Why can't I forgive myself?" I asked Matthew a couple nights ago after the children were in bed. I was referring to my mommy guilt pertaining to an incident involving Berto, my eldest.
"I don't know. He's fine."
Men don't understand Mommy guilt. I studied my husband, bewildered by his imperturbability.
"You've forgiven yourself for your parenting mistakes, haven't you?" I asked him.
He answered with complete sincerity and a straight face, "Yep. I'm at peace with myself."
At the edge of tears, I instead burst out laughing, and he grinned back. He'd pushed back those dark clouds lowering o'er my head.
My mommy guilt had resurfaced a few days ago when an old acquaintance of mine posted on her Facebook page that her little girl had made a huge potty-related mess. She wrote about the incident with compassion for her little one and also admiration for her initiative in attempting to clean up the mess. I admired this friend of mine for seeing the humor in the situation immediately, and for being gentle with her daughter's mistake.
But it brought back a painful memory that lumbered out of the back of my mind to whack my mommy sensibilities in the face repeatedly for several straight minutes.
I risk making you, gentle reader, think I am the worst mom ever if I reveal the tantrum I threw over a much smaller potty incident than that related by my friend. So, please, let me plead my case a little.
You must understand that, as I have already written in this blog, I am a tad OCD. But not about everything. It's selective, you see. I'm not OCD about spiders or mildew or making sure that the furniture in my living room lines up just so. But I am obsessive-compulsive about locks, chemicals, avoiding running over pedestrians...and germs. Germs is a big one. You must understand this. It freaks me out if my children stand within a foot of a bathroom plunger. I get tense and irritable and bark urgently, "Back up! Get away from that!" as if it's a dangerous tool that poses great risk to their safety. It doesn't matter if it hasn't been used in months, maybe years. And taking my kids, especially my girls, to a public restroom is a stressful ordeal that sometimes inspires panic. I refuse to walk the perimeter of, let alone use, a portable potty.
So when I was a young mother learning to be a mother, and my toddler son, the first of my four children, shoved a bath mat in the toilet, I had a come-apart. As soon as I saw it dripping in his hands and knew the source of the liquid to be toilet water, my head imploded in cataclysmic OCD fashion.
"Did you put that in the potty? Did you?"
At the second question I was already yelling. Berto was instantly scared because of the crazy look on my face. He could only nod when I asked again.
"You don't put things in the potty!" I screamed.
I lifted him up and plopped him in time-out in the hall. He started to cry. I stormed off to get Lysol wipes, for the only thing that can trump my fear of chemicals is my fear of germs. I realized I had only a few wipes in the container and threw it against the wall in a rage; the container busted. I came back down the hall.
It was at that point that the small, sane voice of reason and wisdom told me to stop my tantrum, to calm down. Irrational emotions, especially those of fear or anger, overwhelm your intellect like a powerful drug sometimes; if you don't listen to that quiet man in the corner with the small, flat voice that tells you to sober up, you will 100% for sure regret it.
I didn't listen. I continued to yell at my son as I wiped the potty water from the surfaces of that bathroom, "We don't put things in the potty! We NEVER put things in the potty - not our hands or toys - not anything!"
I can still see the wide-eyed look on his face as he cried and hunkered down in the hall. My son was scared of me. I had stopped being his loving, playful mother and had turned into a germ-phobic monster.
When I finally calmed down, after standing still in the bathroom for several moments breathing deeply and staring at his little tear-stained face, I knew that the gratification of letting loose with my OCD rant could not even remotely equal the remorse I was going to feel about it. I knelt down by him with softened features and a sad voice. I apologized and held him for a long time.
But you can't take it back. The yelling and the tears you provoked in anger. That is the worst part of losing your temper.
I've never behaved that way since over some minor "germy" infraction involving my kids. I've learned to roll with the bacteria, so to speak. But it doesn't matter. The one incident was enough to haunt my memory and provide me six years of mommy guilt that is still going strong.
So I found myself, yet once more, talking to Matthew about it, telling him of my friend's post and how she in no way seemed to freak out over her germ-laden situation. I described again for him my atrocious behavior of six years ago and my intense regret over it.
I just wish I could intone as he did, "I'm at peace with myself."
But as a mother, and a flawed human being, I don't have that luxury.