I think it was the North Pole party that sent me over the edge.
Browsing through the pages of a popular blog, I came across a post recounting a Christmas party the blogger had thrown for her not-quite-5-year-old daughter, all documented with gorgeous, magazine-worthy photography.
A gleaming red-and-white runner led the way to the front door. There was a “reindeer food bar,” in which the pajama-clad little girls could fill Mason jars charmingly decorated with red-and-green twine with a variety of goodies to leave Santa’s reindeer, including glitter and “flying powder,” all of them neatly labeled on printed cardstock. There was a scavenger hunt through the neighborhood to find items Santa had misplaced, like a pocket watch and a mug. The mom had even arranged for the girls to have an elf sighting, after which they retired, wide-eyed, back to the house for impossibly adorable cookies and milk, served—naturally—in twine-bedecked, old-fashioned glass bottles with brightly striped red-and-white straws. Each child took home a favor: a bottle of homemade peppermint-scented “pillow spray” meant to ensure sweet dreams.
It was magical and beautiful. So obviously, my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes and groan. I think I may have even said “Oh, give me a break!” out loud.
I suppose overachieving, craft-monger parents have always existed. But in this fishbowl age, when we have the opportunity to broadcast our every parenting effort at the touch of a button, I have had just about enough of trying to keep up with them.
Me? I’m not so crafty, to put it mildly. I walk into a craft store and get completely overwhelmed and ill at ease. I feel like there’s a whole universe of craftiness for which I’m missing the decoder ring. I immediately wonder how people know what you’re supposed to do with all of those things: hot glue guns and artificial flowers and brightly colored sheets of foam. And don’t even get me started on the scrapbook aisle, for which I require almost an entire bottle of Xanax.
For nearly 36 perfectly good years, my failings in the craft arena had few real-world implications. Yes, yes, I might have saved some money on my wedding if I’d made my own sugared fruit centerpieces and topiary place card holders, but…whatever.
And then I became a mother, and learned that being un-crafty puts you at a serious disadvantage. The crafty moms are like the popular cheerleaders or the go-getter student government presidents, shaming you with their picture-perfect Facebook feeds—the Taj Mahals built out of Popsicle sticks and the birthday parties more carefully orchestrated than a black-tie affair.
My children, on the other hand, don’t do much with Popsicle sticks except eat Popsicles. We don’t document the first and last days of school with a neatly lettered chalkboard sign and then post the results to Instagram. I buy my kids’ teachers uninspired gift cards instead of assembling baskets filled with an array of cutesy presents linked by a common theme. The cupcakes I baked for the third-grade end of the year party in June were in muffin papers decorated with snowmen.
Though I like to joke that my parenting memoir will be titled “MacGyver Mom: Making It Up As You Go Along,” I still can’t decide whether to celebrate my slightly slacker-ish stance or whether on some deeper level, I’m flat out envious of the moms with their perfect playrooms and whimsical nurseries, their sun-dappled apple picking outings and their perfectly organized pool bags. (Yes, there was actually an entire blog post devoted to the latter.) Even though I’m well aware it’s a highly edited view, I have to confess that the window social media provides into other people’s parenting sometimes makes me want to up my game. Do the moms posting pictures of trips to the art museum in between baking bread and making their own Play-Doh ever feel the urge to plop the kids in front of “Phineas and Ferb” and play some online Scrabble? Not that I’ve, um, ever done that, of course. I’m asking for a friend.
But I’m also deeply suspicious of what parenting for an audience can mean. At what point do you make peppermint dream spray for your daughter’s 5-year-old friends because you really, really, really enjoy making peppermint dream spray, and at what point do you make peppermint dream spray because you have a blog on which you can show other adults that you made peppermint dream spray for your daughter’s 5-year-old friends? Has the social media tail begun wagging the parenting dog? If you make an adorable party favor and there’s no blog to post it on, does it make a sound?
I can say with great confidence that the contents of my kids’ lunchboxes will never be featured on anyone’s blog. Photos of their Halloween costumes will not be “repinned,” nor will anyone ever “like” images of their tornado of a bedroom. But my children feel loved and secure and, most nights, they fall asleep fulfilled and content. I take comfort in believing that, ultimately, it’s what matters most. Even if sometimes, they are the only two people who know.
Jennifer Mendelsohn lives in Mount Washington with her husband and their two boys. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, People, Slate and USA Weekend. She also serves as one of Us Weekly’s Fashion Police “Top Cops.”