Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, so I’m thinking about motherhood.
I remember reading (sometime, somewhere) about the different mothering trends of the past few decades. There was the ultra-competitive power mothering of the 90s and early 2000s (Get your child the right stroller! Get them into the perfect school!). This was followed by a backlash that the author termed the “bad mother” trend (embodied by Ayelet Waldman’s memoir Bad Mother — which is, by the way, an honest and funny and touching read). “Bad mothers” proudly confessed to their failures, forgetfulness, selfishness, and use of vodka shots to get through the day. I’m not sure what you’d call the current mothering trend, but between last year’s hot mothering book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and THIS year’s hot mothering book, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, I’d call it “comparative multicultural mothering” (“Here’s how Asians do it!” “Oh yeah? Well here’s how the FRENCH do it!”).
I don’t really fit in to any of the above categories. I think I’m a mom who shows up every day and tries my imperfect best (with the help of God and coffee). A pretty good mom.
But I’m a pretty good mom who dropped my newborn.
I still remember vividly the first time Fiona got hurt. She was around 6 months old, and we were sitting on the floor of her room looking at books. As she was pulling out books from her bookshelf, a book from a higher shelf fell out and hit her right next to her eyebrow. It left a nasty red mark, and Fiona screamed for a few minutes, then recovered and forgot all about it.
I, however, did not forget. I cried harder than Fiona over her pain and my helplessness. How could I let such a thing happen to my child and not prevent it?!? That book COULD have landed in her eye! She’ll never forgive me for sitting there and letting her get hurt! I am clearly an unfit mother.
If you’re expecting me to tell you that things got better with time and additional children, you’re wrong.
Because when Campbell was about 4 days old, I was nursing her in bed late one night. I always read during late-night feedings in an attempt to stay awake, and I was reading that night. But despite my best efforts, worn out from the challenge of caring for a 20-month-old and a newborn, I nodded off with Campbell still in my arms. And woke up to a loud THUD and my baby wailing.
Campbell had fallen off the bed; more accurately, since I’d been holding her when I nodded off, I had dropped my newborn. I was completely beside myself. How COULD I, a second time mother, be so stupid?!? How would Campbell ever recover a sense of safety or trust after being dropped by her own mother at 4 days old?! Thankfully, our bed was only about 18 inches off of the floor, or it might have been a lot worse. We took her to the doctor the next day (where I was sure they’d call Child Protective Services on me), and she checked out fine. As far as I know, Campbell has no memory of the event and doesn’t hold it against me, although lately she has taken to saying, “Mommy, I wish I was back in your tummy.” I don’t know what that’s all about, but I’ve wondered whether she’s thinking, You know, things were a lot better back before she could get her hands on me.
And THEN, when Georgia was about 5 months old, I was trimming her fingernails one morning and nicked a little chunk of skin out of her tiny finger. She cried, and bled, and bled, and bled. She bled for the better part of an hour, through two washcloths and countless tissues. The only reason we didn’t take her to the doctor was because Erick was home, so he did his research (when there’s a family crisis, I handle the emotions and Erick handles the research) and determined Georgia was probably fine. Which she was.
Once again, I was the one who wasn’t fine. How many hundreds of fingernails had I trimmed with our previous two children, and I slice open our third daughter?!? How could I be so careless?!? Would Georgia ever trust me to cut her fingernails again?!? Happily, Georgia continues to submit to manicures, so I assume she’s let bygones be bygones. (I can’t say the same for her older sisters, who witnessed the event and remind me of it every time I go to trim their nails).
It goes without saying that this will NEVER be a parenting-advice blog. In fact, I no longer read parenting advice books or websites. (I know there are many excellent parenting resources out there that have helped countless people, but I started to notice that reading this advice made me anxious and confused). Not that I don’t need any input or advice, but these days I get it by talking to friends — friends who are in the trenches with me, or friends who are further along the parenting path and have great kids to show for it. Sharing stories, I’ve found, is the most helpful.
So that’s why I shared these stories with you: because I hope they might be helpful to other moms, especially moms who are struggling. (Is there any other kind?) I shared these stories precisely because they were stories I thought I’d never tell. They were too embarrassing, too traumatic. Back when they happened, I never would have predicted that I’d write them up and post them on the internet, let alone be able to chuckle over them a little.
Here is my Mother’s Day thought: I don’t think that time, experience, or more children necessarily make you a better, more competent mother. They just make you an older mother. Personally, I’m just as capable of dropping my third child as my first (maybe even more so, because I’m more tired and distracted). BUT, I DO think that time and experience can give mothers the gifts of perspective and humor. Things that seem so crucial — even shameful — at the time, later turn out to be things we tell virtual strangers with a chuckle. I’m only four years into this game, but if this is how I now see some of my darkest mommy moments, I’m guessing that in another four years we’ll all be chuckling about naps and potty training and kindergarten — the things that seem so important right now.
Bottom line: I think that it’s possible to be a pretty good mother and still drop your baby (metaphorically or actually). We are human, and imperfect, and all the love that we have within us will never be enough to make our children feel completely whole. All we can do is show up every day and try our imperfect best. Love — and laughter — and especially grace — really do cover a multitude of sins. And usually our children bounce back from our mistakes more quickly than we do.
So, Happy Mother’s Day. I wish my fellow mamas the gifts of perspective and humor. Remember that you’re still a pretty good mother, even if you drop the baby once in a while. And when it comes to motherhood, pretty good is good enough. Maybe it’s even great.
ADDENDUM: My mom just read this, and has informed me that I fell off the changing table when I was a baby. So there you go!