Manly Mom

This post was originally written on Sept. 2, 2014, although I think the events described actually took place on Labor Day (the 2nd was a Tuesday). Besides some editing for style and typos, I haven’t changed anything. This post doesn’t reflect how I think of myself and my relationship to my daughter now, but it does explain where this blog came from, and maybe kind of has a point.

Today, my kid broke a board and had her first tiny moment of pedaling a two-wheeled bike on her own.

my kid on her bike

And today, I realized it’s time to embrace being a manly mom.

A few days ago, I was playing with my daughter, Iz (for short). I was supposed to babysit two baby dolls. Even though I raised this little girl from birth to her current age of six years, I still feel awkward holding a baby doll and can’t really think what to do with it. As a kid, I did play with dolls, but for the whole span of my childhood, I can recall exactly one time when the toys in question were babies – and those weren’t even dolls, they were stuffed animals. Most of the time, the dolls and stuffed animals were school aged kids who had awesome adventures fighting off gangs of bullies and sticking it to the mean teachers at their boarding school. So, Iz had to give me constant instructions on what to do with the babies. Time to feed them. Time to change them. They’re crying because they’re jealous of the new baby. And so on.

I realized that I’m the same awkward “manly mom” with these toy babies as I am with Iz. I love her, and I feel proud when she does well and feel pain when she’s sad. But I’m not motherly. I don’t exude warmth and comfort. I think I come off as aloof and distant. Having suffered through post-partum depression when she was young has something to do with it, but I think my gender has as well. I’m not female, so I’m not cut out to be a mom. Years of trying have shown I just don’t have it in me.

So perhaps it’s time to try being Mr. Mom instead. A dash of home cooking and bedtime stories, and also of outdoor romps and epic stuffed animal battles.

And that brings us to today.

Early this year, I signed both Iz and myself up for karate classes, at a branch of the same dojo where I trained as a teenager, and which happens to be run by the same master instructor who taught me at that dojo. I hoped it’d be a way for us to bond, something we were struggling with after some alienating experiences.

Iz has taken to karate amazingly. She has some of the best kicking technique in her class – better even than some of the older, higher ranking little kids. She took part in a demonstration today for the school’s Labor Day open house, and my little yellow belt blew away the little blue belt and brown belt that were in the group with her. Not only that, but she broke a board with a jump ax kick, on the first try. Not an easy kick. Especially not when you’re the first kid in the group to go. Yeah, the instructor was bending the board pretty hard. But it still takes some force to smash your foot through it, and some guts to run and jump and take that risk in front of a crowd of people, and my little yellow belt sailed through it with flying colors. I was so damn proud of her.

After an awesome karate class and demonstration, we went out for Peruvian chicken and then returned home for some playtime outside. We started out drawing My Little Ponies on the driveway in sidewalk chalk (yeah, I admit, I’m a bit of a Bronie..friendship is manly, ok?). Then Iz wanted to ride her bike. I hadn’t seen her on it in quite a long time. At some point, my dad took the training wheels off and helped her ride it a little, but she hadn’t learned to ride on her own yet. I held onto the handlebars while she pedaled up and down the driveway a couple times, swaying heavily. Not sure that this was helping her any, I let go and told her to kick herself along with her feet. She wasn’t too happy about that – it is after all a good bit harder than just pedaling along while someone else holds the bike up. But eventually she tried it. And then she tried getting her feet up onto the pedals. And then all of a sudden she had her feet on the pedals and was pedaling and balancing – just for a second or two, but she did it. I clapped and cheered.

And started to cry.

It figures. It’s lucky I didn’t cry at the karate school, cause I really do cry at the drop of a hat. For all my outward manliness, feminine emotionality still roils beneath. (Don’t tell me I’m being sexist – emotionality really is heavily tied to estrogen and testosterone levels.) But you know what, screw it. What with PPD having destroyed my feelings when Iz was small, it’s nice to feel a bond so strong that I cry with pride when my little girl rides her bike all on her own for the first time. It’s nice to know I have feelings. It’s nice to know I can bond with my girl my way – bikes and not baby dolls, karate and not kitchens. It’s nice to know I have a connection with my kid that brings tears of joy to my eyes.