January 29, 2014

The Worst Part

I am not a perfect mother.

To be honest, most days I'm not sure I even fall solidly into the boundaries of what makes a "good" mother.*

My kids are pretty much free range, or as much as they can be in about 1400 square feet of third floor walkup. And I'm a work-from-home kind of gal- I do a lot of ignoring my children.

Until, of course, they do something really awful.

I comfort myself that I must be a good mom because, when that something awful results in an injury, I'm the person they want to comfort them. They don't just accept my comfort, they truly respond to it. "I want to snuggle," and "I love you, mommy," are phrases I hear constantly. I know, I'm very lucky. But whenever those disasters strike, I really feel like I don't deserve the affection.

About a week and a half ago, SI lost a toenail. Well, "lost" doesn't begin to describe it. She was running pell mell down the hall and tried to leap over a "picnic" she'd left out. Because she has inherited my extremely uncoordinated genetics, she didn't make it. Instead she landed on a plastic plate, slid a few feet, and her toes slammed into the tiny space under the coat closet door, tearing her smallest toenail right out of its bed.

I knew something was really wrong with her first wail. And I did nothing. I leaned away from the sink full of dishes I was washing, and called out if she was okay. She wailed again.

And again, I did nothing.

It wasn't until she was bawling and staggering to get up that I walked to the kitchen doorway, and held out my arms for her to run to me. That's right, she can do the work of coming to me if I'm going to comfort her, too.

To say that I felt like the worst mother in the entire fucking world when I saw all the blood coming out of her toe would probably be an understatement. I felt worse than that. Subhuman. I felt like slime.

I scooped her up in my arms and squeezed her and kissed her and held her and tried my hardest not to flinch or pass out when I examined her toe, and I cleaned it and bandaged it and called her doctor, and then I helped her Skype with Poppa, because he'd just had foot surgery so he had an even bigger owie on his toe.

And she hasn't cried about it since. Not once. Not even when I had to finally clip it free from the tiny corner embedded in her cuticle so it would stop dangling off. That kid is a trooper.

She has to be. She bangs herself up practically every day. If she doesn't have a bruise from running into a doorjamb, she has a blister from yet another pair of shoes she's managed to outgrow, or a scratch from flailing a toy with a sharp edge, or a lump on her head from falling backwards off the couch, or scraped knees from wiping out on the sidewalk.

DD's also constantly banged up. She bonks her head on drawers and cabinets, slips and falls while running in her favorite (and very slippery) socks, falls out of her chair when she fidgets and bangs her chin on the table.

And I pretty much ignore it. They're kids. They get banged up. It comes from constantly moving at high speeds in very crowded quarters. I'm constantly banged up, too, just from chasing them.

"Future Writer" Just like mommy.
But I ignore a lot more than that. When I'm "working," writing or editing or revising or submitting or any number of the things I'm doing to advance a passion I can hardly call a "career" without feeling like a fraud, I just ignore them.

Once in a while I look up and grin at those three little girls, playing so happily, so independently. And I leave it at that.

But mostly I only look up when something goes wrong.

Tonight, something went wrong. After supper we all cleaned up the living room, and the dining room, because they were seas of misplaced toys. Then while I did some dishes they danced in the clean dining room, and when I was done I set them up in front of Night at the Museum with cups of water. Ten minutes later I heard the sound that every parent dreads.

Total silence.

And, like a fool, I let it go on for a whole five minutes.

When I got to the living room,  the furniture was all soaked through. They had been entertaining themselves by spitting all their water all over the couch, arm chair, throw cushions, and afghans.

SI was wearing a new shirt, too. "The other shirt was soaking wet," she told me.

To say I was angry would be an understatement. I was living. I screamed and yelled, I made them clean up the mess, and I put them to bed after only cups of milk instead of real dinners. I had to calm down quite a bit before I convinced myself of even that compromise.

I was so angry I nearly had a heart attack. That's no exaggeration- I have a neurological condition called dysautonomia that occasionally causes me to have bouts of tachycardia and arrhythmia. It took four minutes of careful, focused breathing before the pain in my chest died down.

Four minutes where I could think of nothing other than what a poor excuse for a parent I am.

It was water. Water. Not milk, not juice, not even cracker crumbs. Just... water.

And I lost it.

I could come up with a million excuses for my own temper. I haven't really eaten today (true), I've been ridiculously exhausted since DD's trip to the ER (also true), I've had zero time or motivation for self care or emotional maintenance (true)...

It doesn't matter. What matters is that this isn't an isolated incident. I'm a ticking time bomb of rage just waiting to happen.

I'm constantly stunned and impressed by what my daughters know, what they're interested in. I'm constantly shocked that they've managed to pick up such spectacular life skills and academic skills from me being vague and distant 90% of the time.

I'm amazed at how a day where I had truly sweet, wonderful, loving moments with all three of my children, individually, could turn into a night where I'm shaking and panting and talking myself down from having a triple martini for dinner, with a pint of ice cream as a chaser.

I know I should calm down and remember the good parts.

DD sitting on my lap to read useless informational pamphlets after I put her hair into a ponytail at the doctor's office.

SI took this picture
SI holding my hand as we walked to the car from the preschool, asking me how my day was and listening to my answers.

RH, running up to me and hugging my knees, over and over again.

But it's all eclipsed by this awful, painful hunch in my shoulders, by the crushing weight of guilt pressing down on me, but the overwhelming awareness of how ridiculously, improbably, outrageously tired I am.

I feel like I must not be a good mom. A good mom wouldn't freak out over a couple of pints of spilled water.

A good mom wouldn't scream at her children over something as harmless as a wet couch.

A good mom wouldn't only be available when she has to be. She'd be available whenever her children wanted her to be.

And that's not me. I'm not that mom. I'm the mom telling the kids to play by themselves so I can get something done. I wouldn't judge any other mom for doing this, but I'm sure as hell judging myself.

And my verdict is that I could do better. I must do better.

And the worst part is knowing that I probably won't.

*Yes, I know, I'm a good mom. Just as wracked with self doubt as the next person.


  1. I could practically have written this post, and I don't even work from home. I wonder at myself all of the time, my questionable capabilities, at how well-suited I truly am for this gig when I can't seem to really be *present* more than a percentage of the time. I tell myself that it's because I never get a break, because I'm in some kind of survival mode, because I don't even really know who I am anymore beyond Caretaker of All, and all the while I cling to that myth that as the kids get older, it will somehow automatically get easier, (Right? Right? Yeah, I know better). All of the excuses I make for myself are valid and true, but they don't make me feel any better upon inspection of my faults. Like you, I'm tired, so tired, and I'd like to think that things would be so different if only there were a way around that condition. But also like you, I see that my children love and turn to me me despite my faults, and that- indeed- they are thriving. And that's got to count for something, right? Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Know that you are not alone, and though I know you only through your writing I'd bet money that you're a far better mother than you give yourself credit for.

  2. We are so much alike. So much. I completely get this.

    I have moments like this, too. When I lose it. When I'm not paying attention and something happens to my kids... though honestly, they get into things so quickly even if I'm right there anyway(or that's my reasoning).

  3. You are holding yourself to an impossible standard. Didn't your parents ever lose it? You seem to have turned out OK.

  4. It's always hard to find the balance between leading a fulfilling life for ourselves and being everything for our kids. I think it's impossible. Being independent is an important skill to have, but obviously there are still a lot of things our kids will need us to do. Honestly, I have no idea how you do it. I tried working from home with my son and quickly realized that trying to do two jobs at once was going to make me explode. I was spending more time dealing with my guilt for not giving my all to either job. Now, I miss most of my son's day, but I get my work done at work and spend my few hours with my son having some quality time. Of course, I am lucky, because I have a mom who can watch him, for free (how the heck do people afford child care?). Anyway... I don't blame you for getting angry about the wet couch, even if it was only water. That's not acceptable behavior (you wouldn't want them to do that a friend's house right?) and I bet they won't do it again! I guess what I am trying to say is don't feel so guilty. You're doing the best you can, and given the circumstances, it does not sound easy at all. This parenting gig is not easy. Oh and one other thing: one of my favorite memories with my mom is of me, sitting on the floor, playing with my toys, while she was sitting at the kitchen table, paying her bills. We weren't doing anything together, but just the feeling of her being there made me feel so secure. And I knew if I needed anything (I am quite the klutz, too), she would be there for me. I bet your kids probably feel the same. :)

    1. You're my favorite person in the entire universe right now. <3

  5. Ugh, thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this post. I have so much (SO MUCH) guilt over "working" (editing and posting - so can you really call that 'working'?) and having the kids fend for themselves (okay, not completely, since the youngest is like 14 months old, haha). It's so hard. And there is so much guilt.

    1. It's true, there is SO much guilt! It's one of those day-to-day things. Today, I have less guilt. Tomorrow, probably more. :(



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