I’d like to tell you a story about the three-course dinner I made the other night. I had all three kids at the table waiting patiently for their vegetables, and after all the, “thank you, mom, this asparagus is cooked perfectly!” comments, I brought out the chicken and rice to the tune of “oh, that looks delicious!” from all around. We finished off the meal with warm brownies and everyone had full bellies and full hearts, and then the three-year-old helped clear the dishes from the table while I wiped the baby up. It was beautiful, and I’d like to tell you all the other details about this special evening, but there’s just one problem. It never happened. (This has yet to happen in our home).
I have other stories, though. A lot of them.
There was the time that, in the name of making memories and getting a good picture for Instagram, I brought my ‘two under two’ children to the orchard to pick fresh peaches. My three month-old was nursing, and my toddler was in a stage of exceptionally poor listening. (You know where this is going.) When the baby could no longer be comforted with a paci while in the safety of his car seat, I offered the toddler a snack and sat down under a peach tree to nurse. And in the time it took me to unfasten my bra strap, before I could stop her, my daughter was off, headed towards the end of the orchard and the parking lot just beyond it. I yelled; she didn’t stop. I yelled louder; she ran faster. I screamed in panic; she squealed with disobedient delight.
So with a baby still on my breast I rolled myself off the ground and took off running, knowing I had no chance at catching her before the parking lot. And then a sweet, perfect-stranger-mom up ahead heard my yells and saw the awful state of despair I found myself in, and with a twenty-five yard head start jogged after my daughter, gently grabbed her by the arm and said, “Sweetie, wait for your mommy.”
Or how about the time my best friend was visiting, and we were enjoying a conversation upstairs while my sweet eighteen-month-old boy was in the basement playing. As best friends do, we were chatting away about jobs and dreams and feeling thankful that two babies were asleep and one was playing contentedly by himself so we could have an uninterrupted conversation.
I was actually annoyed when I heard the doorbell ring, because I didn’t want the children waking up to disturb us. But when I answered the door and saw my kind neighbor with MY SON in his arms, I started sobbing. Wasn’t he in the basement? I had just checked on him five minutes before! Turns out that is just enough time for a little guy to figure out he can open doors on his own and walk to the next door neighbor’s house to look for the dog.
Oh, and I won’t forget the time I hurried to pack three children in the car so we could actually arrive somewhere on time, rushing through my mental Leave The House Checklist: Three kids, six socks, diapers, snacks, let’s go ya’ll. We drove forty minutes to the north side of town, and as I got out of the car to unbuckle my restless crew, I realized I never actually got any further with the infant than laying him in the carseat. Eighteen miles of freeway and another eight of busy road stoplights, and my ten-week-old baby sat freely in the baby carrier the whole way.
What if that perfect stranger had not had a bit of sympathy for me, put down her peach crate, and grabbed my little girl? What if my neighbor had not been home, or if a driver was looking down at her phone as a tiny little boy wandered in the street? What if someone had rear-ended our van even at a slow pace? I have made a lot of mistakes as a mama, more than I can count, and some that I did not even realize I was making in the moment; it was the sheer goodwill of others coupled with the grace of God that has gotten us this far.
As much as I cringe reliving these awful moments, I also feel a bit relieved by confessing them. Because now you know, and I can drop the act: I am not a perfect mom.
I am diligent about sunscreen and I hover around my children when the slides at the park are a little bit taller than I am comfortable with. I hold hands in every parking lot and at the slightest bit of warmth on a forehead I’ve got the thermometer out and Tylenol ready. And mostly, I love these children more than my own life. I would put mine on the line for theirs’ without hesitation.
And I still mess up.
And, I don’t know, but maybe we all do? And maybe the last thing any of us need is shaming or finger-pointing or “well, you shouldn’t have had so many kids” comments, because the very things we think or say to make ourselves feel better about our parenting could, in an instant, be used against us. Maybe what we really need is to see ourselves as we are, as moms. Not just “Mom, Mom, Mom!” to our own little ones, but mom: a figure of love, compassion, patience, protection and guidance to little people everywhere—to the stranger’s daughter at the orchard and to the neighbor’s son next door.
It seems to me that there is a whole lot to be terrified about these days. But verbal abuse and judgement from other parents should not be one of them. Maybe the best thing we can do is get really honest with ourselves and admit that our parenting is marked with just as many failures as victories. Our kids do need us, their Mom. But they need a few moms too, because no one does this job well alone and that whole village thing, it is the absolute truth. Your baby is not my baby, but if there is ever a moment I am around and your baby needs another mama for just a moment, he’s got one. If I have extra hands, you can have some. Need some eyes on your oldest while your two youngest fight it out over the bubbles? I got you. If you forget a diaper, stop me in the park and ask if I have one (I mean, I probably forgot, too, but together we’ll hunt down the prepared mamas at the park and ask for one; I can usually pick them out because their kids are actually wearing shoes and hats).
So let’s put down our fingers, erase those ugly status updates, and commit to being moms. We may disagree on everything under the sun when it comes to methods, but I am damn sure that we agree on this: we want our babies to be the very best version of themselves, and we want them to show up for their lives healthy, humble, caring for others and motivated to make the world a less scary place to be. Those things start with us, so let’s show these little faces in front of us how to live them out.