I’ve got two stories, I wish were fiction, that I want to share with you this month. They are separated by ten years and nestled among many other similar stories; but these two stand out as: (1) amusing, (2) cautionary tales and (3) might make you feel better about your own parenting in comparison to mine.
And since I am dedicated to killing the icon of the perfect mother here it goes:
For my birthday this year I wanted to share my favorite restaurant of all time with my girls. I thought now that they were old enough, we could get dressed up, have a pleasant dinner with linen tablecloths, great food and I would enjoy a cleverly named cocktail.
The restaurant was crowded, the girls felt grown up in their fancy shoes and coats, and we sat down to begin what was to be a lovely time together. But halfway through dinner one of my daughters grabbed the other’s Ginger Ale. There was a tug of war, shouting and then time slowed down as one daughter wound up like Tyson and slapped the other daughter HARD across the face. I lost my shit.
I grabbed the slappy daughter by her arm, bared my teeth and shouted, “ Get out! Get out! Get out!” But I realized mid-shout … we were in a crowded restaurant … where was she supposed to go? So I improvised, “Get out … of … this restaurant … until you can … can come back in and behave yourself!” In stunned silence, my daughter got to her feet and wobbled in her high heels across the crowded restaurant and out the door.
After 10 minutes of silence, (it is possible the whole restaurant might have been silent, but I don’t know because I couldn’t hear anything over my rage and shame), my husband said, “Well … I guess I better go get her.” When they finally returned Bill said he found her walking down Highland Blvd. “Thirteen Year Old Found Wandering Down Busy Street in Hollywood in High Heels…!” Great; MOTHER OF THE YEAR!
My daughter sat back down at the table. “Sorry I ruined your birthday” she said sullenly, which really meant, “Sorry you are my mother … I hate you AND myself … but you more.”
Then I went home and was up all night – wracked with guilt.
About 10 years ago a beautiful, cool actress, whom I admire, was doing a movie with Bill. She told me wonderful stories of taking her 3 year old to a hotel for a night. They would eat dinner, watch a movie, and snuggle in bed, just the two of them.
So I did it. My daughter, 4 at the time, was obsessed with Puff the Magic Dragon, so I spent two days and one night at a beachfront motel pretending to be a sad dragon and being bossed around by a toddler. I thought to myself, “This is good, this is BONDING. This will be something she remembers forever.” But this was NOT FUN FOR ME.
The night we returned home I was getting her ready for bath time, and she was giving me the usual tussle: didn’t want to get her hair wet, or wear PJ’s, or some such nonsense.
Now, I don’t think she will remember the motel on the beach, or the hours and hours of her mother being Puff, but she will remember my response to her bath time shenanigans:
“Are you f*cking kidding me!” I screamed, “You won’t get in the bath!! After I played f*cking Puff the Magic Dragon for two f*cking days! You have got to be f*cking kidding me.”
At this point my husband took over.
Now of course it’s okay to get pissed at your daughter for being a bona fide asshole on your birthday. It’s okay to get pissed at your kids at bedtime when they won’t do anything you ask. But it’s not okay to drop down into the beast within, bare my fangs and breathe annihilating fire. It’s not okay to turn Puff the Magic Dragon into a four letter word and beat them with it.
Two stories, ten years apart but same problem; my EXPECTATIONS keep clouding the reality of who I am.
I AM NOT an easy going MOM. This makes me disappointed in myself.
I AM NOT the Mom who can have a good time at a hotel with a toddler. This makes me sad for myself and for my daughter.
I AM NOT the Mom who can roll with the punches (literal and figurative) at my birthday dinner without wanting to kill. This makes me ashamed.
First, I need to know and accept who I am, thus opening up the space to become more of what I would like to be. I am sure these stories will end up seeping into some therapist’s couch as my girls try to unravel their own stories. But the element that makes these limitations poisonous for me is to pretend they are not true.
After 13 years of child rearing I now have empirical evidence:
Pretending = disaster, shame and damage.
Telling the truth = boundaries, love and transformation.
I am not the mother I wish I were, but that doesn’t mean by default I am a bad mother. That means I am a mother… it means I am a good enough mother.
I hope this has made you laugh and feel a little better about your own moments of insanity in parenting.
I would love to know two things:
1. Are you struggling with EXPECTATIONS?
2. Were those expectations created by pretending you could be something you are not?