Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama's A Better Parent Than I Am, Too!

I just read yet another gushing article about the new first family, where Barack & Michelle explained that they didn't want their daughters to become spoiled, so they would continue the same rules they'd had in Chicago. The girls had to make their own beds, they'd be cleaning up after the dog about to join them, and they'd stick to their usual morning routine, where both girls set their alarms, woke themselves up and got ready for school on their own (presumably cooking their own organic hot cereal and ironing their own impeccable private school uniforms). And of course television watching and junk food would be strictly limited.

Great - both Obamas already make me feel like an unintelligent failure with no fashion sense. Now I find out they're infinitely superior as parents, too. How many of us even know a 7-year-old who can figure out how to set an alarm, get herself up and dressed, all without help? My kids are old enough to dress themselves, of course, but like most normal kids, they need a bit of nudging along the way. In fact, the 15-year-old could sleep through five different alarm clocks and a 21-gun salute (so we've trained the dog to jump on the bed and lick his face until he gets up). And sure, they have chores, and I try to limit junk food, but like most parents, or so I thought, I frequently cave in ("Mom, I have to study for spanish, could you pack me a lunch?" " I'm starving and we're late for hebrew school, could we just grab some pizza?" "It's too dark out to pick up dog poop, and it's Ben's turn anyhow!") I blamed my lack of consistency on my crazy schedule - I mean, I work weird hours, I have lots of pressure, raising perfect kids isn't even possible for my stay-home-mom friends. But now we have Michelle Obama, who's always worked and had a fabulous career, but she's apparently never been too busy or stressed to make her girls stick to rules and to discipline them firmly yet lovingly, so that they've turned into perfect, adorable young ladies who make the rest of us look bad.

What makes it worse is that I've spent my entire life feeling superior to the White House inhabitants. The first president I remember thoroughly was Nixon, whom my liberal parents raised us to believe was the devil incarnate, and it was easy to feel smarter than a crook who talked to portraits of dead past presidents. I adored Betty Ford for her honesty about her addictions, but I could still feel a bit smug since (at 15) I didn't have a problem with painkillers, and of course we all imitated Chevy Chase imitating Gerald Ford tripping. In college I could feel superior to the Carters with their down-home mannerisms and redneck brother (remember Billy Beer?), and I looked down my nose at the Reagans (a former B-movie actor with an astrology-fixated wife) and the Bushes (boring and matronly). Clinton was just embarrassing - I mean, I understand the temptation to cheat but at least pick someone with brains and some fashion sense!, and anyone who could form a complete sentence could feel superior to W. ("Is our children learning," anyone?)

But when Obama was elected, it was dismaying - not only was he incredibly articulate, handsome, and successful, he was even younger than I am, married to an equally accomplished, gorgeous wife with two picture-perfect, yet engaging, offspring. I find myself looking for little cracks in the armour - can't one of the kids have a tantrum in public? ( "Mo-o-om, I HATE this outfit and I don't wanna wave at any more people!" "Da-a-a-d, Sasha's sitting on my side of the limo seat!") So I find myself looking for minor quibbles - Michelle's election night dress wasn't very flattering, and Barack does have an annoying tendency to mix up his pronouns ("This was a great day for Joe Biden and I" - honey, it's an object, use 'me'), but that feels like grasping at straws. And it's not as if I don't WANT to like them, I just wish they didn't make me look so damned inferior!

This morning, as I struggled to get the boys moving, I tried, "Sasha Obama is only 7 but she can make her own breakfast, her own lunch AND prepare dinner for the family in 15 minutes!" They just rolled their eyes and sneered. On the other hand, I frequently hear from teachers and other parents about how well behaved my boys are (which inspired a song on my first album, "Have Aliens Replaced My Kid?") So now when the first family's apparent perfection makes me feel bad, I indulge my new fantasy, that the perfection cracks in private, Sasha whines ("where's the puppy already?"), Malia has pre-adolescent tantrums ("All the other girls at Sidwell watch Family Guy!"), Michelle has a perimenopausal meltdown, and Barack snaps at everyone and then sneaks a cigarette. I feel better already!

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