I am holding him in my arms the way that any mother only can for so long – there is an expiration date on this phenomenon. In this unique embrace he is fully supported and his face is so close to mine that I can smell his breath and kiss his cheek on accident, automatic, just here.
I feign surprise and ask him in a loud, exaggerated voice, “Do I get to be your mama?!” He smiles before the words are all the way out. He knows this game. His head bobs up and down so emphatically that his whole upper body moves. “Oh!” I say and squeeze him tight while I rock us side to side to the squeals that flood my brain with dopamine. “I am the luckiest!!” The surprise is fake, but I mean every last ounce of the wonder.
…for someone who writes very sweet words and feels very strong feelings of love and affection and gratitude toward these incredible little people, I can be a real dick to them.
I am the person they most want to share their treasured thoughts and feelings with and I let a phone or computer interrupt their bid for connection.
They hear the most gentle reminders that it’s okay to be sad or angry or hurt from me; the same me who walks away in a huff when the outburst becomes too much.
My presence is the most primal source of comfort they have and I tell them to go away.
I am the epicenter of peace or turbulence in their home and when I yell loud at them to “just listen!” I force their developing brains to scramble to make their own calm.
My life is inconsistently strung; a perpetual recitation of the Good, True, Beautiful mixed in with a proclivity to overwhelm and a fight-or-flight response that clings to anger.
I apologize and their easy forgiveness drives the nail deeper; I am crucified daily and I’m no innocent. I’m up there begging for a paradise I didn’t earn. I am the luckiest, because frankly they deserve a lot better.
I had to get cocky to have kids.
Usually, if I don’t think I can do something right I don’t even try. So I needed some amount of arrogance to become a mom. I had to convince myself that I could mitigate my potential for damage enough to produce just the world’s most loved and loving humans.
I’m not sure what gave me the delusional idea that I could, but I enjoy blaming so I blame my mother. My mom was great at this, I thought. I’ll be great at this, too.
In hindsight, the ticking on my biological clock probably drowned out all the ways it was so very hard for my mom to not be a dick to us. I forgot about the outbursts and the overwhelm and the times she shut herself in her room. I tucked those memories to the back of the closet just enough to bring forward and crystalize the smiles and connection and the time she played with bunnies in the living room.
And anyway once you’re pregnant and you’ve had the baby shower and there is definitely going to be a human being coming out of you for which you will be responsible, there is no turning back.
Almost immediately after my daughter was born I realized I was in over my head. Have you ever considered that the car you drive every day is actually a death machine that goes alarmingly fast down a road we all just assume is well-built surrounded by other death machines and concrete walls which would certainly kill you if you hit them? Even the 142 buckles on her highly rated car seat seemed insufficient.
And if the things designed and engineered and built precisely to serve this baby are insufficient, there is absolutely no way I can do this. Why didn’t I go to counseling and read all the books and watch more TED talks?! It’s too late! She’s here!
On top of that, kids can be dicks.
I know a lot of people don’t want to say it – and for good reason as small children are not ever really assholes because they are developing and all of that. But every parent I know believes this at 3am.
They don’t sleep for reasons you will never get to know because they will forget by the time you can ask them.
They bite you while nursing and I defy anyone to get a chomp on the nipple and not believe in some primal core of her being that the creature who did it is the actual devil.
They scream at you just to hold them so that things like eating and showering become rare and precious accomplishments.
And as they age, they do louder and more painful things with their bigger and louder bodies which inevitably become small people who look kind of like you, but also refuse to wipe the toilet seat and chuck the figurine that made it through all the other kids in your family since the depression, but cannot survive your failed offspring and before long you are yelling at the person you love to smell and it is all just so deeply confusing and exhausting.
So while some part of my brain is mature and understands that all of this is normal and to be expected, the other part of my brain is trying to figure out if I’m in a bar fight or running from a cheetah.
But parenting is a pact.
My gorgeous friend Jessica put it so well in a post on her blog (which you should all be following). She said that she promised her babies she would always love them and always tell them the truth and they hold her to it. That is IT.
Nothing reveals the inherent worth of human life as clearly as a child. I don’t have words for it. They are so utterly here and so inarguably transcendent. We forget that in ourselves and others when years lie between us and our childhoods, but this is a great deception. Children remind us all that we are precious and deserve to be loved.
I made a pact with my daughter the day she was born – more precisely, my spirit made a pact. The deepest part of me usually buried under insecurities and doubts and fear got real brave and pulled herself out long enough to behold this creature and swear to it she would do her very best to come join her. This part of me who knows when we’re with God put her face right up to my daughter’s with closed and smiling eyes and made oaths we’re not allowed to break.
But the insecurities, the fears, the not-enough-ness rushes between so that is what my life is now. It is some part of me trying to overcome other parts of me to get to her children. Because they are worth it.
And oaths are bendy.
My mom was the first to admit that she was in over her head for some good portion of our childhood. She used to freely recount the story of when she told my brother to stop breathing because she was teetering so precariously on the edge of her own emotions and the sound of our existence was, apparently, too much.
She told it as a balm for the ways we (myself, my friends) burn ourselves in the fires of motherhood.
When I started having babies I learned two things: how much my mother loved me and how hard it was for her to love me well. My affection and adoration and gratitude are carved into my heart like commandments into stone, but my reactions are disobedient.
But the grace baked right into it is that I never needed my mom to be perfect. In fact, I do remember her yelling. I remember her throwing her hands in the air and giving up on us, remember her distracted and overwhelmed and tired. One time she said “shit” and I thought I broke her.
It’s okay. Because I also remember her smiling wide and tearing up when we did something hard. I remember her admitting rough days and apologizing for getting something wrong, skipping sleep to finish some Class Mom duty and taking off work to go on field trips. We shared ice cream from the carton on her bed because we both had our periods and said things we didn’t mean.
More than the specific ways she felt like she failed or not, I knew she was there. I knew she loved me. She made the oath to us, too, and it bent plenty, but she never broke it.
I am lucky to fail here.
I disappoint my kids all the time in ways that are good for them and ways that are not. I’m sure I stress them out, I’m sure some very nice therapist some day is going to hear plenty about my lack of proper structure or how many times I switched their curriculum or the fact that I let them watch The Office way too early. I am sure they’ll remember disciplines I regret and reactions I’m embarrassed about. There are probably a litany of things I think are just fine that they’ll commiserate about in the kitchen at Thanksgiving.
But damn it all. I love them. As wholly as I possibly can.
My other kids join the game I play with my youngest and we take turns with our pretend discovery that we get to be a family. I say it to each of them and do not leave one out, “Do I get to be your mama, too??” and I still mean it.
I’m okay with whatever reproach they’ll give me because I’m not under the delusion anymore that I’ll get this thing “right” or even be whatever I used to think made a great mom. Because now a great mom doesn’t let failure keep her from her babies. A great mom knows she’s the luckiest.
I know I can use the reminder that I’m doing alright! I created these phone wallpapers so that whenever you pick up your phone throughout the day (which, if you’re like me, is ahem quite a bit) you get a Good and True message before you go online.
Subscribe below to get access to custom made wallpapers that keep you remembering the Good Stuff.