A Mother's Judgment
It starts with our feeding choice. Forget what feels natural, comfortable, easy. It's all about what's currently in fashion and what the books and "experts" say we should do. And if we can't do it, we judge ourselves to be less. Less fit. Less knowledgeable. Less strong.
And from there it just snowballs into a huge conglomeration of should haves and if onlys.
Here's what you need to know: we can do everything right or we can do everything wrong. But where our children end up is largely a matter of chance, circumstance and psychology.
I never thought I was the perfect mother. No sir. I was just as good (or bad) at judging myself as any other woman. And more often than not, I found myself not measuring up. But I did do some things as a mother that I was proud of. Shall I list them for you? Because truthfully, I could really benefit from that as well. So...
- I mastered breastfeeding.
- I became a stay at home Mom. For seventeen years.
- I gave my children a stable two parent family to grow up in.
- I made sure we had a family dinner every night.
- I was room Mom, PTA Mom, Team Mom.
- I made sure my children had extracurricular interests and activities.
- I limited screen time and insisted they move their bodies every day.
- I made them do their own laundry, clean their own bathroom and look after the family pets.
- I talked to them openly and honestly about sexuality. (THAT ONE WAS THE HARDEST)
- I made them get jobs when they were old enough.
- I researched their respective disorders (one ADD and Anxiety, one Asperger's and a bunch of other stuff) exhaustively.
- I made sure they had medicine and therapy.
- I went to battle with teachers and administrators. I became "that" Mom.
- I taught them to think for themselves.
- I taught them to question everything.
- I taught them to view differences as a reason to embrace, not reject.
- I taught them to respect all people because of our shared humanity.
- I laid awake more nights than I can possibly number worrying about every little decision I had to make on their behalf and how to turn them into functional, successful, happy adults.
- I still do.
- Edited, because I thought of one more: I quit smoking so my children wouldn't have to be afraid every day that I was going to die.
That looks damned good on paper doesn't it? I'm fucking Super Mom on paper.
Except that I don't feel like Super Mom.
I remember when my oldest child was born. He was six weeks premature. My water broke suddenly and there was nothing to do but prepare for his arrival. The neonatal team was standing by, ready to administer life saving measures to my tiny baby. But they were quite pleased with his size; a whopping 5 lbs. 14 oz. To me he looked very much like a little chick freshly hatched. However, he gave a lusty yell as soon as he was clear of the birth canal and pinked up the instant that yell faded into a confused squawk. They put him to my breast and he latched on with startling strength. The neonatal team exited the room with little fanfare; glad, I'm sure, not to be needed.
When we left the hospital, they warned me that because he had very little body fat, he needed to be kept warm. Keep him covered and next to my skin whenever possible. AND, he needed to nurse every two hours for at least ten minutes WITHOUT FAIL, to lay down the fat stores he needed to be able to regulate his own body temperature and to begin to grow and thrive. Many babies lose as much as a pound of birth weight. My baby, they warned, could ill afford to do so.
I went home relieved, but absolutely terrified. I was responsible for keeping this tiny little creature alive. Who decided THAT was a good idea?
I did as I was told. I fed him every two hours. I shook him, clapped my hands, played raucous music, and when all else failed, blew in his face or wiped it with a cold washcloth to get him to stay awake long enough to nurse for the requisite ten minutes. He would wake with a start that broke my heart just a little, but then begin to tug again, tentatively at first and then with vigor as the milk let down and filled his mouth to overflowing. I spent the time between feedings not sleeping, but obsessing over and devising new ways to keep him alert and awake while nursing.
At his two week check up the nurse announced, with surprise, that not only had he not lost any weight, he had gained fully two pounds. And while he certainly wasn't cherubic looking, he had lost that hatchling look and was beginning to fill out nicely.
I DID THAT.
You'd have thought I cured cancer. I felt very self-satisfied indeed. I felt like I had done something very, very important. I walked out of there thinking I had this mothering thing figured out. All it takes is a little ingenuity, a little effort, and a lot of faith in yourself. Yeah. I can DO this.
THAT day, I felt like Super Mom.
I was pretty good at the baby thing. I really DUG the baby thing, yannow? But they don't stay babies for long and the problems get exponentially more difficult to solve. I look back on those day now with envy. How I would love to be able to solve everything with a kiss, a boob, a clean diaper, a story, a car or a cookie.
Once that's gone, the Super Mom moments are much fewer and farther between.
But I did my best. We did our best. We tried to make good decisions. We tried to do the right things. We discussed and agonized and researched. We tried SO fucking hard.
But you know what? My incredibly smart kid, my infinitely capable kid, my handsome kid, my charming, funny, witty and big hearted kid...
He still failed.
And I won't lie. That feels like my fault. Is it really? I don't know. But it doesn't really matter. If every parenting expert in the world told me it wasn't, it still would be. We take that on, we Moms. We don't even realize it, but we do. Our kids' successes and failures are our successes and failures, whether we want them to be or not. And let me tell you, I really don't want to be responsible for the mess my son has made of his life.
I'm learning to let go of some of that responsibility, but it's hard.
And I've had to do a thing that goes against everything I know as a Mother. I've had to do a thing that I know is right, but feels so profoundly wrong.
I've had to let go, turn away, and turn him out.
It is WRENCHING folks. Nothing can prepare you for how deeply it cuts. The wound is bloody and ragged and unlike the rending of my body when he was born....this wound does not heal.
I watched him go and I thought of those long lonely hours alone with him at my breast. And I wondered how I was still standing there whole, rather than lying shattered in pieces on the floor.
Once, I thought that watching my infant be hurt by a doctor with a needle and enduring his wails and his look of utter betrayal was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I was wrong. Letting him fail without stepping in to fix it is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Even though I know it's right and I know it has to happen in order for him to figure out how to pick himself up, dust himself off and move on.
Why am I writing this now? Well, as many of you know, because I've stated it often enough...writing is therapy for me. Now we are taking baby steps towards resolution and healing, and I'm very much afraid of it getting all mucked up again. So I write. But I also write because I want you to know....
We can do everything right and still things go wrong. We have to let their failures be their failures, and likewise, their victories and successes be their own. We have to realize that autonomy means their responsibility and their accountability. Not ours. Disappointment isn't fatal. You'll both survive it and maybe even grow and learn from it. But you have to acknowledge it. You have to know that it's okay. It's normal. It's human. Anybody who tells you they've never been disappointed in their child is full of baloney.
So we're learning to let go and let him own his mistakes and failures. We're learning not to extend a lifeline, every time the going gets a little hairy. We're learning to let life happen to him.
It sure was a hell of a lot easier to whip out a breast. Slap a Spongebob bandaid on it. Feed him a cookie.
God I want that back.