If you could evaluate my mothering style for the last week, it would be a giant hash tag: #Fail. I’ve been impatient, quick to shout, rushing through the to-do list, rushing through the apartment, rushing through my angry life. This is partly due to a big job, one with tentacles that reach far beyond the original scope of the project. It’s also due to the rentreé – what the French call this moment of back to school, back to work after taking most of August off. Or maybe it’s just me, drowning in my own expectations.

Despite my foresight in July to buy all the girls’ books and school supplies before the crowded and dreaded last week of August, I still scrambled to get them out the door fully prepared for their first day of school, and it didn’t keep me from being subjected to the annual French pedagogical practice of scorning the parents. There were messages from the maitresses in the Cahiers de Correspondence reminding me that their books have not been properly covered in clear plastic wrap (akin to working with fly paper) or the wrong kind of colored pencils have been purchased, we have to send another box of tissues to the school, we need ID photos for the kids by the next morning and even though it’s 7:00 and I just got home and there’s still homework to finish and dinner to be made and another teleconference at 9:00, something I try to avoid but inevitably with colleagues and clients in other continents this rule gets excepted and tonight of all the nights I have a call but yes we’ll find pictures of you both and print them out for school tomorrow.

Oh and what’s this other note from the teacher? I have to fill out medical forms with the name, address and all phone numbers of mother, father and babysitter, a form much like the three forms I filled out and sent to school with each child (6 forms!) yesterday, only I must attach a copy of the their vaccination records even though I did this last year and the year before and don’t they keep these records on file? Even though everybody would be happier if they just computerized the system mais non it wouldn’t be the same if those faded photocopied forms weren’t sent home every year to be filled out exponentially.

As you can tell, I’m about to lose it.

De-facto smartly steps back and leaves a larger path for me to run my Tazmanian Devil routine. My murmuring and muttering in the kitchen – and by the way why can’t he load the damn dishwasher correctly – is less offensive if heard from another room on the other side of the apartment. The girls attempt to console me, but they are wrapped up in their own dramas: new teachers, an increased load of homework, back to the weekday morning up-and-out when they’d rather hang-around-and-play. Everybody is adjusting to something.

Then the Skype phone rings. If I answer it, something that I’ve been trying to handle for the last three days can disappear from my list. I hesitate. I don’t want to answer it, but then that something will keep stalking me. The headset goes on.

I swear, after each job, that from now on I will be the kind of mom that does not work between 5 pm and bedtime, in order to be present, help with homework, sit on the couch and tickle, cuddle or read together, to sit calmly at dinner and inquire about their day, to be the mom who gives them the most precious thing ever – more precious than any new toy or gadget – the precious thing of time. But I am not really that mom. I cannot even manage this simplest part of mothering without interruptions.

Then I realize that I’ve failed to be the mom I want to be, the one who’s busy enough to set a good example about being engaged in the world and having a purpose and a profession, but also that mom who’s present: listening, understanding, caring, being there. I’ve failed to be zen, calm, cool and together. Failed to juggle it all the way I proclaimed I would when I was in my twenties imagining myself as the über-working-mother. Failed to live up to my own expectations. Failed to bridge the widening gap between my real self and my ideal self.

While I’m on the call, Short-pants stubs her toe on the kitchen island but it happens just at the moment I am building up to the climax of that critical point I really needed to make. Instead of comforting her, I hold my finger up to my mouth and she runs upstairs to her room screeching. Then it’s all pointless; I’m not really listening to the other side of the call anymore because I’m feeling the hollow dent in my gut as I join, once again, the failing-mother’s club.

By the time I finish, my daughters are at each other’s throats and I head upstairs to mediate. I am too exhausted to cope – I have spent an entire day being polite to people, listening through conference calls with far too many participants, carefully crafting emails meant to inspire a positive response. I have spent every ounce of my poise on other people and now, at home, hungry, tired and exasperated, I fly off the cuff at the littlest thing. I even use the F-word, much to my chagrin.

“Mama,” Short-pants says, “you just said fuck.”

“I know,” I say, “that’s really bad.”

They stare at me, waiting to see what I’ll do next.

“Shall we all say it together now?” I’m on a roll. “Ready one, two, three.”

We all scream it out loud and then I say “Okay it’s a bad, bad word. Let’s none of us ever use it again.”

They nod at me, still in shock.

“Okay, maybe one more time, to get it out of our system.” I count to three and we all scream it again at the top of our lungs and then fall on the bed giggling and laughing. Which turns to crying. Crying because it’s all so much, it’s all too much. Too much to do. Too much to miss. Too much to manage. There’s too much everything. Too much love and too much pain. There’s just too much.

Sometimes I feel like I’m failing spectacularly. Of course this not true: if you spend an hour in the presence of my daughters you’ll experience them in the most positive way: They are engaging with adults but still magically childlike. They are polite but expressive. They are little thinking, feeling people. They open their hearts to the world, without making too much of a fuss. I like to joke about Buddy-roo‘s materialism, but she has a good heart and she can surprise you with her thoughtfulness. And Short-pants, she’s as wise as a crone. They’re both turning out just fine. But still, my mothering is flawed and sloppy, inconsistent. (Clearly, it must be De-facto’s influence.)

Listen, I know this is all just a lot of noise. I know that the most important thing is to love them and to let them know they’re loved. I know that it’s better for them to see me as a real person with regular human frailties, not as some sort of bionic super-mom. But even though I profess that I’m not trying to be perfect and do it all – it’s a big fat lie. I know it’s impossible and futile, but honestly I can’t help myself. It’s in me.

What worries me is that I will pass this on, that it will be in them, that somehow they will think that they have not been good enough, that they will perceive my impatience as a reflection on them. It becomes imperative to let go, to lighten up and laugh at it all. If not for my own sanity, at least do it for theirs. But can I do that while under pressure? Not yet, apparently. But I’m working on it.

13 Responses to “#Fail”

  • james Says:

    fucking awesome, M. you never cease to inspire me.

  • Suzanne Says:

    Your blog is the only non wine-related blog that I read and I think I look forward to new posts from you more than any other. And I don’t even have kids! I agree w/James – you really are an inspiration. Hope you get some much-deserved down time soon. Bisous!

  • Delphine Says:

    oh, si tu savais comme tout ce que tu dis fais écho en moi. Moi cet été j’ai échoué comme maman, comme belle-maman et comme tante. Cela a abouti à un beau F. clash avec John qui a fini ses vacances de son coté avec ses enfants et moi avec les miens de mon coté.
    Et nous avons eu beau faire un “conseil de famille” tous les six pour parler de notre famille recomposée et des difficultés qui s’ensuivent pour tous et de IWWMW améliorer les choses, je me sens encore en dessous de tout et je sais que ça ne va pas tellement mieux.
    Heureusement, ma thérapeute et John m’aident.
    Une amie m’a dit un jour “On aura beau faire tout ce qu’on peut, essayer d’être les meilleures mères du monde, de toute façon il faut se faire à l’idée qu’ils vont devoir aller parler à quelqu’un pour dire tous les traumas qu’on leur aura fait subir”. Et je suis comme toi, quand je me sens une “failing-mom”, ce genre d’argument ne m’aide pas.
    Si on lançait un groupe de réflexion créative à Crea-France dont le sujet serait “la créativité au secours des mamans qui craquent” ?

  • Tina HP Says:

    hey you. thanks for all that heart & soul, honestly rendered. boyyyyyyy, i can relate if it helps any. i pretty much sucked as a mother the past few days. it happens. you KNOW your kids are smashing. maybe they’ll grow up knowing that they can be human. they’ll certainly grow up knowing women kick ass & take names & are fabulous non-hausfrau-like, and that can’t be bad. and it sounds like we need to stick a liquid lunch in the books asap…..

  • hpretty Says:

    God, don’t put any of us mothers (or fathers) under a microscope. We’re doing our best, but often it’s not pretty!


  • Helga D. Says:

    I SO get it! I feel the same way as school begins and I take on more work. Kids come home with tons of homework. And then my grandmother-in-law falls and breaks her wrist, and now I need to figure out her living situation, money situation, and care-giver situation, as well as mediate between care-givers that are fighting. (I am legally in charge of all matters concerning her, don’t ask, long story. I feel overloaded and bitter that other family members put it all on me, expect me to handle it all. But I remember the saying “this too shall pass” and muddle through. September will flow into October and hopefully your schedule will ease.

  • Kunyi Says:

    I’m not sure if I understand completely, but here’s how I’m reacting. I certainly identify with the exhaustion, etc. that many (most) parents feel. But maybe being overloaded is not the whole story. I think there is also the drive to do everything well, everything to the best of your abilities. I don’t know… I get so tired of knowing what’s a good job and what’s a job poorly done, and trying to do everything well, as if doing it perfectly is the only option. It’s exhausting to have that desire or way of being (to try to do everything well, even if you don’t succeed). Exhausting. You’re not able to cut yourself any slack, and it’s likewise hard to cut other people that same slack (even the word “slack” implies there’s something wrong with relaxing.) There’s always something to be done, and done better. But what does it matter if the closets aren’t tidy enough, and organized. It doesn’t make lives any better if they are, except maybe being able to find what you’re looking for with little effort. It’s not like the natural order of things is tidy-ness. Nature is much easier on the state of things being non-perfect.

    Sometimes I wonder whether teaching my children what a “good job” is, is a a gift or a curse? It’s way harder than teaching them to pee in the toilet. But will it make their lives better or worse? Will it enhance their enjoyment of life, or make them neurotic? (My brother, in relation to me, would say the latter.) Will it teach them to be judgmental about other people, or teach them to appreciate the myriad of ways there is to reach an end-point? Will they be less likely to enjoy something if they can’t be good at it? Or just try to enjoy the process? Will they know they are fine just as they are, or subject themselves to scathing inner conversations about the state of their kitchen floor and cheque-book left unbalanced? So far, I think they are more liable to not care about perfection and more likely to care about enjoyment. But underneath it all, I know they are striving, and I hope it doesn’t take over. I think I am getting there, but man, it takes a whole lot of turmoil to not try to do your best when doing ok makes everyone happier. (I’m not saying that I DO everything well, but that I really, really like to.)

    My kids notice when I give over to the mediocre, and I think it takes some stress away; it shows that perfection in everything is not necessary, nor warranted. I think THAT is a better gift – the gift of discernment – than the gift of constant striving. I wish my parents had said “oh don’t bother with that; it’s not worth it, go read a book” more often – or ever. So now I just say it to myself (and yes, then look for an excuse for the sloth that ensues). I know your kids will be more than fine; they already are, and they will continue to find their own way and what works for them.

    A family friend has a saying that I like – “if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing badly” – which is a play on words, of course. Its meaning is that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing even if “badly” is all one can do. Like writing, like taking care of children and family, like playing the fiddle, and walking a tightrope.

    My thoughts are rambling, and ill-formed. But at the moment, it’s the best I can do.

    my best,

  • Oceanaddict Says:

    I don’t even have children or a de-facto of my own…YET…but I have been failing at living my life lately and I can definitely relate to what you’re feeling. At the end of the day, it’s only our own bloody unrealistic expectations that lead us to let ourselves down, right? And you know, when I think about it, yes. My mom was that way too, and she still is. We have pep talks going both ways, now that I’m an “adult” and we are more like friends. But those are only some days. Other days, I can make myself step back. Live in the moment. Walk away from the list that’s only one eighth checked (and that may just be the box marked “shower” because I needed the satisfaction of accomplishing SOMETHING!), and take up something spontaneous that let’s me love life and the people in it. All I can say is this: you ARE incredible and inspiring (as so many others mentioned before me) and most of all, you are HUMAN. Your girls need those moments of reality check. And some day, they’ll be saying to each other, “remember that time when we all screamed the F-word together?!” And it will be a memory that makes them smile and helps them cope. Maybe you should do that more often, Mom. (And PS, even though my mom was also Human–beCAUSE she was Human–I turned out pretty good.)

  • MDBlogs Says:

    It’s so great to hear from all of you, with short pats on the back of encouragement or longer reflections. It’s really inspiring to get such passionate feedback on something that actually I was a bit afraid to post.

    On one hand I know that it’s all fine — the girls are fine, I’m human, there’s no need to be perfect. I understand this intellectually. The reason I posted this was that even though I eventually come to this understanding after these kind of stressful moments, I also still have to go through the process of this conversation with myself about failing.

    In the end I realize I’m not a failure, but I still go through the murky cloud covered feeling before I can sort it out and get my bearings. It felt a bit vulnerable to share it, but it feels now like it was exactly the right thing to do. Thanks.

  • Tall Dude in Chicago Says:

    I have not yet begun to fail, but f**k, I can see how badly I’m going to do it. Thanks for sharing, and for speaking to me and my wife with this post.

  • magpie Says:

    I’m kind of having the same week, but I’ve not gathered the family in the kitchen to yell FUCK together. I think that’s now on the agenda for tonight. 🙂

  • Tim Hurson Says:

    You will pass on to them exactly what you are, and they will love the you in them.

  • minnie Says:

    the other day my 3 yr old said, “mom can you read this fucking book to me?”

    I do like it when people talk about how hard it is to juggle working, parenting and being human. If we don’t talk about it it we just isolate ourselves.

    And i agree with Kunyi in that letting our kids see anger and frustration is perfectly okay if nt good for them.

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