I think I’m a good mother. A great mother, in fact. But I’ve had my moments. Not negligent moments, mind you, like I’ve never left my three kids – when they were under the age of five – home alone (with only the cats to babysit) so I could go out “partying” with the “girlzzz” (though I may have wanted to a few times). I’ve never hit anybody with a hammer (heaven forbid) or even a straw broom.
I will admit however to hanging up a few snowsuits really hard, and to “dropping” apples into the crisper rather than “setting” them in there. I was the one who paid the price for that when the kids refused to eat them after because they were bruised – isn’t that always the way? And more than once, I’ve folded laundry with such irritability that my fingers ended up slightly chafed from me pressing down so hard along the creases of the fabric.
No, I’ve never done “lines of coke” in the bathroom between the cake and presents at a birthday party, nor have I told the kids that they were “worthless pieces of shit” no matter how “are you kidding me with that attitude” difficult they were, but I have taken an entire Nintendo system (with games) to the thrift store out of spite. (It had been a long and frustrating six months, if I recall – kids go through some “we will fight over every single thing” phases, you know.) You could argue the disposal of a video game system to be a “good” mother moment. My children didn’t see it that way. Neither did my husband.
Certainly, I’ve acted out of complete exasperation on occasion, but I’ve never, NEVER dumped hot Kraft Dinner on anyone. With its fake “yellow dye number whatever” colouring, it probably would’ve stained. And I do the laundry so…
Like I always say to my daughter (because she seems to need the most advice), if you are worried about whether or not you are doing something good enough – like mothering (I ask myself) – then you probably are (I tell myself). That’s because things like “worrying”, “being concerned”, and/or “giving yourself an ulcer” are all traits of overachievers.
My grandma Kay was a shining example – she had an ulcer because she also ironed everyone’s underwear, among a million other things. Need I say more? Ipso facto, if I’m describing you, you should cut yourself some slack.
Let me give you another example: if you are making your husband a birthday cake from scratch – like, you are mixing together actual flour, actual eggs, sugar, baking soda, etc. (not just adding milk instead of water to a Duncan Hines box), and you are worried that it won’t be good enough, then get a grip and realize that you are making the damn cake and not buying it from Walmart – no offence people who buy cakes from Walmart. Your family members better shut their damn mouths no matter how dry it might be. You are not a goddamn chef. What do they expect? Anyway, it’s the effort that counts.
No, it’s the people who don’t think twice about stuff – like Charlie Sheen – who are probably doing things inadequately. Those people have no sense of self-reflection, one important characteristic of a successful human being.
So even though I stomped a bag of Doritos “Cool Ranch” chips into our beige dining room carpet because the kids were arguing over who should have more, who was better, who was smarter, who was a “fucking retard” and who was not (the political non-correctness of that last bit pushing me over the edge), I don’t count this action as something that makes me a bad mother. I just tell myself that nobody’s perfect. I also remind myself that it came right when I’d gone back to school full time, when my husband had just started his medical residency and was working upwards of a hundred hours a week – being absolutely NO help to me at home – when the kids were extra needy and sensitive because they were feeling the brunt of us being so busy, and when we were all eating Cheerios for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I remind myself of that and give myself a break. No, I simply savagely ground a few (OK, a whole bag) of “these are garbage for you” chips into a floor covering that needed to be replaced anyway. Ergo, I was doing myself a favour.
Even though once, I threw out everyone’s Halloween candy – running across the grass at the park beside our house (through a light sprinkling of snow because it was unseasonably cold that year) to put three pillow cases worth of suckers and mini KitKat bars and Twizzlers and those god awful boxes of Good & Plenty into a trash can filled with bags and bags of half frozen dog poop so that no one would even think to try to retrieve them – again, I said, it’s OK Mandy. Everyone – even nice and caring and super-attentive and creative mothers like you – have their breaking point.
Jesus Christ, don’t put me in the same category as that woman who used to live down the street from me, the one who wore hooker boots as much as I wore running shoes, the one who let her four and six-year-olds walk to school alone through blizzards (at least they had each other), the one who seemed high (on what, I was never sure) every single time I saw her. No, I’m not like that lady. At least, I’m making an attempt. And my kids (whom I deal with daily) are rather precocious, or pernicious, or peristaltic, or persnickety,, or perisomething…just brats sometimes. But whose aren’t? All kids are – that’s the nature of being a kid; they push the boundaries. And if you say yours aren’t, then I’ll know you are either lying, in denial, or just really unobservant.
Also, a little motherly “arm-squeezing” doesn’t count. If I’ve forcibly squeezed you out of my vagina, and you can walk and talk, I have every right to forcibly take you to your room for a time-out because you were being a complete turd and you knew better. Eight-year-olds can be “strong like bull” and/or extremely slippery.
When I lay in my bed at night, sometimes I stare up at the ceiling and think back to the day when I literally chased my oldest son out of the car after a particularly taxing trip to the mall (with all three kids) to look for three pairs of “indoor shoes”. This was during their pre-pre-teen years. I should’ve known it was a bad idea when the first argument broke out just as we left the house. But it was the second week in September, and I’d already gotten the dreaded “letter” from school that read, “Get your fucking miscreant kids some indoor shoes or else…” No, the note wasn’t worded quite that way, but that was the message I got. God, kids feet grow SO fast.
Anyhow, the ensuing arguments in the car on the way there, and the arguments in the parking lot, and in the mall, and the fist fight that broke out after I said I was leaving and everyone whined for me to stay, saying that they would get in trouble from their teachers, whah, whah, whah, well, I guess it was too much. I did manage to drive home like a trooper – the boys jabbing shots at each other back and forth from the front seat to the back – but as soon as we’d pulled into the driveway, I flipped my lid, slamming on the breaks and yelling, “Get out!” and NOT in my indoor voice. To think, I’d watered and fed them before we left. I don’t know what happened – animals.
Then – with just one snide remark from my older son as he slammed his door – that was it. I ran. He ran. Lucky for him, he’s an agile little bugger. My husband was outside putting the winter tires on the car (yes, he can do everything), and he grabbed me just before I got to him. My husband had to hold me back. “Stop it, Mandy. Let him go…” he commanded. Without his intervention, I probably would’ve almost spanked the boy – I said “almost” because I don’t believe in that sort of stuff. Violence begets violence. No doubt though, he would’ve gotten one of those “I’m your fucking mother and you WILL fucking listen to me” arm squeezes (that I mentioned above) as we went inside. I am not a saint.
My husband purports that this is the very crux of the problem – that I’m too nice. He says if he’d been the one to stay home with the kids (they are all grown up now – evidence that I succeeded as a parent at some very basic level), it would’ve been a different story. He would’ve run a different kind of ship. Sure, but who wants to live in a military camp? Who wants to feel like they are in prison when they are four? It’s an ongoing discussion, the same one that I’m sure many husbands and wives have. Are you too lenient, or too strict? Probably best if there is one of each – good cop, bad cop kind of scenario. Then the kids get a little bit of both.
Like I always say to my husband, children who are suppressed emotionally and creatively do not grow up to take over the world (in a good way). It may not be the easiest thing in the world to raise this type of person – because you are encouraging risk-taking, adventurousness, and a certain amount of cheekiness – but it depends what you want out of life. And then one of your kids poops in the toilet at Home Depot while you are busy picking out plumbing fixtures. You see this obviously, because mothers see everything first. Then slyly, you make sure your husband is in close proximity to the offender, and you RUN to the bathroom. Now that’s what I call being a GOOD mother.