The Definitive Guide to Manic Moms

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

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. 

Other People’s Rude Children

Other people’s rude children are particularly appreciated by good manic mothers.  They feel deep sympathy for the mother whose child is clearly being obnoxious, disagreeable, rude or otherwise unpleasant.  However, they would not be true to themselves if they did not also experience a quiet and subtle sense of relief and pride that it is not their child who is behaving badly.  A well-behaved child is often the best confirmation that mania is achieving at least one goal. When someone else’s child is being rude a good manic mother stands quietly to the side. She watches and smiles gently in a commiserating way. If she is with her own child, quietly using the incident as a learning moment is often

Bug Spray

No real elaboration is necessary here.  Bug spray used to be something awful smelling and toxic that humans sprayed in dark corners to kill scurrying, undesirable insects. Somehow, bug spray is now something light and often cloyingly citrusy that we willingly spray on our childrens’ skin to keep bugs off. 

It still smells and we don’t put the children in dark corners before we spray them.  The degree of toxicity remains uncertain.  But, for manic mothers nationwide, the benefits outweigh the possible harm and the memory of what bug spray once was has been successfully eradicated.  If you are ever outside in a warm, slightly marshy-feeling place with many mothers, yell “Mosquito!” and see what happens.

Symptom: Hand Sanitizers and The Manic Mom

No right thinking mother is ever without some form of Purell or similar sanitizing agent: in the car, in her purse, in school bags, gym bags, camp kits, lunch boxes, desks at school, desks at home, kitchen counter, bathroom sinks.  A manic mom’s child doesn’t realize that there is life that does not include small bottles of clear, and now scented, germ-killing viscous gel.

Some scholars maintain that hand sanitizers are possibly the single most influential factor in the evolution of the contemporary American Manic Mother.  Others think that backlashes from second and third wave feminism are more important. Others still,  think that persistent and unrealistic ideals of motherhood or internal conflicts regarding the deleterious effects of a mother working full time on her children cause mania to flourish.  But, no one explanation for the exponential growth of manic mothering is as symbolic as hand sanitizers.  It is plausible, however, that hand sanitizers are a symptom and not a cause. 

On the cause side of the debate: Hand sanitizers allow women to feel that they can indeed influence, possibly control, the world around them – which is at the heart of all manic mothering.  Particularly the world as it relates to their children.   As everyone knows, a sick child means a mom did something wrong.  A healthy, perpetually sanitized child must there fore mean the mom is doing something right and is fully in control.

On the effect side: the possession of hand sanitizer is only a very visible symptom of manic mothering.  Hand sanitizer, if it didn’t exist, would be easily represented by say, bug spray or moist wipes.  The cause is the belief in control, not the sanitizer itself.

Either way, every self-respecting manic mother is capable of instantaenously wiping out entire colonies of bacteria upon request.

Teaching Preschoolers Newton’s Laws of Motion

All good manic moms try, at least once, to teach their children Newton’s Laws of Motion before preschool.  That’s because:

Newton’s First Law (Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it) explains why manic mothers’ don’t stop talking or moving until something literally hits them, like a bed.

Newton’s Second Law (Force=Mass x Acceleration) explains why manic a mother’s mania  is the result of her mass times the speed with which she can do everything a good mother has to do in a day. It’s important to explain the world and adult behavior clearly to small children so that they feel safe and comfortable.  And, last but perhaps most important

 Newton’s Third Law (For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) is the only way a child can understand that his or her good manic mother is just responding equally and oppositely to a bad, slacker mother. For example, when a bad slacker mother fails to have hand sanitizer, wipes and a healthy snack with her a good manic mother readily supplies all of these things to make up for it.

 Especially talented manic mothers also make sure that their preschooler also knows what gravity, is because when the child is not with his or her mother all day, every day, the child will trip or fall or something might drop on the child.

Symptom: Cupcake Conflict

Baked goods are ubiquitous in the lives of manic mothers. No manic mothering high holy holiday is complete unless something, usually five or six somethings, have been baked.  Ideally, the baked good is a delicately made and exquisitely decorated cupcake.  Even more ideally, the cupcakes in question are baked from scratch.   However, this holy grail of manic mothering baked goods is now the cause of genuine turmoil.  The made-from-scratch cupcake is being challenged by expensive, designer food cupcakes purchased from the most media savvy neighborhood cupcake purveyor. 

Buying instead of making complicates the meta meaning of cupcakes for those manic mothers who are honest with themselves about their anxiety.  At the heart of this issue is what the cupcakes represent.  For some each cupcake made is not a cupcake, but a ceding of self, an erosion of the ego.  For these women buying cupcakes is a tremendous relief since the act of buying instead of making placates deeply hidden (note the “id” at the heart of hidden) cupcake smashing urges.   For others it is the buying that causes conflict, since, as all good manic mothers know – only bad mothers buy baked goods.