Once upon a time, I used to be cool. I wasn’t cool in high school. Back then I studied too hard and was considered a geek. I wasn’t cool in college either. I avoided the whole sorority house scene and other places where the really cool people gathered together. But for a brief moment in time, I was cool to a small number of people, who just happened to be small people. My nephews and nieces considered me a cool aunt. And I loved it.
I come from a rather large family, and my sisters started having babies while I was away at college. I loved coming home for the holidays because there would always be warm, fuzzy babies to snuggle. The babies always smelled freshly shampooed, and their diapers made that whooshing sound when they waddled up to me. But what I liked best was that they were someone else’s, and I was the aunt who breezed in for the weekend and was adored by them.
Back then I was cool simply because I was young, single, and seemingly free to come and go as I pleased. The children instantly flocked to me and marveled at my hair, clothes, and nail polish as if I were the most cosmopolitan world traveler that had ever existed. They seemed profoundly mesmerized by this “big person” who was totally unburdened by “big person” concerns. I didn’t have a real job, a permanent residence, or any real rules for that matter. I was fun, easy-going, and always came bearing gifts for my little cuties. I was simply the aunt with the camcorder and camera who loved taking tons of pictures and had many willing young models. But more than anything else, unburdened with my own children, I had my hands free to do whatever they wanted at any given moment. I also had tons of youthful energy and that made me their best and coolest friend.
I guess I began to lose my coolness right around the time I graduated from college and settled into a regular nine-to-five job like everyone else. I eventually married my college boyfriend, bought a house, and acquired my very own “big person” responsibilities. With the births of my daughter, Olivia, and my son, Jared, I officially crossed over to the other side. And I now find myself wondering if being a “cool aunt” translates into being a “cool mom.”
But somehow I just don’t feel very cool. As of mom of two, I spend way too much time eating in kiddie-themed restaurants, cutting someone else’s food, and cleaning someone else’s mess. Breaking-up fights between two strong-willed kids saps all of my energy, patience, and personal desires. Gone are the days of spontaneous weekend trips or all day shopping sprees that revolve around MY wardrobe. I no longer close bars at the wee hours in the morning or sleep until noon to sleep-off a hangover. I really, really miss sleep, and I’m tired of feeling overtired and cranky. And mostly I’m worried that often — maybe too often — I’m parenting my kids with a hot head rather than a cool heart.
I’ve tried to defy the stereotypes of suburban motherhood for my own sanity and in an attempt to remain somewhat cool. I’ve refused to put on the mom-issued prison uniform of frumpy sweats and outdated jeans. Instead, I still shop in thrift shops for funky shoes and faux fur coats. I’m also the mom in the swanky SUV, refusing to surrender to the mommy minivan. I’m the mom who spends her “free time” pursuing artistic endeavors, such as directing/producing short films or supporting independent cinema. I’m the mom who believes in cultivating both my mind and body by practicing yoga, using my treadmill, taking bimonthly pilgrimages to Barnes and Noble, and reading just about anything I can get my hands on. I’m the mom who refuses to feel old and still gets down and dirty playing with my kids. And I’m the mom who still believes that this job can be fun, even when my children remind me that I’m no fun at all.
So why can’t I be a “cool mom?” I think that by taking on the complexities of a mother’s job, we simply do not have time to be cool. And that by being the rule-setters and enforcers, moms will always seem somewhat tyrannical to their own children. It is a mom’s responsibility to say no, while everyone else (including cool aunts) gets to indulge. And it is a mom’s duty to worry, while everyone else gets to relax. After all, we are obsessed with our own children’s safety, health, happiness, and survival. We are on “mom duty” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for at least the next dozen years. It’s terribly exhausting being a mom. And it’s hard to be cool when you can’t even keep your cool.
Olivia and Jared will probably never see me as “cool.” To them, I’ll always be boring old mom who has lost her cool on more occasions than they can count. My glorious carefree days of being a cool aunt are far behind me. But someday, I’ll show my children pictures of myself when I was younger, as if to prove that I was once “cool.” I’ll tell them how I once took film classes at NYU and loved reading in Washington Square Park, absorbing the sights and sounds of New York City. I’ll tell them about the summers I worked on independent film crews and how we used to shoot all night in Philadelphia-area bars, streets, and seedy adult bookstores. I’ll tell them about whom I was, what I wanted to be, and maybe even about the wife, mother, and woman I still hope to become.
I want my children to know that before they were born I was more than just a nagging mom, obsessed with germs, rules, gun violence, homework, eating healthy, and a clean house. It may sound corny to say that I want to be their friend, but I do. And I guess I still hold out some hope that one day (maybe for just a moment), they might think “Wow, Mom . . . you’re kind of cool.”