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The Short Trip From Mother To Martyr

By Donna Britt
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page B01

I am the mother of a 9-year-old boy. The other night, I went out to dinner with my husband.

On a school night.

There are mothers reading this -- women whom I would doubtless admire -- who are appalled. They'll be more horrified to know that I put on some cute jeans and lipstick in preparation for this shameful activity, and that my husband and I ate a leisurely meal during which we discussed subjects other than our kids.

Yes, I brazenly flouted the Mommy Rules, which unequivocally state that on school nights, real mothers limit themselves to: helping with homework; ferrying their children to scouts, ballet or swimming lessons; preparing dinner; straightening up; reading to kids; and attending Rules-approved child- or school-related meetings before putting their darlings to bed at a "proper" hour. Maybe -- just maybe -- they can watch a bit of TV before passing out.

Was reading that paragraph wearying? Try living it.

I have, which explains my shamelessness about my midweek date. It explains why I shook my head while reading Hanna Rosin's amusing recent article in The Post on author Judith Warner, who's getting an inordinate amount of press for her book, "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety," which exposes the "secret" that today's moms are trying so hard to be perfect that they're driving themselves batty.

Rosin's piece pointed out the delicious irony of female fans of the book vacuuming, scrubbing, arranging doilies and otherwise obsessively preparing the site where Warner was to speak about the dangers of exactly such behavior. The biggest irony?

If I'd been there, I might have been scrubbing with the best of them. So I understand the mother of two who'd hired a sitter in hopes of learning one vital thing from Warner about moms' perfectionism problem:

"Does she have a solution? Does she really have an answer?" the woman asked -- as if she didn't already have the answer herself.

I probably won't read Warner's book -- Allison Pearson's 2002 best-selling novel, "I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother," made the same point quite amusingly. But I can offer my own inexpensive remedy for Mommy Fever:

Sit down. Lift your tongue and place it gently against your upper palate. Move it so that your mouth makes the "n" sound, quickly followed by the "o" sound. Marvel as the magic word emerges:

"No."

Say it. Not to the teacher who asks you to make brownies and cookies for the bake sale, or the husband who invites guests without offering to help with the necessary housework, or the child who insists on being first to own the latest sneaker, Barbie accessory or Harry Potter book.

Say it to yourself. Those people's demands will seem far less compelling once you've mastered the magic word.


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