When my kids were little I used to think that I was an under average mom. Underwhelming. Under exciting. Under everything. I’m not sure why I particularly believed this, or even if my assumptions about myself were true, but my overwhelm may have had something to do with having three children in four years while trying to remain sane.
As each new, perfect sleep-depriver came into our lives I took one year off from teaching.
I stayed home with Addie for 12 months, Meg for 13 and Jack for 8 (nothing personal pal) before I had to return to work. This also meant that for each successive maternity leave, as we kept adding one papoose to our brood, I needed to continue mothering my other papooses.
Do you know what it’s like to breastfeed for seven and a half years straight?
Say goodbye to the “tatas” and hello to the “teats” because that’s what it’s like to have another human hanging off of you upside down, right side up and sideways — you’re one tired mama milk cow.
Some days I felt so exhausted I wondered if I had indeed been set out to pasture after being run over by a mactruck. Could one person exist on six hours of sleep interrupted ten times for four years in a row?
Yes, she can, and I am living proof.
But, I’m also living proof of another paradox — you can be doing better than you think you are even when you feel you’re at your worst.
How do I know this? Because when my children were three, five and seven I began writing a column about them once a week for three years. Recently, I rediscovered these stories, and I realized that I was a better mom than I gave myself credit for while I was under rested, over caffeinated and moderately tipsy.
The woman I read about felt bad when she forgot to tuck her children in one time while working late. The woman I read about shared seven books at bedtime before she told one of her own stories from childhood each night. She let the house stay messy. She let the dishes pile up. She took the kids outside even when it was raining, snowing, sleeting or hailing golf balls, even when she didn’t want to go, even when they couldn’t find the right footwear, matching mittens or pants.
She tried. She cried. She gave it her best go and hoped they’d forgive her someday for all the ways she wasn’t put together, all the times she lost her temper and sent them to timeout, all the PB & J, mac & cheese and chicken nuggets they ate instead of carrot sticks, apple slices and broccoli crowns.
Most of all, I learned that I wasn’t really who I thought I was back then because I had all the wrong expectations and my inner dialogue did nothing to reinforce the right ones. You see, I thought I had to be superhuman, “Supermom,” to keep everybody happy and healthy and well adjusted at all cost, and usually, I was the one paying the price.
I had to squeeze everything in, figure everything out, make more time out of less and be happy while doing it.
My inner voice kept telling me, “You should turn off PBS and let them finger paint! You should always have a craft ready!” Funny, my idea of making something involves a stapler, a roll of tape, a marker and a paper plate.
Besides never having enough time for a long shower, my biggest problem was that I couldn’t stop all of the “shoulds” in my mind, and that’s why I felt so not good enough.
As I read through some of those early columns, I discovered that in every piece I wrote, between every word, every missed “Mother of the Year” moment, I could feel how much I loved them. Beyond every line where I felt less, there was so much more love behind it.
How come I couldn’t see this then?
Because I was too busy comparing myself to some impossible ideal no mother could ever live up to, no matter how many decoupage collages she makes with her children.
When I climbed out of bed to share this revelation with you this morning I stepped on a stapled together index card book collecting dust and dog hair on the floor. Honestly, I’d forgotten all about it in the shuffle of working, parenting and writing. As I picked it up and blew it off I remembered finding it on my nightstand one evening a month or so ago.
I made you something for whenever you need cheering up.
I hope you like it!
You’re pretty cool.
And I love you!
I love you because you’re funny!
I love you because you’re kind.
I love you because you’re a fantastic chef.
I love you because you’re a genius.
But most of all, I love you because you do so much for me, Addie and Jack (and everybody else).
You’re the best mom everrrr!
If you ever want to talk or watch something, holler at me bruh.
I’ll even give you a massage!
I love you!
Let me reassure you, I’m not a genius or a chef or even that cool really, but the fact that my fifteen-year-old daughter took a moment from her busy teenage life to validate my busy middle-aged one means more to me than the “Supermom” cape ever could.
Because when she looks at me she sees someone she loves. She sees someone kind and funny and willing to help, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be for her, for everyone really.
I’d rather be “Ma” than “Bruh,” but I’ll take it and the massage that comes with it.
And one more thing, if you’re where I was a while ago, feeling less than your best, please know this. Whether you’re a mama or papa, daughter or son, wife or husband, sister or brother, friend or caregiver, retiree, employee of the month or just barely phoning it in, however you find yourself lacking, please take another look at your measuring stick.
The people who know you see you as amazing not because of how amazing you are, but because of how amazing you try to be and how worthy you make them feel.
Don’t forget to give some of that worthiness back to yourself because we all deserve to feel loved, to feel valued, to feel enough for the ones who love us.
And you deserve to feel enough for yourself (especially when you’re not feeling it) because you are more than the sum of your shortcomings. You’re the product of your strengths and all of the times you’ve tried to be stronger. You’re a human in progress, and that’s all you have to be today.
So be well and know that I see you. This is my index card stapled love note to you all. I hope you like it. And if you ever want to talk, holler at me bruh.