt subversive — this was the world wide web our parents warned us about, tipped off by cautionary tales on TV — and yet, social networking not really being a thing yet, mostly our blogs were just read by people we already knew. (Although there was still something titillating about reading the blog of someone you didn’t know well, as if you’d found their diary.) True, sometimes we met strangers who became friends, but there wasn’t the threat of something you wrote going viral. (Or maybe I was just 18 and less cautious.) We knew not to share identifying information, but oversharing our feelings seemed so tame as to be safe. (The silly thing is, in our current internet, it’s almost understood that our personal information is widely available and being mined for profit, whereas airing any even slightly controversial views or practices may bring hordes of trolls down upon our heads.)

When I reread my blog posts from those days, they’re silly, they’re serious, they’re naïve, and they’re precious because of all of those qualities; they’re a capsule of a time when I was more comfortable in what I didn’t know. I don’t know if I can write like that anymore. And it’s a shame, because I kind of need to. In a lot of ways, parenting feels like a second adolescence. (I say “second” as if I’ve only felt like a teenager twice in my life, when actually it’s been every time I tried something big and new.) I’m self-conscious, anxious, and self-comparing in ways that I haven’t been in years. It’s hard to help it. I don’t know what I’m doing, none of us knows what we’re doing, and things that I’d made peace with long ago — for myself — are freshly troubling when confronted in the context of shaping a new person.

I would say that I am generally comfortable with myself, and yet, these are thoughts I have had just in the past five days:

-Am I Chinese enough? Am I the wrong kind of Chinese? Is “Chinese” even an identity I can, or want to, claim? Does it matter? Is it weird that I can barely speak any of my three heritage dialects, but I made onigiri with nori I bought at the Korean store? Is my pan-Asian-ness a watering down of my actual background, or worse, some kind of whitewashed selling out?

-Was the onigiri too elaborate a snack to bring to this playdate? Am I embarrassing other moms by putting too much time into this? I am so not a Pinterest mom. I don’t want anyone to think I am one. But this is the way I cook.

-Did I bring too simple a snack for this class? Do I not have the right lunch gear? Those other moms’ lunch boxes look so much more put-together than my motley assortment of containers. WHO THE FUCK EVEN CARES ABOUT STYLISH LUNCH CONTAINERS. I can’t believe I’m wasting brain space on this… but I can’t help noticing.

-Can everybody tell I don’t go outside enough, just by looking at the way I’m dressed for this outdoor class? Do I need to make a trip to REI? Are my pants rugged enough? Ugh, I don’t want to go to REI. Last time I tried on “outdoor” pants everything was too small and I felt like an elephant trying to cinch myself into clothes made for gazelles (and that was pre-partum!). On the other hand, it’s kind of uncomfortable sitting on the mulch in these thin pants.

And so forth.

I know I’m not alone in these kinds of thoughts, because I am in an excellent and honest moms’ group online where we regularly have discussions about just these kinds of topics. But — as during my teenage years — it’s one thing to know other people are also uncertain, and quite another to feel that way when I’m face-to-face with other moms at the park and feel like I am the only one who didn’t get the memo. (I’m absolutely sure those moms are also checking me out and are doubting themselves because of some way that I am!)

It’s just such a weird time, being a new parent, and it doesn’t help that there are billion-dollar industries built around our insecurities and our innate desire to do right by our kids. When I was a teenager it was clothes and makeup and beauty products; now it’s onesies and diaper bags and preschools. I remember being a teenager and having to fight my mom on the topic of deodorant (“that’s for white people”); I remember the relief of finally having a grey-blue package of Secret in my locker, because then I could be seen using the right product. It’s absurd because as an adult I’ve realized I don’t need deodorant (my mom was right?) and I never liked the formulation of Secret anyway. But I think something similar happens in parenting. We are, I hope, a little less desperately self-conscious now, more cynical consumers, and more willing to stand by our personal choices — and yet there’s still a kind of relief that comes from seeing that other parents approve of my kid’s shoes, or whatever. You just don’t want to think you’re doing it wrong, even as you recognize that there’s no one “right”.

And it makes sense, you know, really. One of the biggest takeaways of adulthood is that we actually don’t need the approval or goodwill of the other kids in our high school; we can be as nerdy or as slutty or as quirky or as introverted as we are, and we’ll find our people; it’s going to be okay. It’s a liberation. But on the other hand, the most deeply frightening thing about new parenthood is the isolation — not just the loneliness of the day-to-day work of it, but the realization that the only thing standing between your child and a terrible death (or a terrible life) is YOU. Regardless of how we lived as non-parents, raising a child is a communal act and it generates in us a new awareness of our dependence on community. That’s where it comes from, I think, when I’m looking around at the other parents in the playgroup and wondering if my kid has the right kind of water bottle.* What I’m really thinking is, I need everybody here to accept me and my kid, so they will help take care of her if I die. It isn’t rational — the random grandpa in our music class isn’t likely to play a role in our family life even if I don’t die — but parenting brings out quite a lot of our lizard brain and that’s what comes out of mine. We’re social animals. We’re animals.

Parent and toddler petting a cat

*She doesn’t have a water bottle; she shares mine. I don’t know why, but I think every other kid we’ve ever played with has their own water bottle. Nobody seems to care, but I still notice that ours is an unusual choice.