I’m now officially “that” Mom in the eyes of my children’s school. I just burst into the main office, sputtering and gasping for air, all the while holding my daughter’s backpack up in the air like baby Simba from The Lion King. I had on my best “I’m late because I didn’t have my shit together this morning” look, and I didn’t even need to explain myself. Everyone just sort of nodded knowingly as they gently pried the backpack from my hands before patting me on the back and ushering me quickly back out the door. I think they prefer it if the crazy parents stay outside so as not to scare all the children.
You know that feeling when you get out of bed in the morning and your foot has fallen asleep? You stand up without realizing that it has gone numb, then you stagger around like a disoriented zombie, clutching at chairs and walls just trying to propel yourself forward. Then the tingle starts; slow at first, a soft hint of a tickle. You think you can handle it, so you roll your ankle and tap your foot, a challenge of sorts. But then it happens. A thousand tiny pin pricks of misery suddenly descend upon your foot, and you lose all control over your senses. You hold your breath, roll your eyes and flap your hands to hurry the pain along. Then you take tentative steps, boldly pushing back against the ridiculousness of it all until finally you are free enough to run wildly, like a Chihuahua hopped up on speed, ready to start the day.
Now that school has started again, this pretty much describes my daily morning struggle as the parent in charge of getting all three children to school in one piece, all the while maintaining the illusion of being a respectable, responsible adult along the way. It isn’t pretty, friends.
The kids and I stopped at the park on the way home from our bike ride yesterday. My younger son had some bubbles in his pocket, so he pulled the bottle out and slowly began to fill the sky with happiness. His brother and sister ran, jumped and clapped the bubbles between their hands. As the kids laughed and played, I sat contentedly on a nearby bench letting the warm afternoon sun wash over me.
A little boy who had been playing on the nearby slide came barreling over to join in the fun. My son showed him how to blow through the bubble wand, and soon the boy was scattering bubbles across the park. A few moments later his mom appeared and began apologizing on behalf of her son.
“I’m so sorry!” she gushed. “He’s only two. I hope you don’t mind that he came over!”
I shaded my eyes with my hand, and looked up at her. “No worries,” I smiled. “They’re all having fun together. Bubbles are like the ultimate olive branch among kids.”
“I have so much to learn,” she sighed, plopping down onto the bench beside me. “I didn’t bring any bubbles or toys with us. I have a seven month old as well, and she doesn’t need any toys, so I always forget. I guess I’ll know better for next time.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I said gently. “There’s no right or wrong way to go to the park. Most kids are happy with some sand and a stick.”
“I guess you’re right.” She paused, thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Your kids are really well behaved. They’re sharing so nicely with my son, and they’re really happy and polite! How do you do it with three? You make it look easy, and I’m here struggling with only two!”
I was so surprised by her comments that it took me a moment to answer. How and when did I become that mom that other people look at and think, “Wow, she’s really got her shit together!” I could remember not that long ago being a new mom myself and looking at all the other moms at the park who seemed so at ease, their kids playing perfectly without the need for constant supervision. I remembered feeling so overwhelmed and discouraged, thinking maybe I was doing something wrong, and wondering if it was ever going to get any easier.
“I struggle every day,” I finally admitted. “My kids scream and fight, and they often hold each other’s toys hostage. Sometimes they play nicely together, but sometimes I feel like I’m raising a pack of wild animals. It’s hard, and sometimes I cry, but every day I learn a little bit more, I become a little bit wiser and a tiny bit more confident. I used to compare myself to other parents, but after a while I realized that I was never going to be anyone other than me, so I stopped caring about what everyone else did.”
The kids came running up to me then, and I took a moment to tousle their sand filled hair before continuing. “It will be the same for you,” I said, wiping a streak of dirt off my youngest’s cheek. “As your kids get older, you’ll gain more experience, you will develop your skills as a mom, and before you know it, you’ll be right here where I am, sitting casually on a bench watching your kids play.”
I paused to sip on some water, and to let that sink in. “Don’t get me wrong,” I continued. “You’ll still be slightly stressed, pretty damn tired, and you may drink a little more wine some days than you should, but you’ll have mastered being able to look totally chill when you take your kids to the park.”
The other mom laughed, then said, “No one has ever been that honest with me before. You’ve given me more hope than you’ll ever know. Thank you for that.”
“My pleasure,” I said, and I meant it. Too often we avoid talking about how hard parenting actually is. We are all in this together, and it’s okay to share our stories, and to reach out and ask for help. We all struggle and feel like a failure from time to time, and that is completely normal and perfectly okay. It’s how we learn and grow, and it’s how we become better parents.
Everything I have learned since becoming a Mom, I learned the hard way, and I like to think that I am a better parent for it. Although I believe that we all need to stumble on our own from time to time, I would still like to offer up one piece of advice in order to save you from making this one simple mistake that all parents inevitably end up making:
Don’t ever, EVER smell your child’s mittens, especially not during that awful snow/slush/mud period at the beginning of spring. You might think that your precious snuggle bug would never be so bold as to stick their entire mitten-clad hand into a mud puddle, but trust me, they will. Is it brown? Is it wet? Is it disgusting? Your child will touch it. Hell, they will probably roll around in it. Then they will bring their frighteningly rotten mittens home and dump them into a corner to dry out (or not, because do mittens ever really dry?).
Your child will wear these mittens day after day until one day you will peer at them suspiciously and wonder if it might be time to give them a quick wash. You might even be tempted to give them a sniff, just to be sure, but for the love of God, do NOT put your nose anywhere near them! Instead, imagine that something feral and foul has crawled up inside your child’s mittens, drowned itself in a puddle of sour tuna juice, then died a slow and horrible death. Listen, just grab your hazmat suit and hustle those suckers straight to the washing machine. Wash them. Burn them. Do whatever you feel is best, but just DON’T SMELL THEM!!