I’ve been a mother for 32 and 1/2 years, if you count the first pregnancy, which I do. And I have dropped the ball more times than I would like to admit.
Some of the fumbles were minor, being too tired to read that extra bed time story or Windexing the floor (who knew that would make the surface as slick as glass?) or letting the kids eat Twix bars and Oreo cookies for dinner, which prompted my second son, who was four years old at the time to protest, “That’s not dinner! That’s stupid for Christ Sake!”
And the language – yup. I take responsibility for that, too. I’d like to say he heard it elsewhere, but that is simply not the case.
I lost my temper more than I ever thought possible over silly things like getting them to pick up their toys, or clean their rooms, or to simply stop fighting with each other.
And I also lost my mind over not so minor things like putting your brother in a cooler and sitting on it so he couldn’t get out, pushing your brother in the airport so that when he went sprawling across the floor, his head nearly got crushed by a golf-cart type vehicle transporting passengers from one terminal to another.
And worse, I was so tired at times that I forgot to pick my middle school age son up after practice – TWICE! I was in bed before I got the phone calls – from another parent’s phone – with my sons voice on the other end asking if I was coming.
And then there was divorce and upheaval, remarriage and more adjustment for my kids and my husband’s kids. And it was rocky at times – and tempers still flared. And they became teenagers. And the fights were about homework and responsibility and curfews and driving and studying and getting into college and laundry and showers that took too long and we still battled about messy rooms and unmade beds and messy lives.
I wondered what would happen to them when they went out into the world. If they even made it that far. I wondered if I had dropped the ball one too many times with each of them. I wondered – what the hell have I done?
And then they went to college, graduated, and went out into the world. And still I wondered if I had done a good job.
When I asked my second son, who called me out on Twix bars and Oreos for supper, how he knew so much about raising his children, and he said, “it’s what you taught me,” I was stunned.
And when my daughter, who moved to Atlanta 3 years ago, texted me when she moved into a house she’s renting all by herself to tell me that I taught her well, I was surprised again.
I remember an interaction I had when I was struggling to get out of a department store with two of my sons in a double-stroller and the third harnessed to the front of my body. An older woman approached me and said, “You are such a good mother.”
I smiled and said, “We’ll see. That’s for my kids to decide,” and secretly wondered how she could possibly know that.
How could she know that I was exhausted and spent from wrangling toddlers out of clothing racks, that I couldn’t remember the last time I had a sip of water and was so thirsty that my lips were dry, that the baby strapped to my chest needed a diaper change so badly that it was all I could do not to gag?
She saw something that I did not realize as a young mother. She saw the struggle that is motherhood, in that snapshot of time, and recognized herself. She knew that no matter how many times I dropped the ball and chastised myself for it, I would manage to pick it up and try again. Day after day after day….until I had done it for years and years and years.
And maybe that’s what it takes to be a good, albeit an imperfect, mother after all. That, and Twix bars and Oreos for supper once in a while, just so your kids can call you out and keep you humble.