My friend’s daughter ran into the kitchen, full of tears. A gang of girls followed with widened eyes, stepping over each other’s words, their explanations filled with proclamations insisting it wasn’t their fault that one of them had fallen from the swing. My friend kneeled before her daughter
and in the softest voice, the one reserved for addressing bumps and boo-boos, she made the appropriate inquiries and offered all the standard reassurances. I stood on the other side of the kitchen table, watching. There was nothing for me to do, no reason to interject myself into a situation fully under control.
Like a magician pulling a quarter from behind the ear of an unsuspecting spectator, my friend reached to the shelf behind her daughter and produced a roll of decorated bandages. It was Hello Kitty or some character that delights young girls. She offered one to her daughter, who really didn’t need it, but as all mothers – all parents – know: even the mildest of scratches demand TLC, and this is easily done in the form of an unnecessary band-aid. And then she offered a bandage to each of the other girls.
When I saw her do this, I said to myself, “Brilliant. Band-aids all around.” I wouldn’t have thought of that.
Later, sitting in her garden (it was a weekend get-away to the country) taking in the sun and drinking from a fresh pot of coffee, my friend admitted to me that often in situations like this little incident with her daughter, she feels at a loss, not knowing exactly what to do. I knew better than to say something stupid like, “but you did a great job.” She wasn’t asking for that. She was telling me, out loud, what I suspect every mother feels more often than we dare to admit.
When I told her how often I feel the same way, she was surprised. Like I have any confidence or expertise in mothering? “But you make it look easy,” she said. This just reminds me that I have no idea what I convey to rest of the world. Inside I feel like a loser; my history with mothering is anything but confident and easy.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that I am in awe of my children. But you also know that I struggle, always needing more time to myself, always feeling like I’m treading water or falling behind with my
own sanity; and I will get to it, really, after I fill out those school forms or organize the babysitting schedule for coverage while I’m on a trip or pick up that present for the neighbor’s birthday party on Wednesday. On top of that, they run to me crying and I’m supposed to know how to make it all better? But what happens when I feel like running and crying to someone to make it all better? Oh and the guilt: that there’s something wrong with me because I don’t love every moment of being a mom, or because it isn’t effortless for me?
I remember when the girls were toddlers, I endured tedious play dates, where any semblance of adult conversation was interrupted with patronizing reminders to our children to share their toys. When we did finally get to finish a sentence, it wasn’t complete: the complaints were minimized, our desperation hidden, the “unacceptable” feelings buried. We only allowed ourselves to speak of the joy of mothering. To say anything else, I suppose, would be to rock the very foundation of our society.
But I’ll just say it now: I have no clue what I’m doing and it’s no picnic. But I’ve stopped beating myself up about it. I’m so shooting in the dark, with occasional guidance from a useful book or a good friend. I’m making it up as I go along, just like all the other mothers.