Not too long ago, before I had these little monkey-scamp-creatures that we call “children” biting at my ankles, I was a perfect mother.
Stroking my pregnant stomach, I made vows to my fetus: I will exclusively breast feed you. I will never give you a pacifier. I will teach you how to sleep through the night when you are nine weeks old. I will never let you co-sleep. I will never raise my voice to you. I will never let you eat McDonald’s. I won’t let you watch TV until you are three, and then for only a half hour per day. I will ensure you get an hour of exercise every day. I will never swear in front of you. I will never, ever feed you hotdogs or anything else that is not organic and home made.
I occasionally think of these idyllic vows, retching a little in my mouth, while cutting up hot dogs for my kids to go with their box of bright yellow mac and cheese. And speaking of mac and cheese, one of my five year-old’s favorite treats is to suck the remnants of the yellow, gooey cheese out of the foil pack after I have squeezed the rest over their over cooked noodles. Oh, man, just writing that sentence made me queazy. That yellow shit is NOT organic.
It makes me wonder what the hell happened to those fantasies of sitting down to family dinner and enjoying big plates of kale and quinoa (organic of course). Where did I lose my way?
Any working mom can tell you that dinner is a hostile time in the home. By 5:00 p.m., our sleep deprived brains have had ENOUGH, and we are all frazzled. I’ve never loved cooking and at this point in my life I find myself actually resentful when I have to boil water to stir up a pot of mac and cheese.
I want to tell you that I love creating nourishing meals for my family, but the truth is, I hate cooking. I wish it were acceptable to breast feed those children until they are old enough to cook their own damn dinners.
I want to tell you that I am totally consistent with my children’s diets and routines, but the truth is, being a working mom is really fucking hard, and some days I am shocked when we all make it to bedtime in one piece.
How about those other vows? Well, within about 48 hours of my son’s birth my nipples were totally chewed up from his tongue-tied latch, and I desperately shoved a pacifier into his mouth just to give myself a break. My daughter has a pacifier and she loves it with her whole heart, so we use it with enthusiasm. Both of my children were supplemented with formula after I returned to work because my body did not respond well to a breast pump. Neither of my babies slept through the night before 18 months, and we co-sleep like it is our job. I’ve raised my voice plenty out of sheer frustration and exhaustion, and the TV is on in our house early and often.
I’ve never been a rule breaker, so finding myself among all these broken vows is strange territory.
One of the biggest surprises of motherhood has been that my children came to me with their own temperaments from day one. Despite the fact that I grew them from scratch in my own body, they are their own people. Jack has always been intense and prone to anger, while Emily is an easy-going goof ball. Neither of them are like me at all. In fact, our greatest similarity might be our imperfection as humans.
I sensed their personalities while they were still living under my ribs. I described Jack as “frisky”. Emily was “delightful.” The truth is, I may have known a taste of their cosmic essence, but I did not know them as people.
How could I have possibly kept one-sided vows to these little humans whose needs and personalities I did not yet know?
The other big surprise about motherhood is how it is shockingly hard. The vows I made sounded lovely at the time, but I had no clue as to the limitations of my mental and physical energy before having kids.
I do my best as a mom. At the end of the day, I can say with total honesty, I do my best as a mom. Sometimes my “best” is merely “good enough” and we eat chicken nuggets for the third day in a row, or the TV stays on for an extra hour while I catch my breath so I can be a little better the next day. Then we will all eat extra fruit and spend extra time outside. In the end, I know it will all come up even, and we will all be all right.
Motherhood has brought out a bit of a renegade in me, and I don’t feel all that bad about my broken vows. I strive to accept my imperfections, that through acceptance and love for myself, I might love my children a little more perfectly.
This is my new vow to my children: I will always love you and do my best as your mom.