The Definitive Guide to Manic Moms

Man'ic: adj. characterized by frenzy, uncontrolled by reason

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Symptom: The Idea of Snacks

There are times when snacks are important, even vital – like excessively long stretches between meals for toddlers, whose stomachs are small and whose behaviour will otherwise degenerate significantly.  Or, for exceptionally tall, hungry men with low blood sugar issues.   Manic mothers have no snack discrimination and provide snacks for children way beyond the point of physical or healthy need.  The resulting continuous stream of snacks falls into two categories: first, organic and healthy (carrots, celery, whole grain crackers, no nuts) and second, incredibly unhealthy and processed (lard-slathered food store cupcakes, Cheetos and Hi-C “juice” boxes (see Worrying About Cheetos)).  The former category includes foods no child would willingly chose first if given the option.  The latter category includes foods that have been proven to kill people,  if eaten in sufficient quantities. 

The important fact to remember for our purposes, however,  is that in both cases the snacks are completely unneccesary – in the middle of a soccer game, for example. 

Because of the irrational impulse to provide snacks, manic mothers create endless opportunities for snacking:  “special” school snacks, holiday snacks, tea time snacks, sports snacks, car snacks, playground snacks.   When a manic mother can’t provide the snack herself, she is often in a position to make every other mother involved in the activity or event provide  them through The Snack Schedule

Stop and think about that.  A Snack Schedule.  A schedule is a plan.  A snack schedule is a plan to have a snack.  WHO plans snacks? If you are provided with a snack scheudule or find yourself publishing one, be on guard.


Symptom: Using “Reply All” in E-Mails

The rampant use of “Reply All” in the propogation of useless e-mails is a particular MM characteristic. Because manic mothers are endlessly trapped on a merry-go-round of social events related to their children, they constantly need to communicate with and coordinate many separate groups of people.  The result: a manic mother cybersphere filled with such pithy missives as “On my way from yoga!” or “Will bring celery next Wednesday.” 

There are several contributing factors to the prevalence of this habit: 1) an effort to be helpful by letting everyone know what’s going on, 2) a lack of awareness of the volume of e-mails that some people are dealing with, 3) a basic lack of understanding regarding e-mail etiquette. 

A better use of technology for communciation regarding large group events using these types of message would be Twitter – the status update medium.  In general however, this technology has not been adopted for these purposes.  A school auction meeting Twitter feed, for example, could go a long way to reducing the volume of status update e-mails.

Sunscreen as a Guide to Friendship

Without the manic mother, the ever-expanding sunscreen market would not exist.  SPF levels and maternal mania are directly correlated.  Prior to forming close and lasting relationships with other mothers at the preschool stage,  it’s highly advised that you secretly check the SPF on their sunscreen. If it is above 50 run like hell.  45 is in the outside safe zone, but be wary and keep at arms length until you have a good grasp on the person’s hand sanitizer and bug spray philosophy (completing the Manic Mother skin care trifecta).   A useful guide:

<SPF 15:  Casually meet at a park, no advance planning ever. But, be cautious, these people might actually be from other countries.

SPF 15: Arrange to meet for coffee now and then

SPF 30: Set up a weekly playgroup or lunch bunch at one of your homes and possibly have husbands meet

SPF 45: Meet monthly at a neutral location,  like a neighborhood pool

SPF 50: Don’t actively encourage your child to really play with this person’s child. Be polite, but not overly friendly

>SPF 50: Smile wanly when you encounter these moms and exhibit vaguely schizophrenic behavior to make sure you scared them off effectively. Twitching works. So does speaking to yourself in two or more distinct voices.

Symptom: Driving as a Competitive Sport

In manic mom culture driving is a badge of honor.  Manic mothers experience the equivalent of a round trip, cross-country drive every seven days. (This does not include weekend travel sports driving, which can involve spouses/ex-spouses. )  Typically, daily driving starts in earnest at roughly 8:15 am and ends at or about 7:45 pm.  A minimum of three hours and three stops is a basic requirement. Without excessive driving dedicated to her children’s enrichment, a woman cannot qualify as truly, deeply manic.

Driving as A Competitive Sport includes several Types of Drivers:

The Good Mother:  This early stage is made up of mothers who drive everywhere all afternoon and weekend, because to leave their children for any time at all, especially if it involves endangering their lives by putting them in other peoples’ cars, is unacceptable.   Letting other people drive them is also clearly a form of neglect.  After all, what are the sacrifices for, if not to be with your children every possible minute?   In this stage, mothers try  to make the most of drive time.  Expressions like “quality time with the kids,”  “great book on tape,” and “learning a foreign language” are dead give aways that a woman is in The Good Mother Driving stage.  Also popular are “mobile office,”  and “thinking time.”   See “Everything is Great.” In Stage One women don’t actually realize they’re in a competition.

The Pissed Off, Resentful Mother: It can take a while to transition from Stage One to Stage Two, but it is almost inevitable.  These are mothers who want to support their children’s interest, want to carpool, but can’t get organized and don’t want to impose on others. So, they drive, but resent it.  Bitter grumblings include phrases such as “Can you believe this? I’ve been in this car for 6 hours!” or “Dinner? You must be joking! You’re joking, right?”  and “Oh my f**king God!”  Manic mothers in Stage Two begin to sense the competitive nature of the sport when they realize not all mothers feel the way they do.

The Deer-In-Headlight Mother: These mothers are completely panic stricken. They binge e-mail to arrange carpools and are so overwhelmed by dates, times and logistics that they can’t keep anything straight, thereby exponentially increases the volume of driving-related communications. These women are inexperienced and possibly in the throes of a nervous breakdown.  This stage is a necessary prerequisite to Stage 5. 

The Fringe Mother: These women technically are not manic.  They are happy to participate in carpools, but let the panic-stricken-binge-email moms organize.

And, finally, The Guru Driving Goddess: Mothers who arrange carpools, but don’t actually drive. In order to reach this stage of manic mother nirvana, you have to have been every type of mother listed above.  Pay Attention To These Women, they have a GIFT or, a special skill depending on your perspective:  they manage to get other manic mothers to drive for them. They kinow its a sport and they win!

Symptom: Everything is Great

A particular characteristic of moms in the throes of mania is being fine all the time.   More than fine, actually, great.  No matter what if you ask a truly, deeply manic mother how she is, without skipping a beat she’ll tell you, “I’m great!”

A woman wakes up, kisses her husband (or not), gets her kids up, makes breakfast, makes lunches, gets kids on bus, goes to work, goes food shopping, meets the plumber at the house, goes back to work, updates a team roster, reschedules a dentist appointment, picks up kids, spends 3 hours driving them around to various practices and playdates.  She uses the bathroom during the day only because she happens to walk by one.  Checks her e-mail incessantly, where she sends and responds to e-mail messages like “Will bring the pita chips,” or “On my way to the gym, be there 5 minutes late.” Ask her how things are going: “Great!’ she says.  That’s because in the throes of deep-seated maternal mania the only answer is “Great!” and, the manic mother will have convinced herself that this is always true.  Nothing is never not great.

A few examples:

After seeing a woman, with an air of artifical calm, collect her children after spending two hours at a loud, vibrating bowling alley birthday party you say “How ARE you?” She says, “Great!” which you know deep down inside is just not true or it is, which is possibly more disturbing.

Or, you see a woman who spent four hours, between 11 pm and 2 am sewing costumes for the second grade class play.  She only slept for three hours after that, because she usually wakes up at 5 to workout, since that’s the only time she can do it.  Her first meeting of the day is at school, where she is chairwoman of the Auction Committee and responsible for raising $750,000 in one night for the scholarship fund.  Her second meeting is at her office, where is is a private banker.  Her third meeting, the one you see her at, is actually drop off at soccer practice at 4.  She is great when you see her! Sometimes she’s terrific.

Or, perhaps, you spend the morning with a woman who has invited 8 toddlers and their mothers over to make marizipan reproductions of zoo animals that the kids can learn about by making realistic (read “authentic”, see Manic Mothers and Authenticity) miniatures of all major animal groups.  She interrupts the four hour sculpting playdate only to excuse herself to give her dog it’s daily allergy shots and to make a vegan lunch for her au pair.  Ask her. She’s great for sure.

Symptom: Fascination with Authenticity

Authenticity means a lot to manic mothers.   The word is leaden with significance and imparts a seriousness to a mother’s otherwise possibly infantilizing activities.  This is particularly true in regard to reenactments.  
Childhood is ripe with opportunities for renactment.  Average preschool and elementary age education is filled with history lessons, civics classes, literature and historical celebrations that require real food, real construction and real costumes.  For the manic mom REAL is the key word and she will go to any length necessary to ensure that her child(ren) benefit from the most authentic reproduction of the food, shelther or clothes in question.  For example, no puritan feast would be complete without real cornbread, made the way the puritans did.  But, what ensures that the bread tastes and looks authentic is not the recipe, but the fact that it is served by a mother who is dressed as accurately, historically, as possible.   The same goes for corn husk dolls. In order for children to make authentic corn husk dolls their mothers should buy corn, husk it, dry the husks, desilk them and then the child will know what the husks felt like to Mayflowerettes.   Entire costumes are sewn and purchased for children and mothers, sometimes several times a year, to ensure that reenactment events are  as “authentic” as possible. It’s not enough for the children to dress up. It’s only authentic if their mothers do as well.
This is also true for themed birthday celebrations  where dressing up as a mommy mermaid or as a fairy  godmother is very effective.  Conflicted manic mothers have also been known to dress and cackle as witches, which is sometimes frightening to small children. 

Symptom: Excessive Involvement in Charitable Causes

Good causes are of particular interest to manic mothers. Involvement in good causes outside of kids and work demonstrate to both the manic mother and the people around her that her life is balanced and that, in recognition of her relatively privledged place in the world (otherwise she wouldn’t have the time or education to be a genuinely manic mother), she can help others.  Supporting good causes also enables tthe good manic mother to set an example of altruism for her children.  An excellent example is the committee of SOCCS (Sisters of Owners of Canine Cancer Survivors) – check it out at It is a wonderful organization, dedicated to helping a little known group of women:  sisters of owners of canine cancer suvivors. The 16 person committee that founded the group includes four lawyers, two docters, three stay at home moms, three moms who are consultants to the heathcare, energy and media industries, a novelist and two experts in toxic asset management.  Between them they now have 48 children for whom a worthy good cause example has been set.