Room for Unimprovement


There are two camps of mothers out there.

Camp #1 features the moms who have their shit together.  They have five boys under the age of four, yet have time to puree their own baby food from the vegetables they picked from the organic garden they planted in their backyard, and then pin photos of it to their Pinterest board.   Their birthday parties have themes.  Their babies’ nurseries have themes.  Their children’s wardrobes have themes.  And while it’s easy to mock their Stepford-esque, highly efficient world, I find myself thinking how that mauve accent wall in their nursery actually looks pretty cool.  They represent aspects of parenting that I secretly aspire to.

Camp #2 is filled with mothers who boast about how terrible they are at parenting.  There is a magical one-upmanship that exists between moms competing to be the worst.  Where Camp #1 moms might post a picture online showcasing their fancy new shelving system or freshly painted nursery mural, Camp #2 moms will post a picture of a wall their toddler projectile-vomited on, while bragging how it’s been a week and they still haven’t cleaned it.  Other moms will “like” the photo and comment how they too leave their child’s bodily fluids all over the house.

I don’t belong to either camp.  My nursery is neither color-coordinated nor covered in child excrement.  The popularity of book clubs and hiking groups proves that boring things are more fun when you do them with like-minded people (and if snacks are provided).  So, while motherhood is anything but boring, I definitely could use some bonding.  And some snacks.  I needed to find my mom camp.

Which is why, one random Saturday last year, I announced to my husband that I wanted to paint our daughter’s nursery.

My husband was confused.  “But the nursery’s already painted.”  Sure, yes, the walls were already a dull weak-piss yellow,  but that was the handiwork of the previous tenant.

“I really think it would look nicer with an accent wall.”

Perhaps he wanted to see the bulletin board I compiled on Pinterest?  He did not.  “Let me get this straight: you want to hire a painter to come in and paint one wall of the room?”

Despite the fact that both my husband and I are artists, we have never lifted a finger to decorate our apartment.  Give us a brush and a blank canvas, and we could create a masterpiece.  Give us a roller and a blank wall, and we will stare at each other until one of us says “Do you know how to get the lid off the paint can? ‘Cuz I don’t.”  And then hire a professional.

“I guess we could do it ourselves,” I said with the same level of conviction I had once said “I guess I could try natural childbirth” and “I guess cloth diapers are more economical.”

That was clearly not going to happen.  The “nursery” had been created from our guest room, and other than sticking a crib in the corner, we had done nothing to aid in its conversion.  We still kept the guest bed in it, we still had our bookshelves and drafting table there, and unless our toddler suddenly decided to read Kafka or invite friends to stay over for the weekend, this was still technically not a room for her.   I had to admit that our toddler was subletting our guest room.

“Well, if we don’t paint it, how can we make it more, um, kid-friendly?” I asked, eyeing the paper shredder we kept plugged in a few feet from the crib.

“What about Winnie the Pooh?” My husband pulled out  a box of decals we had purchased thinking they were just really big stickers.  “I mean, the room’s already yellow.  We can give it a Pooh theme.”

As we stuck Winnie the Pooh decals around the room, I knew no one was going to pin pictures of my nursery.  Camp #1 had  rejected me, and I wasn’t even sure I belonged there anyway.  Besides, my daughter subsequently went around telling everyone that she had “Pooh all over her walls,” so people placed me in the “defecation-as-decoration” Mom Camp #2.  Perhaps I should check in and see what they were up to.

On a Friday night, I tagged along with my friend Lori to her group’s Moms’ Night Out.  Which wasn’t actually a night out, but a gathering at one of their houses where the moms drank wine in the kitchen while the kids played video games in the basement.  Win-win!  I placed my bottle of pinot grigio next to the others on the counter and tried my best to be social.

There were three other moms there (including Lori), and as I joined in the conversation, I realized that none of them had a Pinterest account.

A woman named Beth, wearing a hoodie and Pajama Jeans, opened a magnum of white wine and began to down a generous glassful, all while bouncing her three month old on her knee.  When the baby began to fuss, she shifted her wine glass to her other hand and began to nurse her baby.

“Wow,” I said, in a way that inadvertently came out sounding falsely admiring.  “Look at you, multitasking.”

“Hey. People used to drink and smoke all the time around their kids.  Even while pregnant! And they turned out fine.  Just look at ‘Mad Men.'”

I did look at ‘Mad Men,’ but not for parenting advice.  Lori chimed in, “I drank a six-pack of beer before nursing.  Beer is supposed to increase your milk supply, and I wanted to keep my baby nourished.”  I wondered if all those keg stands Lori did in college were really to help nourish her future babies.

The room began to swell with overlapping stories involving booze and babies.  I was riveted, secretly hoping that someone would disclose having done a shot of tequila off their newborn’s umbilical stump.

Another mom, Julia, offered: “I usually bring a water bottle filled with vodka to my son’s soccer games.  You know, to stay warm.”

“After a game once, didn’t he accidentally chug your bottle instead of his?” Beth asked, while Julia looked down and smirked as if this were an amusing college anecdote.

Suddenly, the “bad-parenting” conversation began to take on an air of frenzied competition.

“Remember that time I almost fed my kid rock salt, because I stored our outdoor chemicals next to our spice rack?”

“You think that’s bad- my son drank most of a magazine insert shampoo sample before I realized it wasn’t a GoGurt packet.”

The other mothers looked at me expectantly.  I racked my brain- my daughters have never ingested anything toxic.  Yet.  But for the sake of camaraderie, I needed something.

“That’s nothing.  My daughter drank a cup of paint thinner thinking it was juice.”

Too far.  Somehow I crossed over from “comically neglectful mother” to “serial killer.”

I added, “She’s totally fine.  But our contractor couldn’t start painting her bedroom til we replaced it.”  The looks of horror on the other women’s faces didn’t go away.

“You…hired someone to paint her room?” Beth inquired, as some wine dripped on her baby’s neck.  “It’s pretty easy to paint a nursery yourself.”

“Seriously, you can paint it yourself in half the time and for a fraction of the cost.” Julia was aghast.  Apparently, even Camp #2 mothers knew how to paint a wall.  I was losing them, fast.  Soon I would have no mother group to belong to.

“Heh, I needed to call in a professional to fix the nursery walls ever since my baby pooped all over the room and we forgot to clean it up…”  I slurped my wine.  “…for months.

Finally, a story we could all relate to.  We clanked glasses and drank to our own incompetence, which didn’t seem that bad, since we were incompetent as a group.

My husband and I never painted our daughter’s nursery, but we did finally move the paper shredder to another room.  You can see pictures of it on my Pinterest board.

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