Make Way For Ducklings

January 27, 2012

My brother-in-law, Zarko, is the genius behind the design of both my blog and my website.  Sadly, his father, Ilija Jovanovski, passed away suddenly last week.  I decided to take a moment of wordlessness in the blogosphere to honor his memory by delaying this post until now.
(Thank you Merri, Zarko)

With all the books I’ve read, I should be able to make a more esoteric reference, but Make Way for Ducklings – that classic from my childhood – just gets this whole mommy business like nothing else. All the essentials are there as if it were an illustrated parenting manual, complete with an avuncular traffic officer watching our backs while steering us in the right direction.

Lucky Mom Mallard has an innate ability to raise fine, upstanding ducklings, and she passes along some solid advice to her non-aquatic counterparts.  Teach your little guys to stick together. Find a nice neighborhood to live in and spend a lot of time hanging out in the park. And most important, let your children have snacks, because snacks are one of life’s greatest pleasures. 

With her chest out, she makes her way around the city, leading her crew in an enviably neat row.  Such pride in her waddle! She never doubts herself, and why should she? Her offspring don’t squabble. They listen the first time she says something. They never sass. When challenges do present themselves, she gets back-up from a fine team of Boston policemen.

Over on my side of the river, you’ll hear a lot quacking, but that’s where the similarity ends.   

The seeds of my insecurity were sown while skimming the parenting magazines in the waiting room before my first sonogram fifteen years ago. The bar they set was just too high. Let’s face it. I was never going to look like the glowing celebrity in the designer maternity dress or puree my own organic baby food.

To complicate matters, I drafted my own impossible guidelines. My children would never fight. They’d see eye to eye with their parents, too, even as they approached the dark abyss of adolescence. They would be compliant and easy-going and like every dinner I’d ever place before them. They’d run to do their chores and go to bed in spotless rooms without a peep of protest after diligently completing their homework.    

The reality is that I cannot recall my darling ducklings ever following me in a neat little row. One is always out of line, though the errant one varies, and sometimes they’re all off flying in different directions, poking the nearest sibling with a beak before takeoff.    

From behind the exasperating cloud that obscures maternal confidence, I acknowledge that looking good in that designer maternity dress was more likely than my ever getting this right. On sunnier days, when the view is clearer, I can see that I just have to keep the bar I’ve set for raising my own ducklings a bit more down to earth.  

After all, their spiritedness may well forecast future success and their eagerness to negotiate with me on matters large and small a sign of their ability to swim upstream and think for themselves. By the time they start dating, they will have figured out on their own that shirts are not napkins, and we can always patch up the holes in the walls when they leave for college.

For now, though, I am focusing on what I know I’ve done right. I have taught them to swim and to cross the street safely. I never cower when it comes to watching out for the foxes in the woods or the turtles in the water. What’s more? No matter what lurks beneath, I’m not afraid to stick my beak into the muck at the bottom of the pond to care for them and groom them into menschen.   

As for Mom Mallard, even she allows her ducklings to dine on peanuts – without dining on guilt herself – when fishing yields skimpy results. But she isn’t perfect. If you are blessed with eight children, you probably shouldn’t give them all rhyming names.  And she molts. Need I say more?    

Right now, there are telltale signs that my boys are wrestling upstairs. I put on an apron and my best smile, pretending to hear nothing. I’ll get the blow by blow with laugh track over dinner.

The water’s boiling. In goes the mac and cheese. Right out of the box.  

All’s fair in love and parenting. The trick is to let any expectations of perfection slide off. Like water off a duck.