Before I became a mother I thought I’d be really good at it. I imagined myself as this patient and gentle person who would always listen to her children and wisely dole out justice and mercy to my adoring brood. Then I had children. I held on to this imaginary persona for a while, but as more children were added it gradually slipped away and I am faced with the reality of who I am.
I am not a good person, I’m not all that patient, and I’m not very gentle. I get angry, I’m astoundingly selfish, I feel sorry for myself all the time. There are days, weeks even, when I play the perfect mother very well. But when the heat is on and I am at the end of my strength the ugly mommy comes out to play. I feel fury erupting in me because they dared to wet the bed again, through a diaper. I resist the urge to grab their little bodies and shake some sense into them, I feel the edge creep into my voice as I get louder and louder when I talk to them. I just want them to go away and leave me in peace. In these moments I can feel myself almost hating the ones I love so much. It’s a paradox that holds me in it’s grip; how I can love so fiercely and harbor such violent resentment all at the same time.
I think this is one of the ways in which my children are blessings. They force me into a recognition of my own weakness, my failure, which is helpful if I want to grow. At the same time I am humbled, humiliated sometimes, by the way they adore me. They are still at the age when I can make everything better with a hug a kiss and some of my undivided attention. That of course is one of the things that drives me to the edge. Undivided attention is difficult to give when everyone wants and needs it at once. I feel the pulling in me, the need to do it right, to get everyone taken care of individually and the desire to retreat to somewhere in my head and snap in irritation when they interrupt by calling me, over and over again.
I find it frustrating and annoying when they ask me to do things for them that they can do for themselves. Perhaps because I suspect it’s a way to try and get my attention when they feel that it’s lacking, and I feel guilty because of it. Or maybe it’s because I’m nursing the baby, she’s drifting off to sleep and you don’t need me to help you to go potty because you know how to do it yourself. No, don’t stand there in the hallway screaming “Mommy, I need help.” until you pee all over yourself and the carpet, go and use the toilet like you’ve been doing since you were 18 months old.
It doesn’t sound like much of a blessing I know. The thing is, when I surrender, when I give in to this role, when I allow myself to be moved by their need, their total attachment, I turn into that mommy that I dreamed I could be again. All I need to do is deny myself, turn off the poor me will you give me just one second to myself speech that runs on autopilot through my brain, and suddenly the answer comes. Somehow, when I let go of my selfish anger, I can see clearly to the end and get through it. It’s as though my self absorption prevents what Anne Lamott calls Spirit from entering and bringing life.
A few weeks ago I was tearing my hair out and yelling at the top of my voice. I was trying to make dinner. My tired and hungry children kept fighting and screaming, picking at each other, clinging to me, pulling at my side and screaming “I want a hug, I want you to hold me”, pulling at my body, my clothes, the baby I was holding, the spoon I was stirring hot food with and I found myself fantasizing about duct taping them to their beds until dinner was ready so I could finish. Maybe they’d fall asleep while they were there. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes, tried to ignore the child dragging at my shirt and the loud half fake crying from the other one, and prayed the most profound prayer on record. “I can’t do this. Help.”
I opened my eyes looked at each of them and started, “Once upon a time…” Suddenly they were completely silent. They ran to sit down and stared at me expectantly as I continued, “there was a beautiful princess, and a very brave knight…” I made up a very non-brilliant fairy tale that held them captivated because I made it about them of course, and I made it last all the way until dinner was ready and we sat down to eat. They were too entranced to fight with each other or to cry and scream and to get in my way in the kitchen. It was magic, or something more.
Every time I actually remember to surrender and ask for help, it is forthcoming. It’s not what I fantasize about. No one comes and takes my kids for a while so I can have a break. No one gives me a lot of money so I can bring my husband home earlier to be with us more. My children don’t suddenly stop wetting the bed or spilling their drinks on the carpet. But I am more patient, more gentle, more creative, and more like the person I want to be, and we get through. And gradually I can feel inside of me a tugging and adjusting, a slow work of transformation that will go on as long as I’m around to renovate. I hope I will be pretty in the end.