|On any given day, USA|
Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids – in fact, let’s just agree now that we can presume, assume and every other kind of ‘sume that I LOVE MY KIDS. I’m glad I’m their mom, they are a part of me, they are the best part of me, and being a mom to these two humans is something I would never trade. However, and take this in, loving my kids has in no way prepared me for parenting. Not. One. Bit. In fact, I often feel like I belong to a club that I have no business being a member of, and I’m not sure if feeling this way makes me more of or less of a member. We all have doubts, I get that.
Still, I cannot help but feel there’s a final exam any day, and I’ve missed almost a whole year of classes. There’s a book I forgot to buy, a secret handshake I failed to learn. Someone must know something about all this and she’s just not telling me! Otherwise, this job is just too fucking hard and scary and why would anyone do it? WHYYYYY?!?!
There’s also this business of looking through my single-mom glasses, replete with baby-shit-brown-colored lenses. Awful, right? Well, it’s my lens, people – the only one I’ve got in fact. And I can’t help but feel this makes the whole parenting job harder. I lost half my crew at the beginning of construction and I still need to finish building these beautiful houses, on time, to spec and code, and with lots of upgrades...you get the idea. Whether or not my single-momed-ness has made this harder, it’s certainly created resentment and that’s the paper cut that won’t heal.
I tell you all of this to tell you this: I realize I’ve been parenting to the milestones, not the moments, and that my friends is one colossal mistake. You know what’s awesome about me? I don’t make mistakes once, not even colossal ones. Nope. I make them repeatedly to be sure that I’ve done it well. And for the last seven years I’ve mastered this particular error. How? By waiting for it to get easier. By thinking the next holiday/birthday party/vacation will be the moment I’ve been waiting for – the “A-HA this is why it’s awesome to be a mom, I totally get what I’m doing!” moment. Those moments do come, sorta. When they do, they don’t stay long; they are fleeting, halcyon days. And they’re harder too see through single-mom baby-shit-brown-colored lenses, I can tell you that.
In recent months as I’ve been pondering MY ENTIRE LIFE, I’ve made a conscious effort to relax my sphincter, lose the glasses and just be a mom. Yeah, I don’t know what “just be a mom” really means either, but I’m going with it. It was on one of these days that I really got the gist of this parenting thing (sorta). It helped that I had gotten a ton of sleep, albeit as the result of four days of zombie flu, but hey ya gotta take sleep as it comes.
On the fourth day, I de-crusted myself from my sweat-stained sheets and took a much needed shower. Now, as you moms know, showering while young children are awake is not a solo endeavor, and in my opinion should be a medal-level Olympic event. I’d clocked about two minutes of steamy, liberating, refuge when Miss Herself wailed her way down the hall and into the bathroom. I could see through the haze of the shower curtain and steam that she had her shirt awkwardly pulled over her head, one arm 2/3 of the way through the hole and sticking up at a 45 degree angle, the other clutching her dress as she dragged it limply behind her. She walked with a slight limp, the result of getting her tights on and up to her knees before the task became too demanding, and she abandoned it for her shirt, which also turned into epic disappointment, hence her waterworks outside the shower.
She: [sob, sob, sob] Moooooooommmmmyyyyy! I can’t get dressed. This is why I never choose this dress! I hate it. And my shirt and tights are broken!
Me:[head poked outside shower curtain, water dripping from my nose and chin, shampoo running down my back] Oh, sweetheart! You’ve done such a great job. Tights take a lot of practice to get right, and look how much you did by yourself. And I know you love that shirt, but it’s getting small for you. Do you really need it under your dress?
Me: [sigh] Okay, yes, of course you do. Mommy will be done her shower in just a few minutes and then we’ll get you dressed [note: I often refer to myself in the third person a la Kanye West when speaking to my littles. No, I don’t know why].
She: Nooooo, now! Please mama. I want to be dressed now and I can’t do it by myself and I...[sob, sob, sob]
Me: Okay sweetheart come closer, we’ll fix this.And with my arms and upper torso leaning awkwardly out of the shower, the rest of me tucked behind the curtain, I pulled on her shirt and her dress (I did manage to convince her to take the tights off for the moment). When we were done I looked down and saw several little spas of water pooled in a small semi-circle outside of the tub. I shivered as steam streamed into the hall and cold air flooded the bathroom through the open door, and my sweet baby girl looked up at me and smiled. “Thanks, mama!” she said, and then spun on her heel and ran off, swinging her tights in a wide arc over her head and leaving the door wide open behind her.
It was then, in that moment, that I knew the secret parenting handshake. These moments are the ones that make you a parent. The inconvenient day-to-day moments that aren’t about balloons and decorations, posed family photos, and guest lists. Those moments are parenting auld lang syne – forgotten in an instant, and as fleeting as a handful of confetti tossed in the air. My Little Miss may have loved her butterfly birthday cake, but she’ll remember the day mommy leaned out of the shower to help her get dressed for the rest of her life. And, with any luck, she’ll pass on that patience and kindness to those she’s lucky enough to love in the future. Hopefully I get a free pass for the next time I’m short-tempered with her...but I don’t think it works that way.
How does that handshake go again?