Break on Through

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Today my son broke his first board in Tae Kwon Do. The whole family gathered to watch this miracle take place. Until a couple months ago, the best he could do in athletics was to stay out of the other kids’ way when he collapsed in a pile and whimpered, “This is too hard! I can’t do it!”

Having an instructor who wouldn’t let him get away with this behavior and who praised anything positive in his feeble attempts has transformed my son.  One day early in the process of breaking down the stubborn quitter and finding the resilient doer, his instructor approached me after class and pointed out some of his techniques for helping kids succeed. His words, though, stung at the time: “I’m the expert here, so let me help you out.”

You’re the expert? Some weathered older man with pinched eyes, Santa Claus hair and a raspy voice?

No, I don’t think so. Did you carry this kid for 38 weeks and stay up all night to bring him into the world? Did you hold him at your breast every two hours for months on end so he could fill his diapers and outgrow all his clothes? Do you sit with him through meals and patiently remind him to use utensils while he calmly jams noodles into his face? I don’t think so.

But he was right. I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. I mostly use a trial and error approach to figure out what gets me the best result in my kids with the least effort.

Does counting to three work? I don’t know why it should, but it does. So I could count to three every three seconds…all day long. My children pity me when they learn about the numbers four and beyond. “Poor Mom; she doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

They also pity me for my very short recall. I can’t count the number of times (it’s more than three) that I ask, “What did I just say?!” They must wonder, “Seriously, Mom? You can’t remember what you just said?”

My toddler now responds to my little reminders with a big smile and an assured, “I know, I know.” She doesn’t want me to repeat myself or count.

Anyway, one of the mythical creatures I am slowly learning about as a mom is this mother who intuitively understands and responds to her child(ren) with flawless patience and wisdom. She exists momentarily at times I’m sure, but she mostly shows up in eulogies for the woman who “never said an unkind thing about anyone” and “never raised her voice.” I have suffered through several such funerals.

I surround myself with this mythical creature all of the time, and she is suffocating me. I create her out of the odds and ends of successful mothering that I pick up from friends, neighbors, family members, and other mothers to whom I aspire.

“You don’t let your kids watch TV? Oh, great. Now I need to rationalize why my kids get to watch PBS while I shower.”

“You potty-trained your child in a day? Mine was lucky to survive that first day when I found a pile of poo in the food storage room.”

“Cloth diapering? Cinchy. Composting? On it. All organic food? We make our own dirt at this house and sprinkle it on our high-fructose corn syrup for breakfast. What else do you have for me?”

I suppose it’s the perfectionist in me or the mild anxiety I live on, but I have all these ideas crammed into my head of what “good moms” do, and they’re killing me. I’ve heard a million times not to compare myself to others, but I don’t know how to set benchmarks for myself. I have no standard other than the knowledge that the kids are alive and that, for better or worse, I get to do it all over again tomorrow.

That just doesn’t satisfy my need to successfully complete a task.

I wrote a post last week that will remain unpublished because it was probably too unsettling without the right context, but suffice it to say that I needed my head examined. My OB set me up with a psychiatrist, and I’m going to therapy again, but just telling someone I was losing it made a world of difference this past week.

Yesterday my friend watched my son and took him to school so I could go see a Psych nurse practitioner, who said lots of validating things while shreds of her hastily-eaten lunch lingered on her dress and I decided that it was therapeutic for me to not point it out or even worry about it.

When I told my friend today (and friend is a probably a strong word–I keep most people at a distance and rarely disclose what I’m actually experiencing) why I’d needed her to help with my son, I did not expect her to tell me that she had basically been in the same place a year ago. Fourth child on the way, wanting to give up, and shutting everyone out. In the two years I’ve known her, she always seemed so together and deliberate in the way she mothered. I figured she knew exactly what she was doing.

Well, I cried. And I hugged her. I don’t do that. It means I’m letting someone in on the terrible secret that I’m human and broken. But my son has broken his first board, and if it means I get to have a eulogy where my kids are honest about me someday, I hope he (and my other children) keep breaking me.

2 thoughts on “Break on Through

  1. This is a wonderful post Elissa! I do the same thing keeping people at a distance. It takes me years to really warm up to someone, and even then I’m not going to be completely honest with them about who I really am. I think that even the moms who seem to have things figured out feel like failures. I don’t know that anyone would admire my mom game, but I know that I often feel like I am doing most things wrong.

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    • Thank you, Heidi. I wish we could spend more time together as moms so we could just enjoy being normal. It was good for us as kids–remember that pond we swam in? We’re just wading through a different level of yuck now, and I think it’s good for us even if our own kids think we’re no fun. This is the adventure of a lifetime! Just not the kind most people get book offers for.

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