Saturday, September 1, 2012

Make of me a Saint, a Mother

I wish I were a perfect mother. I want to be a perfect mother, constantly gentle, letting go easily and without bitter commentary, accepting that life, especially with children, is unpredictible, and meeting every challenge - every test of patience - with an unflappable Mona Lisa smile and even voice.

I'm not like that. I like to have a fair amount of control. My children know my expectations, and they should be met in a reasonable time frame, I feel. I want the routine of naptime every day at high noon with at least an hour's sojourn in Neverland. Peace is something I fight for, and by doing so, of course, I often forfeit all hope of it.

Today I read an interview with Lisa Marie Presley. She was asked what she loved about motherhood, and she responded, Everything. But she also pointed out that motherhood is painful, because you worry yourself to death.

It is true, and to that statement I add that it is also very painful, because you beat yourself down for your mistakes. Again and again and again. You wish that you were perfect.

I wish that I were perfect. Please God, let me be so. Make of me a saintly mother, and may I never again feel the guilt of falling short.

Know thyself. I say if you want to know yourself truly, become a parent. You will learn extraordinary things about you. Wonderful things. Depressing things. But you will know what kind of a person you truly are, and you will know how much of yourself you are willing to give, sacrifice for others. What's more, the world will know you by your children, or at least it will judge you so.

This week a few things have reminded me of just how greatly after 10 years of child-rearing I still need to improve. My son did not take a nap for three straight days. I grew short in temper and stern in the face and hardened myself to his adorable antics as I spent over an hour in his room each day, making him return to his bed repeatedly, yelling at him. I just could not let go. To calm the sea of stress inundating my brain, I even tried to meditate, but that didn't work well at all with a toddler in the background jumping on his bed, thumping the wall, and in between jabberings, asking, "Out, Mama. Out?" I did eventually give up, let go, and let him out of his nap, but too late to save my mood which progressively got worse as the day - and days - wore on.

Earlier in the week as I was trying to finish writing a piece to send to another site, my toddler son got up from his nap and went out to the living room with his sister. I knew I should quit the computer, especially because my little guy falls down constantly, tripping over every little thing, but I kept working, wanting so badly to complete my task, to do something for my own interests. Suddenly, after several minutes of listening to them playing with a tea set, there was a crash. I leaped up from my computer and tore out of the bedroom. Simultaneously, I heard my daughter wailing and running toward me. We collided, and she cried with wide, frightened eyes, "Mama, Danny fell down! Danny fell down!"

Terrified, I ran to my baby boy, who was crying as he does when he is either badly hurt or scared, and I lifted him into my arms. I pulled my little daughter to me, too, because she was still shaking from the scare of seeing her brother fall from the kitchen play set, which he had climbed. It had toppled over toward the dining room table, and he had fallen against the wall. He could have broken an arm or leg or hurt his neck, and all because I was not there to tell him to get down.

With my children still in my arms I sat down in a recliner and pressed them to me. They were both crying still, and I was trembling and cursing myself for being negligent. It's not worth it; it's not worth it, I repeated over and again to myself. When we had all calmed a little, I asked my baby to show me what hurt. He pointed to his back, but as I checked him I could not find a bruise or bump anywhere; he was badly scared more than anything. I thanked God that he was alright, but it was no thanks to me.

Motherhood can be joyful as you watch your children playing together or when they come up to you, "Mama! Mama!" arms stretched out and with so much adoration in their faces. But it can be miserable, too. Yesterday afternoon I was driving my two youngest around town before picking up their brother and sister from school in order that my littlest could fall asleep, for just forty-five minutes, please!, to the sound of wheels on pavement. My thoughts were black and blue, as my dad would say. I was contemplating who I am and who I have been as a mother. So often we hear people say, You can't take care of your family if you don't take care of yourself. But I feel burdened by my own desires, my own selfish wants, and a point of guilt is a rod with which to beat yourself forever.

One afternoon when my oldest, Berto, was a toddler, I was trying to get the dishwasher running before getting him down for a nap. He was cranky and fussing at me, If You Give Mouse A Cookie clutched in his hand. I told him to wait, practically pleaded for him to just let me finish what I was doing, and then Mama would tend to him. While I was occupied with my housework, my fella fell asleep on the floor on top of his mouse book. With the dishwasher growling behind me, I went to pick him up, feeling abruptly sad and lonely. As I lifted him off the book, I saw he had a poopy diaper, and my heart fell to the floor. I couldn't believe I had not responded to him, hadn't listened to him. He didn't even wake up when I changed him and cleaned the poopy, where it had overflowed, off one of his favorite books. I held him in my arms as he slept, looking down at his face, rocking him and regretting.

I still have that book, and, yes, every time I see it I'm sorrowful, remembering my selfishness. I wish that seeing it would produce some kind of magic to make me remember never to repeat that mistake, but I still struggle with letting go of what I'm trying to accomplish when my children clamor for me. I am more mindful, but not near perfect.

As I think and cry anew over this and the multiple mistakes I've made in this most difficult job, I try to remind myself of my triumphs: deep conversations with my kids about God in which I admit I don't know everything but urge them to always seek Him, song and dances in which I've made myself look like a fool just to have fun in the moment, countless morning walks and bike rides and park excursions, games I've made up just to include them in my housework like "Sweep Monster", and endless hugs and kisses with all my love and best hopes for them and for myself poured in.

I am not a saint. No, nor am I a monster. I am something complicated. I am a mother, and very honored by that prestigious title. But sometimes I am in pain, and only a fellow mother could understand.


  1. Oh, dear lady, I could write forever here, and still it wouldn't do the good that an IRL hug would do.

    I hear you: days where you feel you've shorted them but at the same time, we need to be happy to feel fulfilled and feed our creative passion to be the best mother we can be.

    There should be no shame, or cries of "selfish!" because we pursue that which makes us feel alive, connected, worth something.

    I understand. If you ever want to email, or catch me on twitter, I 'll listen: b/c I know. And no one knows until they've had one of these days, just how much we want to give our children, but if we're drowning in the water submerged in motherhood, how can we do it?

    My love always...

    1. Empress, I am so touched. After reading your post @, I knew you would understand and it's funny we wrote them the same day. Sometimes it is just so GOOD to know others are experiencing similar things. It helps you keep your chin up and keep moving.

      Yes, I know, I need to write to feel happy about who I am, too, but trying to be a mother and trying to write are not mixing well right now. But as my friend always used to quote, This too shall pass.


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