We used to live in the Great White East of Ontario. Out in the wild, in the Ottawa Valley. We lived on a dirt road, in a house with a well and a septic system, and without garbage pickup. Once a week (or whatever) we went to the transfer station with a bag of garbage and recycling. There was also a magical place called The Reuse Center there. You could take books and spatulas and cast off cassettes and VHS tapes and everything else that you didn’t need. If you needed a book or a spatula or a cassette that was there, it was yours for the taking. Courtesy of your neighbours in the township. Before Christmas every year, Child went through his things and we took a box of his toys to the Reuse Center. One particular year, I thought he said that he didn’t want a tractor, so I put it in the box. When we put the box down, over the side of a low-wall so it could be sorted, he heard the noise it made, and he wanted it back. He said he never agreed to part with it. But I couldn’t reach it anymore, and it was gone. He was only upset by my apparent betrayal for a little while, but the weight of that noisy little tractor sits on my heart like a rock 15 years later.
As I’m looking at a 6 week window until my kid joins the Armed Forces and is whisked away for basic training and then to the Royal Military College of Canada, I’m looking back on all the things I could have done differently. All the times I think I was a bad mother. All the times I could have made my kid happier. All the times I feel like I failed.
It didn’t help that I read a post by Elizabeth Gilbert, which included this:
God help your mother, if she ever fell short. God help your mother, if she was exhausted & overwhelmed. God help her if she didn’t understand her kids. God help her if she no gift for raising children. God help her if she had desires and longings. God help her if she was ever terrified, suicidal, hopeless, bored, confused, furious. God help her if life had disappointed her. God help her if she had an addiction, or a mental illness. God help her if she ever broke down. God help her, if couldn’t control her rage. God help her, because if she fucked up in any way, she will be forever branded: BAD MOTHER. And we will never forgive her for this.
Yeah, I feel that. Except that It’s not my mom (who is a saint for not throwing me to the wolves, with all the shenanigans of my youth). I have branded myself. How many times did I not have milk in the house for breakfast. How many times did I not even know we needed milk, nevermind just not get it? Why couldn’t I just have planted the seeds he got at the CNE, instead of telling him we’d do it later. How often did I yell about the unholy mess in his room and the lack of gas in my tank after he drove my car to work and band practices and whatever else for a whole week. I had Shingles and I didn’t even know that he didn’t have his Chicken Pox vaccinations, so I infected my kid with a preventable disease. *I’m not an anti-vaxxer. It wasn’t a required vaccination, and apparently I fell down on the job for getting the optional ones. I didn’t sign homework often enough that he learned to just forge my signature on the homework form. I didn’t bake enough cookies. So many things I didn’t do, or shouldn’t have done, or that I could have done better.
I mean, I did things, too. 1 spent 3 years on his school’s parent council. I spent 12 years in an arena watching hockey. I spent 6 years working with his cadet corps. I drove him to the airport 4 times when he went to Europe for weeks on end. I pulled him off the ledge when his whitehotfury was in dazzling bloom. I organized a Canada-wide search for a matchbox-sized Milk Truck, to help out Santa. I proofread homework, and I found fun things to do when we played hooky, and I spent a summer as the Queen of the Tonka Trucks. But it still doesn’t feel like it was enough. What if, for want of a box of Cheerios, my child flounders? What if a pep talk, 4 years ago, or not feeling betrayed because of a bloody noisy plastic tractor would have made the difference between him being prepared for life, or not?? What if it really, really, truly, wasn’t enough?
And what if the 6 weeks I have left before he enrolls in the military isn’t enough time to make up for all the failures??
What’s a girl to do?
I had this conversation with a colleague recently about how things like Women’s Day is a time when we appreciate women’s contributions to all the things. But… shouldn’t that be happening all the time. Whether its your mom or your female employees or your dad or your administrative assistants or your teachers or whatever other National or Global Day of Whatever, isn’t it better to spread that out rather than smugly sitting back and saying “Check mark achieved: I signed a card. Duty complete”.
Which doesn’t help me feel better about what I could have done differently. So back to Elizabeth Gilbert, then:
And if you are yourself a mother, and you never stop judging yourself for how you are failing…can you let it go for one day? Just for one day, can you drop the knife that you are holding to your own throat? Mercy. Just for one day. Let us find mercy.
Yeah, I feel you, Liz. I feel you.
I have a friend who’s son is struggling and is acting out in dangerous ways. He said to me that he must have done something to make his son do the things he has. If my friend could have only been a better father, maybe these things wouldn’t have happened. I’m sure he’s not the only one who thinks that. I know he’s not. And while I can see that he’s done his best – and his best is pretty awesome, I can’t see it for myself, either.
Child gave me a (late) Mother’s day gift yesterday. It’s a photo book, and it’s late because the Googlez lied to Child about when he could expect to receive it. He feels like a terrible child for not having it in time, and for habitually not returning my car keys so that I can use my car (which makes me yell). And for regularly leaving my car without enough gas for me to use it when I need it (which makes me yell). I wish that I didn’t yell about it, now, though…
So I guess it runs both ways. I guess it runs ALL the ways. So maybe yes, let’s not be so hard on ourselves. Just for one day.
God help Mothers – Elizabeth Gilbert (but I think it applies to all parents and everyone else, too)
One thought on “Being Terrible”
We have all wondered if we have been a good Mother. We think about the things we have said and done, the things we could have done better. All of us wonder. and regret things we’ve done and didn’t do, said things that we meant to say, but they didn’t come out the way we meant them to and then the words couldn’t be corrected. and taken back. At the same time we have shared their victories and cried silently when they hurt.. We’ taught them to walk, and when they fell to pick themselves up and try again, never to give up. If we have taught them about love, charity, honour , self respect for themselves and others, then we have given them a good base for life. If at the end of the day they can give you a hug for no reason or say I love you, then you know that you have done a good job.